Packed historic church denounces Charlottesville violence

Aug 17, 2017

Racism, bigotry, and Donald Trump were denounced Wednesday during a prayer vigil in the historic Durham Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in downtown Buffalo.

It was a packed church gathering, remembering the violence in Charlottesville, VA.
Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

It was a packed house, with a large crowd outside as well, in the church born from the enslavement of Africans, who were comforted with prayer whenever confronted with bigotry.

Wednesday's prayer vigil was another commentary on the weekend's events in Charlottesville, VA, which left one counter-protestor and two Virginia State Police officers dead. President Trump has taken different points of view on the violence that engulfed the university town. It also drew verbal fire during the prayer vigil.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said she made sure to be at the vigil, quickly returning from a trip to New York City. Hochul does not know why the nation turned away from resolving racial issues.

"That is why I come here so confused and troubled, because I know that all these people are taught to hate, because one does not naturally become born and hate other people. It is something that is learned. It is something that is learned," she said.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul addressed the gathering.
Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

Many speakers at the AME Zion church reached back in time, especially to the Civil Rights Movement days of the 1960s, to remind younger attendees that they can survive and learn from what happened then. Some speakers reminded those present of the sacrifices of the family of Heather Heyer, who was run down by a car during the Charlottesville protests, apparently driven by a white supremacist.

New York State Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes said many in the room had been there before.

"This is not new stuff here. We've been dealing with this a long time," Peoples-Stokes said. "I am one of the descendants of the people who made it through the Middle Passage and so it's always been a tough challenge - and because they made it through the Middle Passage and I'm here that I know that we can still keep going. We can survive and we can get past this, too."

Peoples-Stokes said she had cried earlier in the day, watching the memorial service for Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor killed in Charlottesville. The Buffalo Democrat said those at the vigil have to stand with her mother, as people two generations ago stood with the mother of Emmett Till - killed by white racists in Mississippi - who would not let her son be buried in a closed coffin, but demanded his wounds be visible as he was buried.

A variety of speakers addressed the prayer vigil.
Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said there is only one right side in this struggle.

"Hatred and bigotry of any kind can never be tolerated," Poloncarz said. "Violence and terrorism must always be condemned and those who perpetrate it prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

He recalled the planned local Ku Klux Klan rally in 1981 when the only protestor to appear, Karl Hand, was vastly outnumbered by those who opposed his message of bigotry and racism.

"There are not multiple sides on the issue and no excuses can be made for the vitriolic statements and actions of others," said Poloncarz. "There is only those who espouse racism and hatred and the rest of a civilized society."