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Gainesville march draws more than 100 in response to Virginia violence
Participants decry hate in peaceful event downtown
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Marchers make their way from Roosevelt Square on Tuesday during a solidarity march against racism and bigotry in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

A peaceful group of more than 100 people marched through Gainesville on Tuesday in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

People taking part in the demonstration carried signs opposing Nazism and white supremacy and supporting love over hate.

Josh McCall organized the event after violent clashes in Virginia on Saturday between self-described white nationalists and members of the alt-right — some of whom were carrying Nazi flags and performing the Nazi salute — and counterprotesters, which included members of the anti-fascist group that goes by the name “antifa.”

The violence culminated in 20-year-old James Alex Fields allegedly driving his car into a crowd of counter protesters. The attack killed one woman, Heather Heyer, and injured many others.

But all was peaceful in Gainesville. People began trickling into Roosevelt Square near the Hall County Courthouse a bit after 4:30 p.m. for the 5:15 p.m. march, called A March for Equality and Dignity. View the live video on Facebook.

The group was a cross-section of Gainesville, including members of both political parties, white, black and Hispanic residents, old and young, long-timers in the community and students new to the area.

Appeals to Christian beliefs bookended the demonstration by preachers and other speakers at the end of the march.

“All human beings in this country are equal,” McCall told the crowd at the beginning of the event. “Every human being in this country deserves dignity.”

McCall announced earlier this year he is running against U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, next year.

Brian Aycock turned out to the rally because he said he thought displays like those in Charlottesville were in the United States’ past.

“I don’t know if we were surprised or not, but it’s pretty disheartening in this day and age to see the kind of stuff that went on over the weekend — to see people having a white supremacist rally,” Aycock said. “At some point you think we’ve evolved beyond that.”

Many in the crowd said they thought it was important to show up in public and make it clear people in Gainesville don’t support the way debate and rhetoric in the United States is changing.

“I think it’s really important to show our community that we don’t stand for the kind of things that have been happening, not just in Charlottesville but in general around the country as far as the escalation goes,” said Kelsey Kirkpatrick, who wore a #Resist button on her backpack. “Nazis, I mean, actual Nazis are marching through American streets.”

Both people marching and speakers at the end of the event invoked Heyer’s name. The 32-year-old Heyer’s last post on social media said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Her quote was written on a sign carried by Arturo Adame, a Democratic activist in the Gainesville area.

He said the event on Tuesday was the right response to the events in Charlottesville.

“Staying silent is what makes it OK,” Adame said as he walked over the pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway. “That’s what makes it OK.”

While Adame is critical of President Donald Trump, he said it was important that the Gainesville demonstration be peaceful.

“This is a peaceful protest,” Adame said. “We don’t want to cause any drama or incite anything. Just anybody who sees or learns about this, they can see, ‘Oh, you’re not alone.’”

Protests in other cities haven’t gone the same way. Antifa groups have clashed with law enforcement and attacked passers-by in demonstrations in major cities around the country, with protests sometimes degenerating into melees.

Not so in Gainesville, where dozens of officers from the Gainesville Police Department were posted at the march’s gathering area, along the route and at the greenspace where it ended. A helicopter from the Georgia State Patrol circled overhead. An officer with a drone stood by in case the device needed to be launched to monitor the area.

But there were no threats against the demonstrators and no counterprotesters. Gainesville police reported no incidents during the march, according to spokesman Kevin Holbrook.

At the end of the march, a group of preachers, clergy and a practitioner of Buddhism spoke about their beliefs and about peace, drawing cheers from the audience.

Some of the chants, slogans and signs took a political bent, and many of those who turned out took issue specifically with Trump.

Jim McIntyre, a Navy veteran who marched with his wife, Jeri, turned out because of his opposition to white supremacists and those carrying Nazi flags.

“It turns my stomach. It makes me ill,” McIntyre said of seeing the flags. “There have been too many lives lost over the hundreds of years (by people) that have fought against oppression, and that needs to be the foremost thought of citizens today.”