RED BANK — It was planned in a rush last Saturday evening as events were continuing in real time, with the vigil for peace becoming a near-spontaneous outpouring of passion, voicing opposition and anecdotes to the day’s violence.
The hastily convened vigil conducted on Aug. 12 at Riverside Gardens Park, West Front Street, attracted between 100 to 150 people. The crowd included Borough Council members Edward Zipprich and Kathy Horgan, candidates for various races, clergy members, and many from the surrounding communities who were motivated to express their concern over the events earlier in the day in Charlottesville, Virginia.
There, members of various white supremacist and anti-government groups marched and clashed with counter-protesters over the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a confederate Civil War general. The demonstration, labeled the “Unite the Right” rally, conducted by what is often described as “alt-right” groups, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, anti-government groups and others expressing support for what they deem “white culture,” offered blatant racist and hate rhetoric.
The violence there led to the death of one woman who was struck by a car driven into a crowd earlier on Saturday; two Virginia State Police troopers also died when the helicopter they were flying in to monitor the crowds crashed. Dozens of others were injured in the melee, various media outlets reported.
“So much hate has been unleashed,” said the Rev. Virginia Jarocha-Ernst, minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, in Lincroft.
But this gathering was for a different reason, she announced. “We are here to say ‘no’ to hate,” Jarocha-Ernst said. “We are here to say ‘no’ to racism.”
“May we find a way to end this,” was Jarocha-Ernst’s wish.
Red Bank resident Kate Triggiano, who is the co-chair of the Monmouth County Young Progressives Committee and has been active on a number of progressive and liberal political fronts, said she was watching in dismay as the day’s events unfolded on cable TV news. She said she had started to receive calls from friends asking about getting something together in response. “We knew we had to do something, we wanted to do something,” Triggiano said. She explained she began spreading the word through social media, with others on Facebook continuing the thread, with the crowd convening about 8 p.m.
The group on hand sang hymns and offered their observations concerning the day’s events.
Despite what motivated it, “This is magnificent,” said the Rev. Gilbert Caldwell, looking at the peaceful crowd. Caldwell, a self-described civil rights advocate, said he had participated in the Freedom Summer, when he and others traveled to the South in 1964 to help register African-Americans to vote – facing violence and intimidation by groups like the KKK. “So, I’ve been around a whole lot,” and have seen violence of this type before, he said. “It seems to me in the U.S.A. there are some people who have a problem with people of color,” he added.
“It’s time to be angry,” said Rabbi Marc Kline of the Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls. “It’s time to be angry enough to do something” about the “ignorance that reigns and reigns supreme,” he continued.
“Today it is time to stand together,” and to let voices be heard, Kline said. “We have to take this moment to start making phone calls, writing letters,” he advised.
“We are on the side of America. We are on the side of freedom. We are on the side of justice,” said Sue Fulton, who was last year’s Democratic candidate for Monmouth County freeholder. “I say we have to remember what side we are on.”
Fulton and others criticized President Donald Trump, seeing his comments in response to the day’s events inadequate and tepid. “He didn’t condemn anything,” Fulton said.
Trump on Monday offered a more direct condemnation of the various groups after being disparaged from many corners, including from fellow Republicans. In his comments, he called the groups “repugnant.”
On Tuesday, however, Trump seemed to reverse himself, telling reporters “both sides” were to blame for the weekend’s violence, unleashing another round of criticism for the president’s views.
This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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