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Home / US / Protesting during the trial in Charlottesville, the community reflects: NPR

Protesting during the trial in Charlottesville, the community reflects: NPR



A makeshift memorial on the street where Heather Heyer was killed when a car was rammed into the crowd at a white supremacist rally in 2017.

Debbie Elliott / NPR


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A makeshift memorial on the street where Heather Heyer was killed when a car was rammed into the crowd at a white supremacist rally in 2017.

Debbie Elliott / NPR

The jury's selection begins today in the lawsuit against the man accused of ramming his car through a crowd protesting against a white supraregional rally in Charlottesville, VA. James Alex Fields, Jr. is charged with murder in the first degree of death, Heather Heyer and other charges of malicious wounding.

One of these wounded was Star Peterson. When the "Unite the Right" rally broke out on August 12, 2017, Peterson marched into the city with a multicultural group of counter-demonstrators. She did not see the gray Dodge Challenger accelerating down a hill from behind along a narrow one-way street.

"I just heard three bumps," she recalls. "Two of them were his left tires going over my leg."

Star Peterson was injured when a car ripped into the crowd in August 2017 during a white raid in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Star Peterson was injured when a car was rammed into the crowd in August 2017 during a white, overpowering rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Debbie Elliott / NPR

Peterson is sporting 38-year-old neon pink pig tails and a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

She had five operations and was unable to return to work because of her severe injuries.

"He broke both my legs, two parts of my spine, and a rib, and then [I] had sizeable wounds too," she says.

Peterson wants to testify at the trial.

"I have to do something for Heather, other than laying flowers on her grave and being part of the persecution of the person who killed her, I can do for her memory," says Peterson.

The authorities say Fields, a 21-year-old white man from Ohio, purposely plowed his car into the anti-racist demonstration, claiming he had earlier participated in the rally with chants featuring the promote white supremacy.

Fields has not asked guilty. His defense attorney Denise Lunsford, who had been appointed to court, refused to comment on the case.

Lunsford has tried to relocate the process to Charlottesville because he argues that the event is affecting local residents, and that the general public will discourage the public from having a fair and reasonable process.

The judge of the Charlottesville Circuit Court, Richard E. Moore, has put the defense request for a change of location under consultation. He says if an impartial jury can not be found out of the 360-person jury pool, he'll pick up on the matter again.

The main evidence of prosecutors will include video graphics shared by social media witnesses.

"I feel like a court I'll see my daughter die over and over again," says Susan Bro, Heather Heyer's mother.

She is ready to end the process and hopes that selecting a jury will not be a problem.

"I want them to have a completely fair and impartial process," she says. "I do not want to have to repeat that 15 times."

She says that she has the impression that the process could last for years if there are vocations. But no matter what, she wants to go through the case.

"I never hated Mr. Fields because I felt he was in the hands of justice now," says Bro. "But I pray that justice prevails here."

The wider community is also seeking justice, as it seeks to reconcile the forces that made Charlottesville a race for racial conflict.

I do not know, "says Don Gathers, co-founder of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter.

Don Gathers, deacon of the historic First Baptist Church and co-founder of the Charlottesville chapter of Black Lives Matter.

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Don Gathers, deacon of the historic First Baptist Church and co-founder of the Charlottesville chapter Black Lives Matter.

Debbie Elliott / NPR

"We need to figure out how to turn Charlottesville into more than just a hashtag and more than a stroke into this country's racist history," he says.

Gathers served a number of citizens advisory boards – including the city's Blue Band Commission for the Race, Monuments and Public Spaces.

He says it was an awakening that this was the center of a new civil rights battle.

"We have now reached a point we must stop talking about the race, and talk about the real elephant in the room that is racism."

Combating systemic racism is a goal of Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. Over one million dollars were raised for the Heal Charlottesville Fund.

"What we have heard about healing our community has been opportunities for action, opportunities to be really good and honest in our collective history," says Foundation President Brennan Gould. "And acting in a way that will help resolve the effects of this story."

The Foundation funded an initiative to increase, for example, the diversity of teachers and to improve security in the Jewish community. Gould says that the continued focus on injured survivors is based on countless needs such as rent, utilities, medical bills and advice.

"It seemed like the world was moving in some way," she says. "Yet people still lived and traded the consequences of this tragedy."

The fund helps survivors by granting fellowship worker Matthew Christensen of Partner for Mental Health a scholarship. He serves as a navigator and helps people deal with things like completing applications for disability or finding accessible housing.

"It's a lot of everything they need," says Christensen.

what he says could re-traumatize. But Christensen says the process itself is an opportunity for accountability.

"In order for the offender to face real consequences because people are struggling with it – not with organizers like Jason Kessler or Richard Spencer, who have legal consequences for organizing this rally."

Rally participants convicted, but the rally organizers were not charged with crimes. However, the organizers are facing a civil lawsuit filed by residents of Charlottesville who were sued under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.

Survivor star Peterson prepares for Fields' testimony in the trial. She believes, however, that justice is elusive.

"There can not be justice," says Peterson. "We can not undo what has been done, we can not bring Heather back."

If Virginia was convicted of charges in Virginia, Fields could be sentenced to life imprisonment.

He has also been charged with hate crimes charges that allow the death penalty.


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