CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The wounds are still wide open in Charlottesville two years after the “Unite the Right” rally, which turned deadly and violent.
Neo-Nazis and white supremacists traveled to the city to oppose the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in a city park on Aug. 11 and 12, 2017.
James Fields, who was convicted for federal hate crimes and murder, purposefully drove into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more.
The street where Heyer was killed was renamed to recognize her, so no one forgets what happened that day. A memorial still grows with fresh flowers and positive messages written in chalk.
Aaliyah Jones, a friend of Heyer’s, went to put a sign up on the memorial with her fiancé.
”As a community as a whole – we need to come together,” Jones said. “But, it’s going to take some time because there’s still a lot of people hurting over Heather.”
Star Peterson is still waiting to have a sixth surgery on her legs. Both were broken when Fields mowed down the crowd, hitting her. Two parts of Peterson’s back and a rib were also broken.
”There’s just no words. It’s just too big,” Peterson said. “Nothing can bring [Heyer] back.”
Peterson says a few of the other victims still can’t go to work because of their injuries.
In a step towards healing, the city is celebrating Unity Days, which are a variety of events that aim to educate and honor people in the community in order to move towards economic and racial justice. The events focus on the theme of unity and include faith-based gatherings, musical performances, candlelight vigils, and exhibits.
A number of Virginia lawmakers proposed legislation after what happened in Charlottesville to deter something like this from happening again, including Del. David Toscano (D-District 57) who represents the city.
One of his bills introduced this year would have created new charges for people intimidating others with tiki torches or burning objects. Another would allow localities to ban guns from permitted events.
The last from the 2019 General Assembly session would give communities the power to decide what to do with Civil War Monuments. Right now, it’s up to the Commonwealth. Del. Toscano says this measure would have allowed communities to choose “how they want their history to be portrayed.”
The wounds of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017 and the recent events at an El Paso, Texas Wal-Mart have opened up conversations about white supremacy across the country.
This was the last General Assembly session for Del. Toscano. After more than a decade of being in the House of Delegates, he will be retiring this year. While his bills to stop this type of violence haven’t passed, so far, since he’s been in office, Toscano thinks some change will happen soon.
“You’re seeing a lot more concern about hate and how to prevent it in the country and you’re seeing a lot more concern about gun violence, not just mass shootings but gun violence that occurs everyday in every neighborhood — in every community around this country,” Del. Toscano said. “So, I think you’re going to see some changes at the state level and at the federal level in, maybe, the next six months.”
After the shooting in Virginia Beach May 31, Gov. Ralph Northam called lawmakers to have a Special Session on gun violence prevention. Virginia Republicans tasked the Virginia State Crime Commission to review the legislation and will be hearing from the public next week. Lawmakers will reconvene after the November election, where voters will decide who sits in all 140 seats of the General Assembly for 2020.