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Charlottesville Marks One Year Since Deadly White Supremacist Rally


This weekend marks a year since a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent and deadly. Heather Heyer was killed. Dozens of people were injured when a man rammed a car into a group of counter-protesters. The alleged driver has been charged with murder and hate crimes. Two state troopers monitoring the Unite To Right rally also died in a helicopter crash. And today Charlottesville is remembering what happened a year ago. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us from Charlottesville. Debbie, thanks for being with us. Where are you? And tell us what's going on please.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, I am in downtown Charlottesville sitting right across from the park where the rally was held last year. And there's very much a heavy police presence here. I'm looking at about - I don't know - three or four dozen state police in riot gear who have now surrounded the park. Pedestrian access is limited in the downtown area. There is no vehicular traffic allowed you can hear a four-wheeler going by with some police on it right now. There are officers on roofs all around. So security - very tight - you know, organizers of last year's rally are planning to protest in Washington, D.C., there tomorrow. But there was a lot of uncertainty of whether white supremacists would actually show up here. That's why there is such security. You know, last year, there was a lot of criticism for authorities not intervening to stop the violence. You know, people are on edge here. They're not sure what to expect. I spoke earlier this week with Anne McKeithen who was at a prayer vigil here in this park. And she said she's planning to leave town.

ANNE MCKEITHEN: It's so fraught with what's happened that feel I need to be away this weekend. It's just too frightening to be here not knowing what might happen.

SIMON: And how are people there marking the anniversary?

ELLIOTT: You know, there are a lot of institutional events. There are a lot of private events. There are faith events. The University of Virginia is doing something. Students will rally for justice there tonight at the Rotunda. They are reclaiming that space because last year a white supremacist came with their torches and took over that part of campus. You know, there will be memorial events, marches, a nonviolent workshop tomorrow, a community sing-a-long. You know, it's difficult for people here. There are mental health services available. You know, people are going through a lot thinking about what happened last year. And some are doing things in a much more private way. I ran into Alex Zan at the Heather Heyer memorial earlier this week. He was laying a poster that said, yes, you matter. And he said he's not marking the anniversary.

ALEX ZAN: If you think about it, really, it's a hate-iversary because, for me, they're feeding too much. And they're giving the Unite The Right rally too much PR. They've done the damage.

SIMON: Debbie, what's this last year been like for Charlottesville?

ELLIOTT: You know, he talks about damage. And some say that a real racial divide was, you know, revealed after those events. But it has people, you know, talking now and reexamining the city's history, talking about racial issues. It's also energized activists who are intent on fighting hate and not letting Charlottesville become some sort of shorthand for racial strife. I went to this Why We Protest panel discussion this week. And Reverend Brittany Caine-Conley with Congregate Charlottesville talked about their struggle after the meeting.

BRITTANY CAINE-CONLEY: We want the country to know that we're still here. Charlottesville isn't a hashtag. Charlottesville isn't something that happened. Our community experienced a white supremacist terror attack. And we are resilient. And we continue to fight white supremacy here everyday.

SIMON: Debbie, the statue of Robert E. Lee that - in a sense, the plans to remove it started it all. Where is it now?

ELLIOTT: I'm looking at it. It's still here surrounded by barricades. It's part of a legal battle right now between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville.

SIMON: NPR's Debbie Elliott in Charlottesville, thanks so much for being with us.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.