By Sara-Megan Walsh
The decision by lawmakers in Charlottesville, Virginia, to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a general in the Confederate Army, from a city park sparked protests featuring unabashed Nazi salutes, white-supremacist rhetoric and violence.
Three people have been killed in the Charlottesville protests. On Aug. 12, an Ohio man allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters opposing the hateful rhetoric of those aligned with the neo-Nazi sympathizers, killing 32-year-old Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer and injuring many others, according to Virginia police. Two Virginia state troopers — Lt. H. Jay Cullen and trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates — also died in a helicopter accident on the way to the scene of the accident, according to a state police spokesperson.
The impact of these protests have rippled out across the nation into local communities. Demonstrations were held in Huntington and Huntington Station by residents on Aug. 13 in response to the Charlottesville events.
More than 100 residents attended a solidarity vigil Sunday evening on the corner of Park Avenue and Main Street, organized by Action Together Long Island, a grassroots social action group formed in backlash to President Donald Trump (R) taking office. Action Together Long Island has nearly 3,500 members, according to founder and chief organizer Julia Fenster.
“What we are witnessing in Charlottesville is not representative of our nation, and it’s not representative of our community,” Fenster said. “We are going to draw a line in the sand and will not let that happen here.”
Rev. Larry Jennings, president of the NAACP Huntington Branch at Bethel AME Church in Huntington Station, opened the vigil with a moment of silence for those affected by the violence. This was followed by a live performance of “Amazing Grace.”
Eve Krief, a Centerport resident, said she attended because the events of Charlottesville touched her personally. Krief recalled growing up hearing stories of how her Jewish mother as a 5-year-old was forced to go into hiding during World War II. Both of Krief’s grandparents and her aunts were killed by Nazis.
“Growing up as a Jewish girl, I was taught never to forget how the Europeans were silent as Jews were targeted and taken away,” she said. “All day long the silence was deafening. The words — ‘the silence was deafening’ was never more powerful and meaningful to me than yesterday.”
Krief called for elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, to come out more strongly against the violent protests, racism and white-supremacist attitude of Charlottesville protesters.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended the Huntington vigil.
“The rally in Charlottesville does not represent our American values and must be denounced outright,” he posted in a statement on Twitter. “There is no middle ground here — the ugliness of hate and intolerance have no place in our society. Period. On behalf of all Suffolk County residents, my thoughts and prayers are with the victim, those injured and their families during this difficult period of time.”
A second rally against the violence in Charlottesville was held at the corner of Route 110 and Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station on Sunday evening. The event was a result of collaboration between several groups, including Action Together Long Island and LI Activists.
As calls for unity against hate rang through Huntington, racist graffiti was discovered painted on a fence in Huntington Station on the corner of Depot Road near Bogart Street, according to Suffolk County police. Suffolk County police did not provide any further details on what was painted on the fence.
State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) has called for law enforcement to increase the number of patrols in the area for the safety and security of residents.
“As someone who was born and raised in Huntington Station, I want to reassure the community that such acts of hatred will not be tolerated here, as they are not tolerated anywhere in New York,” Lupinacci said. “Hate speech directed toward any group of people needs to be publicly denounced now more than ever.”
Suffolk County’s Hate Crimes Unit detectives are investigating the matter, according to SCPD Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers.