ALBANY -- As the sun began to set over a monument in Townsend Park, hundreds of voices bellowed in unison “No Nazis, No KKK, No facist USA,” and “The people, united, will never be divided.”
More than 200 people packed into Townsend Park along Washington Avenue on Sunday evening for a "Solidarity with Charlottesville” rally, where they chanted, rallied and carried signs in support of diversity and in opposition to racism and President Donald Trump.
Most attendees were inspired by Saturday’s events in Virginia to speak out, while others appeared enraged by the Charlottesville rally that turned violent, resulting in three deaths and dozens of injuries.
“I feel the president is really pushing people to hate one another,” said one woman who attended the rally while in town from Arizona visiting friends. “We need to speak up. We can’t just sit on the sidelines and be observers.”
The Albany event was one of several vigils around the country Sunday. It was organized and co-sponsored by a number of religious and advocacy organizations, including Citizen Action, Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia, Jewish Voice for Peace, the New York State Council of Churches and the Social Justice Center of Albany.
A “Unite the Right” rally planned by white nationalists over the city of Charlottsville’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee became violent on Saturday. While several skirmishes and fights broke out among white nationalists and counter-protesters, the day turned deadly when a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer, and injuring about 20 others.
Police later arrested James Alex Fields Jr., 20, and charged him with second-degree murder in connection with the crash.
A Virginia State Police helicopter that had been monitoring the events crashed later in the afternoon, killing two troopers.
At Townsend Park, community leaders spoke out against Nazis, white supremacists and fascists, all groups associated with Saturday’s violence in Virginia.
Dozens of signs lifted above the sea of bodies, summing up the themes of the day. “No racism, no fascism,” one read. “Will trade racists for refugees,” stated another. One woman scrawled “Same s--- different century” on a piece of cardboard.
Speakers shared messages of acceptance and unity, while simultaneously rejecting fringe groups that spread beliefs of hate and white supremacy. The mention of Trump’s name drew loud boos from the crowd.
Some attendees were specifically critical of Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville.
In the aftermath of the carnage, Trump on Twitter and at a public address called for an end to the violence that he said was coming from “many sides.”
Trump tweeted as the rally raged:
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
“I think it’s ridiculous he suggested there are many sides to what happened in Charlottesville,” said Josh Hatala, of Troy. “There are a couple sides. One is racist, and one isn’t.”
“If he had any decency, he would’ve denounced white supremacists and Nazis, but they’re part of his base and he only looks out for himself,” said Bob Blackmon, also of Troy. “Hopefully (Sunday’s rally) raises awareness of these issues and motivates people not to remain silent.”
National and state representatives on both sides of the aisle were quick to condemn the violence and speak out against white nationalist beliefs. Others went on to criticize Trump for not specifically calling out the white supremacists or labeling the incident as terrorism.
Sen. Charles Schumer tweeted:
Of course we condemn ALL that hate stands for. Until @POTUS specifically condemns alt-right action in Charlottesville, he hasnt done his job— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) August 12, 2017
“I am calling on President Trump to clearly and unequivocally condemn and denounce the violent protest organized by white supremacists,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted. He followed that up by creating a petition demanding Trump acknowledge the event as domestic terrorism.
“Hatred and bigotry have no place in our society,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican, said on Facebook. “We stand united as Americans in condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville.”
Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat, tweeted:
The kind of hate we see organized today in #Charlottesville is not what made our nation great, and has no place in today's America. -Paul— Paul D. Tonko (@PaulTonko) August 12, 2017