Events planned in response to Charlottesville

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2017

At least two events have been planned in Suffolk this week following last weekend’s deadly violence in Charlottesville.

The planned rally of white supremacists in the college town was met with counterprotesters, many of whom were injured in the clash.

Heather D. Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville, died when a 20-year-old Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr., rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters. At least 19 others were injured in that crash, plus numerous others injured in individual confrontations throughout the day.

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Two Virginia State Police officers, Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates and Lt. H. Jay Cullen, also lost their lives when the helicopter from which they were monitoring the events crashed.

One of those injured during the day was Suffolk native Deandre Harris, who posted on an online fundraising page that he went to the event as a counterprotester, intending “to voice my opinion on racial tension and to literally stand up for what I believe in.”

He had only been there a few minutes before he was hit with water bottles, pepper-sprayed and had derogatory slurs hurled at him, he wrote.

Later, he was attacked by a group of white supremacists in a parking garage beside a Charlottesville police station, he wrote.

“I was chased and beat with metal poles,” he wrote. “I was knocked unconscious repeatedly. Every time I went to stand up I was knocked back down. If it was not for my friends that I came with I would have been beaten to a pulp.”

Harris wrote that he was diagnosed with a concussion and broken arm and received eight staples in his head. He also has a chipped tooth and many abrasions and lacerations.

“I’m so blessed to be alive to tell my story,” the 2015 Lakeland High School graduate wrote.

Imari Griffin, 25, who also attended Lakeland and still lives in Suffolk, said she felt compelled to do something in Suffolk after reading accounts of the event.

“I just wanted to do it to show him we’ve got his back, and I wanted to bring the community together,” Griffin said.

Griffin plans a march this Saturday at 6 p.m. (note time change). It will begin on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, 442 W. Washington St., and make its way along sidewalks to Market Park, across from the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum, 326 N. Main St.

Harris and his mother will be in attendance, Griffin said. Harris wrote on his GoFundMe page that he and his family will not be taking any more interviews. Neither he nor his mother has responded to Facebook message requests from a Suffolk News-Herald reporter.

At the park, a number of faith leaders will speak, Griffin said.

“We want to keep it where it’s religion-based but no violence,” she said. “I don’t want any violence. That’s what got him hurt and got Heather Heyer killed.”

The faith leaders will include Superintendent Sylvester Silver Sr., Pastor Da’Qwone D. Hill, Pastor Perry L. Austin, Minister James Golden and Missionary Shannan Silver.

Griffin said she is looking for donations of bottled water to help keep participants hydrated. For more information, call Griffin at 740-8039.

Also this week, Suffolk Presbyterian Church, 410 N. Broad St., will hold an hour of prayer and reflection beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The Rev. Julie Sterling, the new pastor at the church, said the church community wanted to do something in response to the tragedy. Her sermon spoke on the events last Sunday.

“After church, a lot of people approached me talking about how broken they were about the situation,” she said. “They wanted to reach out to the public. We thought a logical way of doing that was to invite people to the prayer group we already had scheduled. We thought that would be a way to allow people to know that our church is a safe place to come and share their thoughts and feelings and join with us in prayer.”

Sterling said she is pleased to see her church reaching out in love to its neighbors, as Jesus Christ taught.

“We believe in the love we should have for our neighbor,” she said. “It makes me proud that I have a family of faith that is concerned about these types of issues.”