Fresno weighed in forcefully even if in small numbers against hatred and violence Saturday night in the wake of events hours earlier that had ended with the deaths of three people amid protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Demonstrations organized by white supremacists had turned violent, with one person dying and 19 others hurt after a three-vehicle crash in an area of downtown Charlottesville where counter-protesters had gathered. A pair of Virginia troopers then died when a State Police helicopter, said to have been monitoring the protests, crashed several miles away near a golf course.
At least 15 more were reported injured in the protests themselves.
For those gathered for a vigil at Woodward Park’s Art of Life Healing Garden, it was time to offer their support against “intolerance” and for “solidarity.”
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“It is appalling and it is terrifying,” vigil organizer Natasha Moiseyev said after seeing events play out in Virginia. Moiseyev is founder of Central Valley Indivisible, a group “dedicated to progressive action,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
Another group scheduled an event for 7 p.m. Sunday at the Peace Garden at Fresno State.
Although she is not personally worried, Moiseyev says she is concerned about the safety of those she works with because they fall into groups often on the receiving end of hatred.
“We need to be visible and support each other,” she said, “and make it clear that we’re creating a protective circle around our vulnerable population.”
Celeste Johnston, a 51-year-old from Fresno who works for the county as an office assistant, said she came to the vigil because it was right to point out a wrong.
“We need to let people know that what was happening in Charlottesville is wrong,” Johnston said, shrugging off the Valley heat, urging unity to stop the “possibly growing movement of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis.”
Johnston held a sign that read “America! We must all stand against hatred.”
In all, about 20 people attended, standing under a tree in a circle while discussing what had happened in Charlottesville as well as their experiences with discrimination and intolerance.
Candles were passed out once the sun began to set, with those in the group helping one another light the white sticks.
“We are patriots, we are Americans,” Moiseyev said. “We stand for American values.”