CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — Wednesday marks three years since white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” rally, sparking national attention.
On Aug. 12, 2017, counter-protesters and white nationalists clashed in Market Street Park, formerly known as Lee Park, forcing Virginia State Police to declare an unlawful assembly. That day rocked the city to its core and forever changed the lives of residents in Charlottesville, but also forced many to open their eyes to the division in our country.
“With Heather’s death in our community just three years ago a lot has changed in our community,” said Alfred Wilson, a longtime friend of Heather Heyer. “I believe our community is more united.”
Heyer, 32, and two Virginia State Police pilots, Trooper Jay Cullen and Trooper Burke Bates, lost their lives on the day of the rally.
Governor Ralph Northam released a statement Wednesday, saying in part, “We must do more than reflect. Our Commonwealth and our country continue to grapple with the reality of systemic racism. Virginians continue to cry out for justice and healing, for fairness, for opportunity, and for equality. These are more than just words or feelings — they are calls to action. And we have a lot of work left to do. So as we honor the lives lost that day, we must also renew our commitment to equity, diversity, and justice.”
James Fields Jr., a self proclaimed white supremacist, will spend life in prison for ramming his Dodge Charger through a crowd of protesters on 4th and Waters Streets. Heyer was hit and killed and dozens more were injured physically and emotionally.
Some say Charlottesville was the catalyst that has sparked the conversation and opened the dialogue to race in America and division that still exists.
“She (Heather) would be appalled by what’s going on in the world right now. She would definitely be bothered by all the actions that have happened and embarrassed by the lack of leadership,” said Wilson. “She would definitely be appalled.”
The national attention garnered by the rally, which was organized by Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, started before Aug. 12, 2017. The day before, neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists stormed UVA Grounds with tiki torches shouting “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us.”
The “Unite the Right” rally was the result of the debate in Charlottesville over whether to keep the Robert E. Lee statue up or take it down. Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, says she has turned to activism and is keeping her daughter’s beliefs of equality alive today with the Heather Heyer Foundation.
When asked why her daughter’s death has still resonated three years later, Bro said, “Because she was white in my opinion. Because we still have these crazy ideas that only white people matter when that’s just wrong.”
Both Bro and Wilson are featured in the Investigation Discovery’s special three-year anniversary documentary, entitled “Impact of Hate: Charlottesville.” The documentary tells the story of four survivors and their trauma, dives into the hate spewed that day and the damage left behind.
On Tuesday, signs and fresh flowers mark the “Honorary Heather Heyer Way” where Heyer and dozens more fought for equality.
“Anytime you lose a loved one that day is hard,” said Bro. “Birthdays are hard, Mother’s day is hard, holidays are hard, but you survive them and get through them and go through life.”
Bro says she plans to have a busy day Wednesday, raising awareness about social justice issues virtually. She will also make an appearance at Market Street Park for the “Reclaim the Park” event from 1- 7 p.m.
The ID documentary airs on Wednesday at 9 p.m. (ET).