Showing a better way

Published 10:05 pm Monday, August 21, 2017

On Saturday, the people of Suffolk once again were given reason to be proud of the place where they live, as a diverse group of about 80 gathered outside City Hall to pray and encourage the city to embrace love in the face of hatred.

The event had been billed as a peace march, but organizers canceled the march out of concern for the safety of participants and others. Imari Griffin, who had planned the event in response to the beating of Suffolk native Deandre Harris, declined to elaborate on the specific threats that caused her decision to cancel, but she and others quickly pivoted to the idea of holding the rally instead.

Harris, who now lives in Charlottesville, was among the counterprotesters who turned out in that city during the “Unite the Right” rally that brought groups of white supremacists, KKK members, neo-Nazis and others from the “alt-right” to that town ostensibly to protest the pending removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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The 20-year-old instructional assistant was savagely beaten during an altercation with the white supremacists in a parking garage. He wound up with a gash in his head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth, according to a GoFundMe page he set up to help pay for his medical expenses. That page had raised more than $166,000 toward a $50,000 goal as of Monday evening.

Given the violence in Charlottesville two weekends ago — a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 others injured when a man drove a car into a group of counterprotesters, and other fights broke out around the city — it was certainly understandable that organizers of the events in Suffolk might have backed away from their original plan. Nobody wanted to see similar scenes of violence in this city.

But we like to believe Suffolk is different. Black Lives Matter marches here, for instance, have been peaceful, even as those in other cities around the nation sometimes devolved into violence and property damage.

On Saturday, black people joined hands with white people outside Suffolk City Hall. They hugged each other. They laid aside whatever differences they might have had and embraced the humanity that they share. They prayed together, and they lifted their voices together in a call for peace and love.

Those concepts are not the trivial things they might have represented in the days of Woodstock. They are real responses to hatred, and they’re really the only ones with the power to overcome it.

We are not surprised by this response in Suffolk, but we are proud once again to see the people of our city prove themselves to be able to come together peacefully, to connect with one another in love and to show the rest of the world there is a better way.