Over 250 people from the Princeton community and beyond gathered in Palmer Square on Sunday afternoon in solidarity with individuals affected by the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va.
“We stand with Charlottesville against the hate and White Supremacy,” reads the public Facebook event page created by Fatima Mughal of STAND Central New Jersey, a public advocacy group. “All are welcome to join.”
On Saturday, white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, where they were met by counter-protesters. Clashes left one person dead and at least 34 others injured, according to The New York Times.
“What happened [in Charlottesville] is terrifying and so upsetting and heart-breaking,” Mughal said. “We wanted to let people know this rally was happening so they could come together as a community.”
She added that the large turnout of individuals who gathered in Palmer Square and the hundreds of rallies nationwide show that “[white supremacists] are the minority and [counter-protesters] are the minority.”
During the event, leaders and members of organizations founded on progressive values encouraged people to stand together to fight racism and hate, drawing large cheers and applause.
One of the speakers was Tommy Parker, a member of the Princeton Civil Rights Commission, which was reinstated this year by Mayor Liz Lempert. Parker is also the co-chair of the Association of Black and Latino Employees at the University.
“I’m always empowered by events like this,” he said. “Realistically, in my history of growing up here, Princeton as a community has really been at the forefront of trying to create a positive move forward for issues of social justice like racial inequality.”
Leticia Fraga, chair of the Commission, explained that the violence in Charlottesville is not one limited to just another community.
“We shouldn’t think that something like that could never happen to us here,” she said. “We pray to God that it would not happen here, but [fighting for social justice] is still something we need to work on every single day.”
Most people in the crowd echoed the sentiments of the speakers, holding up a variety of signs including, “Black Lives Matter,” “Dignity, Respect, Justice for All,” “We Stand with Charlottesville,” “No Hate, No Trump,” and “Love Wins.”
Other signs included “Make America Great Again,” several owners of which audibly booed whenever a speaker mentioned President Trump in a negative way.
Lee Eric Newton, a Trump supporter, noted that, as he walked through the crowd, many people were equally unwelcoming toward him.
“It’s amazing that I can’t come out as an American, as a New Jerseyan, and participate in this," he said. "This was supposed to be for everybody.”
Newton added that just like everyone else, he felt the incident in Charlottesville was “terrible.”
“Life lost at any time is terrible,” he said. “Ever since Trump got elected, the New York Times and other fake media has been, every single day, promoting negative ads.”
Newton will be running in the New Jersey State Senate District 15 general election against Shirley Turner, the Democratic incumbent.
Ella and May Kotsen, co-presidents of a high school club called “PHS Democrats in Action,” said they heard about the rally through Facebook and encouraged others from their school to join.
“We’re extremely disgusted by what’s happening,” said May Kotsen. “We do not support white supremacists at all, unlike our President, who refuses to acknowledge that what they’re doing is not free speech — it’s hate speech.”
Timothy Quinn, Princeton municipal government councilman, said that he was in the midst of celebrating the historic African American community in Princeton when he heard of the white supremacist march in Charlottesville.
“Yesterday, I had been to events all week celebrating this community that survived centuries of institutional racism in a town that confined them to one small neighborhood,” he noted. “They had such unity, strength, joy, a sense of purpose, and love.”
Quinn added that it was unacceptable for President Trump to not call the violence in Charlottesville “an act of domestic terror” while he has “no problem decrying what he calls 'radical Islamic terrorism.'”
“We stand with Charlottesville, we’re overcoming the past, we’re moving forward, and there’s no room for the kind of hatred that we saw there and anywhere in this country,” he said.
The rally was sponsored by Indivisible groups, Women’s March organizers, Democracy for America, STAND Central New Jersey, the Working Families Party, Resist Here, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.