NEWTON — As the nation continued to reel from images of angry white men spouting racist rhetoric and clashing with counterprotesters in Virginia, US Representative Joseph Kennedy III on Thursday called on Americans to recommit themselves to protecting the civil rights of all.
“Too many have sacrificed too much to push our country too far for there to be any other choice, for there to be any other side,” Kennedy said.
A large crowd gathered outside Newton City Hall as Kennedy spoke alongside Mayor Setti Warren and local faith leaders to condemn white supremacist groups.
Warren, the city’s first African-American mayor, said he and his wife had to explain white nationalism to their two children, and why “there were people in the United States who hated them, and wanted to do them harm, because of their color.”
“This is not the world that I know Joe, me, or any of you want to leave our children or our grandchildren,” Warren said.
The Newton rally comes after a tumultuous week for the nation, starting with deadly violence Saturday that left three dead and dozens injured in Charlottesville, Va., after white supremacists marched on the city and fought with counterprotesters challenging their racist rhetoric.
“So comfortable were they, they didn’t even bother with a hood,” Kennedy said of the white supremacists in Charlottesville.
President Trump fanned anger of many Americans across the political spectrum by waiting until Monday to condemn the white supremacist groups. Then, the following day in New York, the president placed blame for the deadly violence in Charlottesville on “both sides.”
“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said Tuesday.
Both Kennedy and Warren said Trump failed in that moment to lead the country.
Kennedy said Americans had to find comfort, not from the president, but from local communities and from each other.
“We draw strength, not from those who chose silence, but from those who choose to refuse to be silenced,” said Kennedy.
Warren, a Democratic candidate for governor, told reporters afterward that it is up to Americans to work for a better world.
“President Trump is wrong in not acknowledging what this is, we need to call that out. But at the same time, all of us need to work together, at this moment, to figure out how to make this world a better place,” Warren said.
Kennedy, a Brookline Democrat, told reporters that he was moved by Wednesday night’s candlelight vigil in Charlottesville, which was to counter last weekend’s violence in that city.
Kennedy pointed to protests against racism across the nation as signs that the American people were working to heal the nation.
“The president of the United States is going have to reconcile the fact he had a chance to help heal this country, and it’s healing in spite of what he did, not because of what he did,” Kennedy said.
The Rev. Brandon Thomas Crowley, pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church gave an opening prayer, calling for action during what he called a “sacred moment” in time.
“Justice has dried up, oh God, righteousness flows not. For that reason, we scream out asking, oh Lord, for justice. That you would turn our hearts to be more like you. To see one another and to see you from the eyes of someone completely different than us,” said Crowley.
Rabbi Allison Berry of Temple Shalom in Newton gave the closing prayer, and said America’s promise that it is a place that has no place for bigotry and persecution has been challenged.
“Today and every day, we pray we meet that which divides us with a deep and enduring love. We must love one another even when we feel vulnerable and afraid. We pray we love one another even in the face of hate,” Berry said.
Newton resident Barry Goldstein, 74, attended the rally with his daughter Jessica Kellstein, 48. Goldstein said he was angered by the events of recent days and by the conduct of Trump, whom he described as a “narcissistic sociopath” only interested in himself.
“The right side of this is easy to see: Racists and Nazis are bad people,” Goldstein said.
Kellstein, 48, said she was looking for leadership from Democrats on how to respond to the events unfolding across the country.
“I thought it would be good to hear what our representative had to say,” she said, adding she was also there for “some inspiration and direction from the Democratic party.”
Lynn Shyevitch, 77, of Brookline said she was also angered that Trump was “not giving any leadership.”
She pledged she will take action: On Saturday, she’ll be among those protesters who will challenge those preaching racism on Boston Common.
“That’s the important thing, to show up,” said Shyevitch. “To counter the hate that is going on.”John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.