The United Christian Leadership Ministry (UCLM) convened Friday morning to condemn President Donald Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va. over the removal of a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee.
“In Chalottesville, Va., his supporters, Klansmen, and Nazis committed acts of violence and murdered Heather Heyer, a martyr for social justice and this president calls them ‘fine people,’” stated Reverend Lewis Stewart, president of the UCLM.
Last week, white supremacists flocked to Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of the statue and clashed with protestors and anti-fascist groups, resulting in the death of 32-year-old protestor Heather Heyer. Days later, Trump condemned the violence on “both sides,” further angering Americans who disagreed with his response. More than half of Americans thought he handled it poorly, according to a Marist poll.
“In Germany right now, swastikas are banned,” said Stewart. “Any hint of Nazism is banned. There are no statues to Hitler...because of the murderous, filthy violence these people created…and it’s the same thing in this country.”
He went on to say that all memorials, statues, and other nods to Confederate leaders should be taken down.
“I have no sympathy for the confederacy. All their statues need to be demolished. Robert E. Lee was a traitor. Stonewall Jackson was a traitor. Jeb Stewart was a traitor. All of them were traitors to this county and I don’t know why this country seeks to honor these traitors today.”
Earlier this week, Trump further angered some Americans when he asked where protestors “would draw the line,” asking if they’d like to also remove statues of former presidents George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.
Kerry Coleman, a veteran and co-chair of the Coalition for Police Reform, added nuance to the discussion saying former presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington may have been slaveholders but they weren’t actively trying to tear apart the country.
“These people were founding fathers. Yes, the way way of life at the time, slavery was legal but they weren’t traitors like Jeb Stewart or Robert E. Lee. They didn’t try to divide the country,” he said.
“I want to say as a veteran myself, we have to swear an oath and one of those is to go against enemies foreign and domestic so we have domestic enemies that’s among us that are basically attacking our way of life,” he continued.
Rabbi Drorah Setel of Temple Emanuel said many don’t know that these statues aren’t a big part of history. She said they haven’t been around for 200 years as some may think.
“If we look at the actual history of these statues they were not commemorating the civil war,” she said. ”They were post-Reconstruction. They were put up during a time of Jim Crow Laws to intimidate and to honor racism, basically.”
Setel went on to say that as a Jewish woman, she sees the Confederate flag the same as she sees a swastika and both, she continued, have no place here.
“To remain silent in the face of Charlottesville and police use of excessive force against people of color implies a complicity in White National identity and support of Trump’s racism,” stated the UCLM.