More than 100 people stood in “Solidarity with Charlottesville” Sunday evening on the east side of the Talbot Memorial Bridge, formerly known as the Centennial Bridge.
Some carried posters that said “Love trumps hate” and “Hate is not a family value.” Others simply stood and waved to passing drivers, many of whom honked and waved back.
They were there because three people are dead and at least 33 injured after violence broke out at a white-nationalist rally and protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday. James Fields, a 20-year-old from Ohio, faces a second-degree murder charge after allegedly driving his car into a group of counter-protestors and killing Heather Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville, and injuring 19. Two state troopers died when their helicopter, which was assisting with police response to the rally, crashed outside the city. The white nationalists chose Charlottesville as a site to protest because the Charlottesville City Council had recently voted to remove a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee.
The solidarity gathering, hosted by Cedar Memorial Christian Church, drew supporters from throughout the Quad-City region. Kelly Shonts of Matherville, Illinois, and her son, Colton Smith, who will be a senior at Sherrard High School, carried signs.
“I just think it’s needed,” Shonts said. “I think it affects everyone. We need to push the agenda of supporting everyone as Americans.”
Janice Williams of Davenport said she had been “talking about how much of a shame it is that an innocent, peaceful person had to lose their life” when she found out about the rally. She felt encouraged by the large, diverse crowd of supporters.
“I feel validated as an important person in America’s system,” she said, noting that the assembly was “People working together for the common good.”
“We all want the same thing: Peace,” she said. “To try and divide is to try and make us weaker, but united we stand.”
People in the Quad-Cities see the incident in varying ways.
Phil Yerington was a Davenport police lieutenant and served as mayor of Davenport from 1998-2002.
“First of all I think it’s really, really sad,” he said. “I can’t figure out why 150 years after the (Civil War) is over, the Confederate flag and the statue of Robert E. Lee are offensive to people.”
“This is our history. You can’t erase this now not to hurt people’s feelings," Yerington said. "I know what slavery did to America ... How come all of a sudden this is an issue that is dividing this country even further than it was under the Obama years?”
The counter-protesters, whom he called "disrupters," are more un-American than the protestors, he said.
“When you’re paying people to go to a community that’s not even theirs and cause civic unrest and disruption, these people are not fighting for the history of America,” Yerington said. “They’re there for greed, and to stir up the masses.
Yerington predicted the civil unrest “will get uglier before it gets better,” and that “The liberal-biased media is just killing us. We get this shoved at us 24 hours a day, even if the protests are done and over.”
In a press conference Saturday, President Donald Trump said, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," and urged people to love one another.
It was good to see Trump say “I’m blaming everyone here,” Yerington said. “At least Trump said ‘Knock this off. Stop fighting with each other. This is not getting us anywhere.’”
“While we’re fighting and slapping each other around, we have no idea what our enemies are doing,” Yerington said. “The media needs to back off this stuff. If the media would agree to begin the healing process in America by reporting the news … put the facts out there. Start the healing of this country before we turn around and find the enemy knocking on our doors.”
“I’ll give you the Confederate flag, if that’s what it takes to appease. Then we will not fly it on public property,” Yerington said. “But you’re not going to start tearing down your monuments. That’s what ISIS is doing in the Middle East. They’re tearing down and destroying everything that has to do with Christianity. They’re trying to wipe out your past, which is where your backbone is at.”
“If America doesn’t become the United States again, I fear for what this country could become,” Yerington said.
Others see it another way.
Rabbi Henry Jay Karp, a member of One Human Family QCA, said “Charlottesville needs to be a cautionary tale for us.
“This is what can happen if you let it go too far. If you just close your eyes and turn your head and think it’s all going to go away,” Karp said.
Karp said he is overwhelmed by the violence that erupted, calling it “horrible, horrible” and “very frightening.”
“It’s all the more horrible, all the more frightening, because this is the direction in which our country has been moving for over the last year,” Karp said. “It’s become more open, more acceptable, that those who are purveyors of hate no longer feel the need to operate under rocks or in secret. They feel they have been empowered to step forward and to pursue their message with words and deeds.”
He is “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s remarks. “He presented a moral equivalency between those white supremacists that were demonstrating and those that were demonstrating against hate (with the phrase “on many sides”).
“When the president equivocates like that, that’s the type of thing that empowers the white supremacists,” Karp said. “Whether or not they actually do have the endorsement of the president, they feel they have the endorsement of the president.”
Karp is among the organizers of a rally to be held Wednesday in response to National Alliance fliers that appeared in the community. National Alliance is a white nationalist organization. “We have to take them seriously. They have a serious history. They’re the real deal.
“We have to stand up now,” Karp said. “This is not what the Quad-Cities is about. This is not what the people in the Quad-Cities want. This is not how we envision our community.”
“I believe it is right we should take these statues down,” said the Rev. Jay Wolin of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad-Cities. “These are statues of people who were traitors to our country and supported slavery. These are things we as a country have rejected.”
“We do have the right to free assembly in this country,” Wolin continued. “But these individuals who are carrying Nazi flags and were spewing hatred in their speech against African-Americans and against Jewish people surrounded counter-protestors in a very threatening way. And they instigated much of the violence.”
It’s important that “we as a society stand up and say we do not agree with this,” Wolin said. “We fought for freedom in this county and in the world for freedom against this type of harassment and discrimination. We need to talk about values of inclusion, not exclusion -- our values of loving our neighbor and not hating and discriminating against our neighbors.”