(PHOTOS) Hundreds gather in Decatur for peace rally following violence in CharlottesvilleTwo attendees of the Stand With Charlottesville vigil in Decatur, Ga., pass the flame as they light their candles at the start of the vigil. The gathering, held August 13, 2017, brought hundreds of people from Decatur and the surrounding areas. Photo by Annalise Kaylor
By Gabriel Owens, contributor
Hundreds of people gathered in the Decatur Square on Sunday evening for a peace rally and candlelight vigil following violence at a rally in Charlottesville, Va.
“We are here tonight to honor three people who lost their lives,” said Meymoona Freeman, a local activist. “We come together today as Americans in solidarity and respect.”
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The rally in Virginia on Saturday was held by white nationalists to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. It drew counter protesters and the event became violent and chaotic.
Virginia officials confirmed that 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, was arrested and has been booked on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop for an accident involving a death. Fields allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was crossing the street, was among those killed and 16 others were injured, the Associated Press confirmed with hospital officials. Two Virginia state troopers were killed in a helicopter crash that occurred while they were working the rally. Altogether 35 people were treated for injuries.
The gathering in Decatur was a short, peaceful event with the crowd holding up candles and a few signs calling for peace and an end to bigotry.
“This is about respect,” said Freeman. “I want everyone here to speak out about respect.”
The crowd responded with calls for respect and understanding. Following an affirmation for peace and a five-minute moment of silence for the victims, the impromptu gathering dispersed and ended peacefully. The rally lasted 30 minutes.
While keeping the event about peace and respect, Freeman later spoke more strongly about hate groups and remaining vigilant.
“We shouldn’t mince words about what certain groups are,” she said. “If they are Nazis, we need to call them Nazis. If they are white supremacists, we need to call them white supremacists.”
The rally took place near a Confederate monument in the square that was erected in 1908. The monument is owned by DeKalb County, according to City Manager Peggy Merriss, and the county is responsible for its upkeep.
There’ve been calls in the community for the monument’s removal but there hasn’t been any organized effort to do so.
“I think it’s ironic that this vigil was held in the shadow of the same kind of monument that the far right wanted to ‘protect,'” Decatur resident Cenate Pruitt said.
The peace rally in Decatur Square was among many similar events around the Atlanta area and across the country following the events this weekend in Virginia.
Here are more photos of Sunday’s vigil taken by Annalise Kaylor: