GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan groups focused on equality are speaking out as racially-charged protests continue in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Racial tensions in the U.S. came to a head in Charlottesville over the weekend weekend, a few months after the mayor of Grand Rapids launched a new Racial Equity Initiative.
“It was something we saw that we did not want to look at,” Dr. Bill Pink, co-chair of the new initiative and president of Grand Rapids Community College, said of racism. “It was ugly. We want to believe that we’re beyond that.”
He said what happened in Charlottesville proves that’s not the case. On Saturday, a large gathering of white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee clashed with counter-protesters. One person was killed and nearly 20 more injured when a man drove a car into a group of those counter-protesters.
“If you took the color out of today’s video (from Charlottesville), it would be hard to determine which one was the 1960s and which one was 2017 because it looked so alike to me,” Pink said. “I don’t want that type of scene to be in Grand Rapids.”
Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, referred to the deadly demonstrations as a “terrifying example” of the nation “moving backwards.”
“This is an act of terrorism. We need to call it what it is,” she said. “This white supremacy. Given our history, given what has happened in this country, this is unequivocally wrong and that’s how we need to respond to these acts of violence and hate.”
“People have the right to believe vile, horrible, hateful things. They have the right to believe those things. We have the right to disagree, to stand up, to protest, to counter-protest,” she continued.
West Michigan has already seen people standing up to denounce racism and stand with Charlottesville. On Sunday, hundreds attended solidarity rallies in at least three West Michigan cities.
Pink said the nation is at a point where open dialogue is necessary. He said people have a right to be angry about what’s happening, but they should use that anger to help find a solution.
A bilingual prayer service at Madison Church Square Campus in Grand Rapids Monday was about that dialogue. Much of the talk was positive and focused on what can be done to make sure something like what happened in Charlottesville won’t happen in Grand Rapids.
Attendees also talked about what can be done to make Grand Rapids an even better place for everyone to call home.
“Not to say we have to agree about everything, but there are some things in which we can agree about that can make Grand Rapids a much more hospitable and much more race-friendly city,” Rev. Reginald Smith, a member of Madison Church Square Campus, said.
At least 20 churches were represented at the meeting.