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Civil Rights Leaders: Higher Ed Needs More Engagement After Charlottesville

President Trump may have taken two days to specifically call out the KKK, neo-Nazis and White supremacists for their role in the Charlottesville tragedy, but a diverse group of civil rights leaders that complained of his slow response were still not satisfied.

On Monday, after prefatory remarks on economic data, Trump turned to the weekend’s tragedy that claimed three lives. He called racism “evil” and read a prepared speech that denounced “criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

But the organizer of an ad hoc group of civil rights leaders that had condemned Trump’s unwillingness to speak forcefully on the matter on Saturday was not impressed.

“It is a sad state of affairs when it’s a news story that the President of the United States condemns racism and white supremacy,” said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a statement soon after the president’s remarks.

“Two days after the fact, President Trump has at long last, directly and personally, condemned the white supremacist rallies and violent extremism that occurred in Charlottesville,” Gupta continued. “While today’s delayed words are welcome, they should have been spoken on Saturday. This unconscionable delay has undermined his moral credibility as our nation’s leader.”

Gupta said the actions didn’t go far enough.

“Today’s words must be followed by action,” Gupta added. “(Trump) must stop advancing policies that seek to divide this nation. Supporters of white supremacists, violent extremism, racial bigotry, and neo-Nazis should not serve in the White House or at any level of government. The president should fire Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka or any staffers who stoke hate and division.”

Gupta initially organized a media conference on Sunday representing a cross section of civil rights groups ranging from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to the National Council of Churches. They issued a joint demand Sunday afternoon that the president come out with a stronger direct message against the white nationalists who took part in the Saturday riot.

The fact that the tragedy took place in a prominent university town was also noted.  With new students arriving less than a week away at the University of Virginia’s Charlottesville campus, the civil rights leaders were asked about the lesson for new incoming students and their parents.

“The lessons to draw from (Saturday) far exceed any particular group or demographic,” said Gupta. “We are all as people living in this country deeply affected by what happened and need to take a stand of solidarity as Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, the list goes on,” Gupta said. “All communities, white Americans need to be deeply troubled by the events in Charlottesville and indeed by the actions and inactions of this administration to embolden and promote racist policies that have had a detrimental effect on vulnerable communities.”

“There are a new crew of UVA students who are about to join the university,” Gupta continued.  “It’s a very racially diverse group and my guess is that they are all very much concerned about how they are about to be engaging. And not just at UVA but at universities all across the country.

“This is really a call to action,” Gupta said. “If we have learned anything, there are communities around the country that need to be taking a stand against the kind of division and polarization and racism that we are seeing and saw in full display in Charlottesville. And that we have been seeing during the course of the election and the last six months of the administration.”

The leaders on the call were all dismayed that Trump had issued a statement that they considered, “weak, insufficient, and unacceptable.” They were especially concerned by the president’s suggestion that there were “many sides” responsible for the violence, when it was clear the violence was instigated by those with nationalistic and white supremacist views.

“We are not looking to be appeased, we are not looking to be made to feel better,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We’re asking that we really confront what the threat is to the integrity of this country. And to confront that requires not just that the President take action, but that we really have a reckoning, and that means Congress also must recognize ways that they have been complicit in allowing this environment to proliferate that resulted in (Charlottesville). .  . They have to show the nation that being against white supremacy and being against white nationalism, and being against racism and homophobia, should not be the province of a political party. It is supposed to be part of what it means to be an American and what it means to believe in democracy.”

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. He writes at

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