It is 2017, more than 70 years since Allied forces declared victory over Nazi Germany, but on Wednesday members of the Carlisle community filled the town square to stand against the ideology of the Hitler regime.
It is 2017, more than 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but on Wednesday members of the Carlisle community filled the town square to stand against the ideology of the Jim Crow South.
“It’s 2017. I’m a young man and I saw Nazis in history books,” Carlisle Borough Council Member Sean Crampsie said Wednesday during a Rally for Unity. “And then I put on my television and it’s right in front of me. In 2017 we had people doing Nazi salutes. We had people with Nazi flags.”
Crampsie was speaking about the recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
During the rally protesters donning Nazi regalia, shouting white supremacist and racial epithets, clashed violently with counter protesters.
On Saturday, a driver — now charged with murder — drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen other people.
Two Virginia State Police Troopers, who were patrolling the area, also died over the weekend when their helicopter crashed.
“Unfortunately, evil and hate reside not only in some far away land, but much closer to home,” said U.S. Army Col. Ken Adgie, deputy commandant of the U.S. Army War College. “Symbols of hate marched down the street of a quiet American town, past the school where children play and into the park where people gather. Men and women carried swastikas and torches, wore shirts bearing hate symbols and chanted slogans of allegiance to racial superiority.
“American soldiers of World War II who fought Nazis must be looking on with dismay that fellow citizens have rejected their sacrifices, their wounds … and the American ideals that carried them through that terrible war,” he said.
Several hundred people packed the town square Friday to hear speakers black and white, from the left and right denounce the hatred seen in Virginia and develop ways to move forward.
“I understand that you are all out for a good reason, and what happened over the weekend was tragic and sad, but I’m not here to make you feel better, because you shouldn’t,” Safronia Perry said. “What we need from everyone is to stand up now. This is a call to action. What are you going to do?”
Perry, who is the interim executive director of Hope Station, said she was not speaking Wednesday in an official capacity, but was telling her story and speaking as a black woman living in America.
She said talking about race can be uncomfortable, but the conversations are necessary.
“I’m tired of being afraid,” Perry said. “I’m tired of people not understanding why we are afraid when we walk into a room and it’s filled with nothing but white people. Today, my question for all of you is, what are you going to do?
“We have been fighting this fight all of our lives,” she said.
Nobody explicitly mentioned President Donald Trump’s response to the Charlottesville events, but Carlisle Mayor Timothy Scott called on political and social leaders to step up and take on the cause of social and racial equality.
“We need leaders who speak out on the false equivalence of those who are opposed to hate and those who foment hate,” he said.
Scott declared the week of Aug. 14 Inclusion Week in Carlisle.
For Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-North Middleton Township, the message was about uniting against hatred and bigotry, something he said the country and the Carlisle community has done in the past and most continue to do.
“Our nation has never been perfect, but we have been a great nation because we’ve been willing to face, to name and to confront evil and to defeat evil,” Bloom said.
Margee Ensign, president of Dickinson College, spoke of the need to combat hate and identify goals to do so.
Prior to joining Dickinson College, Ensign served as president of the American University in Nigeria.
During her tenure the terrorist group Boko Haram came within 50 miles of the university.
“We said ‘we are the powerful community leaders. If we come together and focus on those vulnerable children maybe we can keep this place safe and maybe we can give them some hope,’” she said.
None of the young people the group helped joined Boko Haram, Ensign said.
“We joined hands with other community leader, as we must do,” she said.
Matt Toney, worship pastor at The Meeting House, called on all in attendance to look inward and to listen to others.
“If you’re asking what you can do, you can get out of your comfort zone and start a conversation with your black neighbor, with the intent to listen,” he said. “Start a conversation. It’s going to be hard and you’re not going to like and you’re going to feel guilty. You’re going to feel defensive.
“We have to hear and we have to speak up for racial inequality,” he said. “We have to speak up for injustice in our community.”