When Heather Heyer collided with James Fields in Charlottesville

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In Charlottesville, he believed in what was wrong, she believed in what was right: Our view

Two American lives collided Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., a tragic clash between what the nation stands against and what it stands for.

James Alex Fields Jr., 20, came to Charlottesville with a mindset where hatred is lifeblood, where skin color is what matters. Standing with white nationalists, he stoically brandished a shield with the emblem of Vanguard America, a group that preaches that the United States “is to be a nation exclusively for the white American peoples.”

Heather Heyer, 32, came from a worldview that does not abide bigotry. “Heather was not about hate,” her mother, Susan Bro, told The Huffington Post. “Heather was about bringing an end to injustice.”

Fields was born in Northern Kentucky. His father was killed by a drunken driver before the son was born. He was fascinated with Nazism in high school. A future in the Army was inexplicably cut short after just four months, and he filled what appears to be his Facebook page with images of Nazis and alt-right memes.

Heyer grew up in Virginia and worked as a paralegal for a Charlottesville law firm, helping clients in turmoil over personal finances and bankruptcy. “She was compassionate. … She had a big heart for people,” her boss, Larry Miller, told the Daily Beast.

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Heyer was in a crowd of counter demonstrators when a 2010 Dodge Challenger with tinted windows came barreling down a narrow street at high speed, ramming two other vehicles. Police said Fields was driving the car. Bodies flew through the air from the impact. Nineteen people were injured. Heyer was killed. Fields was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Under the Constitution, even neo-Nazis are entitled to speak freely about their hateful ideology and to demonstrate peacefully without being assaulted. But what played out when these two lives intersected on that Charlottesville street wasn’t about conflicting political perspectives. It wasn’t even, really, about the Robert E. Lee statue in the city’s Emancipation Park — the preservation of which was the reason white nationalists gave for their gathering.

It was a far simpler, more distilled encounter pitting hatred and exclusion against love and egalitarianism. 

“She died for a reason,” Felicia Correa, a law firm client who had once sought help from Heyer, told The Washington Post. “I don’t see any difference in her or a soldier who died in war. She, in a sense, died for her country.” 

The awful events of this weekend provide ample grounds for another statue to be erected in Emancipation Park, this one of Heather Heyer.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

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