South Florida Holds Peace Vigils In Response To Violence In Charlottesville

Aug 14, 2017

In communities across South Florida, people gathered on Sunday evening to pray for peace and honor those killed in the violence during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Heather Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville, died Saturday after a man drove into a crowd of counter-protesters. A 20-year-old Ohio man has been arrested on a charge of second-degree murder.

Two Virginia state troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed as they were on their way to the scene.

Close to two hundred people gathered in downtown Miami's Bayfront Park, according to estimates by the City of Miami police, to participate in an "Emergency Vigil" called by Miami DSA, Women's March Florida - Miami-Dade Chapter, South Florida Antifa Network, Jewish Voice for Peace South Florida and 8 other local organizations.  

Participants of all ages came carrying candles, signs and some of them wore the distinctive Anonymous mask. WLRN talked to some of them during our Facebook Live here from Bayfront Park: 

Mary Kay Gaffney read the prayer of St. Francis — a prayer for peace. It was written on the back of her sign for Heyer.

"My two brothers were in the Marines. My other brother was in the Air Force. I'm not in the military, but this is what I can do for my country," Gaffney said.

Others at the Miami vigil said removing Confederate statues needs to continue despite protests. William Byatt was born and raised in Jacksonville, while his family is from Mississippi and North Carolina.

"I'm a Southerner, born and raised. My people fought for the South in the Civil War," Byatt said. "With all of that being said, and with the intense pride that I feel in being a Southerner, absolutely these statues need to come down. These statues represent the worst of the South."

In Hollywood, about 40 people gathered in the shade of a gazebo in Anderson Park while a group of men played basketball on a nearby court.

The park is bordered by Lee Street, named for the same Confederate general whose statue prompted the demonstration in Charlottesville.

Tifany Burks, right, addresses the vigil in Hollywood on Sunday.
Credit Isabella Cueto / WLRN

Black Lives Matter activist Carlos Valnera continued the call for the renaming of that street and two others in Hollywood.

"It is an insult to the dignity and to the autonomy of the African-American communities. And it's an outrageous disregard of the hate that potentially can happen like happened in Virginia," Valnera said.

He asked people to come to the Hollywood City Hall Aug. 30 when the city commission is expected to vote on the issue.

Cindy Johnson told the mostly white crowd she's been researching ways to become a white ally.

"I think that the white people that are here need to continue to come to things, but they need to learn," she said. "They need to read some books. There's a lot of stuff out there."

Margie Scott came to the vigil at Centennial Square in downtown West Palm Beach from Wellington. Her father fought Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

"And 70 years later, we're still fighting flipping Nazis," she said. "I cannot believe this. We actually have a martyr. She died fighting Nazis yesterday."

Participants in the vigil at Centennial Square in downtown West Palm Beach.
Credit Peter Haden / WLRN News

Darien McCutcheon of Lake Worth said that, since the election, white supremacists have felt more comfortable in the open.

"People with white supremacy views  — they were in the closet about it," McCutcheon said. "It's right in our backyard. So everyone should be aware of it."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the white supremacist web site Stormfront is operated from West Palm Beach by former Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black.

Carmen Turner, a former Key West city commissioner, spoke at Sunday's vigil in Key West.
Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN News

In Key West, the vigil was held in front of a statue honoring African-American soldiers who were recruited by the Union Army in Key West during the Civil War.

That statue faces a memorial honoring Confederate soldiers.

Carmen Turner, a former Key West city commissioner, said she hoped the vigil would strengthen ties in the community.

"I think it's important that people of color in particular don't feel discouraged or disenfranchised, and that we make sure that we stand with our brothers and sisters of other races and cultures and just be encouraged — and not be afraid," she said.

Also at the Key West vigil was Aaron Huntsman, who was a plaintiff three years ago when he won the state's first court ruling in favor of gay marriage. His Love Is Love Foundation was one of the hosts of the vigil.

"We all need to stand together and show love — no hate — and be together, united," Huntsman said.