Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland spoke out about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend and also said the city will enforce its anti-discrimination ordinance if similar actions were to occur here.
A Unite the Right rally was held Saturday morning in the Virginia city where a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has long been a point of contention. Rally participants, including white supremacists, members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, fought with counter protesters.
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio has been charged with murder and other counts after police alleged he was involved in a fatal hit-and-run crash that killed a woman and injured 19 others.
The city of Springfield is thinking about the people and their families who are suffering as a result of the events, Copeland said.
“My first concern is for those who were killed or injured,” he said.
Springfield recognizes the rights of groups to assemble here, Copeland said. In the past, the city has had visits from the Ku Klux Klan, he said. The organization held a large rally near the courthouse on North Limestone Street in 1994, according to Springfield News-Sun archives.
“They have a right under the U.S. Constitution to have their words but they do not have a right to do violent activities,” Copeland said. “As a city, you have to be concerned about that.”
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At the same time, the city can regulate where, when and how those groups assemble, Copeland said.
Springfield also has an anti-discrimination ordinance that makes clear it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race or religion, he said.
“We believe in that strongly and we plan to practice it,” Copeland said. “By saying we recognize the right of people to assemble doesn’t mean that we agree with what they assemble to do.”
A Springfield grassroots organization will gather downtown Wednesday for a vigil in light of the violent demonstrations held last weekend. Indivisible Springfield, an organization that describes its mission as resisting racism and corruption in government, will host the vigil at 7 p.m. today at the Esplanade in downtown Springfield, organizer Bradley Minerd said.
Copeland will be one of the speakers at the vigil.
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