Aug. 14, the Pine Belt Action Network held a “Vigil Against Hate” in Shoemaker Square on the campus of The University of Southern Mississippi. A group of Hattiesburg residents and university students teamed up to stand in solidarity with those who were injured or lost lives during the White Nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. The vigil included speakers who were affected by the Charlottesville events and allowed the Hattiesburg community to express their anger, grief and frustration.
Senior Business Management major Crystal Ward attended the vigil with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the people affected and to pay her respects.
“Because I’m not a person of color, I experience the world that we live in today a little differently than, say…my friend would,” Ward said. “She is an African-American woman. So, if she expresses frustration to me about the events that went on in Charlottesville though I may not be able to fully comprehend her experiences, she will know that I am there for her.”
The vigil began with a short prayer for the well-being of the victims that were hurt physically and emotionally. The host of the event then allowed the community to speak about their hopes for Hattiesburg to come together as one community.
This vigil took place after the Charlottesville, Virginia White Nationalist rallies.
Prior to the Charlottesville incidents, an unidentified person was allegedly assaulted with pepper spray at a weekly state flag demonstration in July outside of The University of Southern Mississippi. With the assistance of the university police, Hattiesburg police were dispatched to assess the situation. The alleged victim reported that he had been pepper sprayed by a woman just outside of university grounds. He has since filed an affidavit to press charges against the alleged attacker.
The attack happened after a young woman, who opposed the flag supporter, stood with a handwritten sign that read “racist” with an arrow pointing towards the supporters. DeBorah Simpson and her husband, who are African-American supporters of the flag, were called “house slaves” after taking a picture with the young woman’s sign. Upon hearing the name-calling, the flag supporters came to Simpson’s defense. Words were then exchanged between the two and the young woman allegedly pepper sprayed the man.
“Incidents like the ones in Virginia or the pepper spraying are not any different from each other,” Pine Belt Action Network Representative Sarah McClaine said. “Though this incident was on a smaller scale, it gives us the opportunity to bring the larger scale events into perspective.”