Heyer was run down by a speeding car driven by an alleged white supremacist during a dispute over the planned removal of a Civil War monument. Although she was the only one who died, 19 others were injured in what some have labeled a domestic terrorist act.
Unlike other demonstration across the country, there were no candles or makeshift tributes left on sidewalks, just the stricken faces of local residents, gathered once more to respond to a national tragedy. The gathering was smaller than some in the past, but the several hundred people who came made up for their numbers in volume and in intensity.
Slowly, chanting began along with the drum beat: “No Justice, no peace.”
“We’re here because we want to know what we can do on a local level.” -- Michael Billy
Posters with Heyer’s face stared down at the crowd from a number of streetlight poles, a stranger, who had suddenly been adopted by local residents the way many of these same people had adopted the victims of the Orlando shooting a year earlier.
Many of the same people were also here earlier this year in support of immigrants in response to threats by the federal government to strip federal funding from cities like Jersey City that offered sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
Organizers moved through the crowd distributing Heyer’s photo, which included her last posting on her Facebook page. But many brought their own signs, some supporting the Black Lives Matters movement, and others laying blame for the tragedy on President Donald Trump, calling for his impeachment.
A call to awareness
Yet anger was not the predominate mood, nor was sadness. Michael Billy, who has been instrumental in organizing other rallies such as this, said this was a call for peace.
“We’re here because we want to know what we can do on a local level,” Billy said, calling for people to remain awake and in touch and to become informed. “We have to be more active than ever before, and we all need to be aware of what’s going on in the country.”
The mood was also one of defiance, of people who refused to be moved, drawing strength from Civil Rights rallies led by people such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unlike past rallies, the setup was small, seven chairs and a microphone where Billy, religious leaders and Pam Johnson, executive director of the Jersey City Anti Violence Coalition Movement gathered.
Against the backdrop of a sinking sun, each prayed for peace, and urged resistance against the trend of violence that took Heyer’s life, and the right-wing hate groups emerging across the nation.
Billy said Jersey City is one of the most diverse cities in the county, and should serve as an example of how diverse groups can get along with each other.
“We are watching American history unfold before us every day,” he said.
Billy and others talked about Heyer and her history of helping people in her life,
“She was 32, and she was dedicated to helping others,” Billy said, noting that her outrage at the hate groups was the reason she attended the counter protest.
Religious leaders, including Johnson, also paid tribute to the two Virginia State Patrol troopers who were were killed in a helicopter crash while assisting public safety resources
The pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who would have turned 41 on Sunday, died in the crash.
“These were officers who were there to protect people,” Billy said.
Although Billy and Johnson are running for city council, this did not appear to be their motivation in leading the vigil. Both have been deeply involved in similar rallies in the past.
Johnson led the crowd in the chant until it echoed through the canyon of downtown buildings, as if filling the entire city.
Mayor Steven Fulop, who arrived after the start of the rally, told the crowd that people had to make a stand against hate.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.