A week before the historic events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, one of my comrades alerted me to the rally that would happen the following weekend. When she described what we might face, my first instincts were fear, anger and confusion. How could the government allow groups that have a history of violence and mass terror rally openly? Freedom of speech shouldn’t apply when it comes to terrorists!
I pondered for two days about going to Charlottesville. Facing the KKK is a nightmare for Black people in America, especially for a 17-year-old, Black, female high-schooler in America. I meditated and prayed until something inside me said, “go.” I even told myself, “If you die, at least it’s for a noble cause.” My ancestors gave up their lives for the cause, so who am I not to?
The night before I left NYC to go to Charlottesville, I contacted all my loved ones to let them know I was leaving, where I was going and why. I told them I loved them and asked them to pray for my safety. On Friday August 11, I left for Virginia with the Workers Party: NYC (I knew some of the members personally so they offered to take me). The trip there was seven hours. Each and every minute of the trip I was thinking of all the “what-ifs”: What if I never see my family again? What if I’m arrested? My anxiety was through the roof. I called my mom while we were driving and I had to pretend that I wasn’t nervous. I had told her it was an “Anti-White Supremacy Rally,” but I didn’t mention the KKK or the other hate groups that were going to be there because I didn’t want to scare her.
I could just feel the tension and hate in the air… I thought, ‘This is it, I’m finally here.’ And then all hell broke loose.
When we finally arrived to our hotel, I just sat on the bed and cried. I cried for my people, I cried for my ancestors, I cried for my family, I cried for myself, the 17-year-old Black girl about to face one of my worst fears. But eventually, I had to stop and remember who I was. A strong and powerful young Black woman, and no hate group would deter me from fighting for my people!
I woke up at 5 a.m. and I just sat on the bed for a few minutes contemplating everything that was about to go down. There was no time to turn back now… I got ready with my fellow comrades and we headed off to Charlottesville. It was about an hour away from Richmond. When I looked at the GPS and it said we were five minutes away, my heart started to pound and I couldn’t stop tearing up. Luckily, nobody saw me because I had my dark shades on.
When we finally arrived and stepped out the car, I could just feel the tension and hate in the air… it was so hot and sticky. While we were walking to Emancipation Park, the first thing I saw was two militia men with AK-47s draped around them. Initially, I thought they were from the police force, but I soon found out that they weren’t. I knew VA was an open-carry state but it was still shocking. When we finally arrived at the park holding our anti-Nazis banner, I saw hundreds of counter-protesters who immediately started to cheer us on as we walked through the crowd. I thought to myself, “This is it, I’m here.” And that’s when all hell broke loose.
My physical injuries will eventually heal, but the mental trauma will last forever.
I saw the KKK, Nazis, neo-Nazis, fascists, “alt-right” and every other hate group you could think of right there. The Klan and Nazis pushed through the crowd while their militia was in the front protecting them. The Nazis were saluting and the Klan was spewing hate… some of them even started to attack the counter-protesters… During that moment I was spit on (I spit right back), called a “nigger” and every other derogatory term you could think of. It was the most dehumanizing thing I’ve ever experienced. While all of this chaos was happening, the police were just watching from the sidelines doing absolutely nothing! There were barely any barricades present, so it left us extremely vulnerable to their attacks! They were throwing bricks, rocks, bottles, sticks and any objects they had in their hands. At one point, one of the counter-protesters tried to throw a rock back but everybody in that area stopped him. They said it’d only make it worse.
When things really started to get out of control, the cops started to tear gas us (at one point, both the cops and the KKK were tear gassing us. It was like team work). That was my first time ever being tear gassed so my body went into panic mode. I couldn’t breathe, my eyes were burning SO BAD, and my skin… it felt like I was on FIRE! I have severe eczema so the burning sensations were intensified. I eventually collapsed and was rushed to the medics on site where I was bathed in milk of magnesia and my eyes were flushed out. I sat there for about 10 minutes, then I told myself I had to get back up and back out there! The medics were skeptical about me returning. I reassured them I was fine even though I wasn’t. By then, the crowd had to disperse quickly because the SWAT team was rushing down. The KKK and all the other hate groups marched up a hill making their way to another park. Meanwhile, a good amount of counter-protesters were left in that area, which led the SWAT team to bombard us. It made me so angry that the police were treating us like criminals, I started to flip out!
I was yelling about how they’re treating us like we’re the criminals while they did nothing to the KKK when they were assaulting us! My comrades had to pull me away because I was about to get arrested. We ran up the hill that led to the University of Virginia where everything took a turn for the worse. With no police in sight, brawls started to break out everywhere! My comrades tried their best to protect me because I was the youngest person there, but we ended up getting separated. I got caught up in the midst of a brawl while trying to run to safety. One of the Klansmen punched me in my back so hard I felt like I was about to drop. I had to push my body so I could escape. I ran halfway down the hill and I fell into this older white man’s arms and cried (he was one of the counter-protesters that had a BLM shirt on so I assumed he was safe. I had no energy left in me anyway). He held me and just kept saying “I’m sorry for what’s happening right now.”
Charlottesville was the most traumatic protest in my life. It has definitely worsened my perception on race in America.
Eventually I made my way back up the hill where one of my comrades came running to me with panic in her eyes. I was so relieved to see her. Afterwards, my group made our way up the block to where that terrorist plowed through the crowd of people and killed Heather Heyer. While we were sitting in the grass, we heard this loud bang and screams everywhere. Someone yelled that people were run over by a car. We all started to panic but we had to remain level-headed.
We all returned home in one piece, and my physical injuries (severe contusions in my back) will eventually heal, but the mental trauma will last forever. I’ve been an activist since I was 13 years old, I’ve been to numerous protests but NOTHING was ever this bad! I never thought at 17 years old, I’d have to face the KKK and every other white hate group in America.
When I first learned about the KKK in school, they made it seem like they were gone and they’d never come back…like some kind of fairytale. The blood of Heather Heyer is on the hands of all those white supremacists who attended and the police who failed to control the situation. So for Donald Trump to salute the police force like they’re some freaking heroes is a slap in the face to Heather Heyer’s family and to the other counter-protesters that were injured.
Charlottesville was the most traumatic protest in my life. It has definitely worsened my perception on race in America. It won’t stop me though! I have to keep going in the name of freedom, my people, Heather Heyer and every counter-protester that was out there. As Assata Shakur beautifully stated, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”