Miami-Dade County

Violence in Charlottesville leads to vigils in South Florida

Nikita Santillan sits, surrounded by candles, at Bayfront Park, in Miami, Aug. 13, 2017, during a vigil being held in honor of the victims of violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.
Nikita Santillan sits, surrounded by candles, at Bayfront Park, in Miami, Aug. 13, 2017, during a vigil being held in honor of the victims of violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA. Miami Herald

Anguish and anger over violent demonstrations in Charlottesville that led to three deaths and many injuries spurred South Florida activists to plan vigils Sunday in solidarity.

Close to 300 people gathered to light candles and take a stand against racial injustices Sunday night at downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.

The large crowd huddled together with votive candles and together sang We Shall Overcome after taking a moment of silence. At least ten different groups and organizations who were involved in planning the vigil.

Charles Allen, 31, of the Miami Democratic Socialists of America, said his friend and a fellow activist was in Charlottesville during the violent protests. He said watching his friend’s video footage and hearing his voice about how terrifying it was, really traumatized him.

“We are now feeling empowered to be here, because in Charlottesville the counter protesters out numbered the rally numbers,” Allen said. “This is a pivotal moment for our nation. I think it is a very fractured time and it is important for people who want to change things to come out here and stand together and not be afraid.”

Josie Ramos, 61, said she came to America from Cuba to give her kids a future.

“I am outraged, I am sad, I've been crying since that happened yesterday," Ramos said. "It's infuriating, this is not what the United States of America is about.”

Earlier in the day, about 30 people gathered at park at North 58th Avenue and Lee Street in Hollywood to honor the Charlottesville, Virginia, victims and call attention to street signs that bear the names of Confederate generals in the city. Last month, Hollywood officials began the process of changing the names of three streets that bear the names Gen. Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate Army; Gen. John Bell Hood, who commanded troops in the Battle of Gettysburg; and Nathan Bedford Forrest, a lieutenant general said to be the Klan’s first grand wizard. The change came after demonstrations to remove the street names.

Many of the organizers and attendees wore shirts that said “We refuse to accept a fascist America” and were holding signs “Take Them Down,” referring to the street names.

“The same struggle that is going on in Charlottesville is happening here in Hollywood, where we have spent over 10 years trying to change the names,” said Tifanny Burks, 24, who moderated the vigil. “That heritage is based off of hate.”

Dara Hill, a Hollywood resident, said the time to change the street names is now, before it is too late.

“We had a rally in June and we were met with confrontation from the Alt-Right and that is not OK,” Hill said. “If people are scared to speak out because of what is happening to us out there, then we need to speak out for them.”

Burks, who is an organizer of Black Lives Matter, said what happened in Charlottesville is only a another example of why people need to “show love to each other and look out for each other.”

“They are ready for war out there — we are ready for peace,” she said.

Similar vigils were planned across the country Sunday including ones in West Palm Peach, Greenville, South Carolina and Los Angeles.

On Saturday, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed through a group of people who gathered to take a stand against those protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a Charlotttesville park. At least 35 other people were injured.

Two Virginia State troopers, monitoring the protests in a helicopter, were killed when the helicopter crashed.

The weekend chaos began Friday when white supremacists descended on the park with torches to protest the removal of the confederate statue. Counter-protestors began showing up, and by Saturday morning, protests turned violent.

Virginia Gov. McAuliffe declared a state of emergency by 11 a.m. Saturday as protests became out of hand. Later in the afternoon a car slammed into the counter-protestors. Authorities later arrested James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, on charges including second-degree murder.

Meanwhile, the Charlottesville demonstrations have led to more pushes to remove Confederate monuments in Florida.

The president of Lee County’s NAACP chapter said he would resume efforts to remove confederate statues in Fort Myers, according to The Florida Times-Union.

And in Tampa, protestors gathered to push for the removal of a confederate monument at the old Hillsborough County Courthouse in downtown Tampa, News Channel 8 reported.

This article was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.