A member of the Ku Klux Klan shouts at counter protesters during a rally, calling for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments, in Charlottesville, VA (Getty/Andrew Caballero)

White privilege turned deadly in Charlottesville: How would police have reacted if a mob of angry black people had gathered there?

Imagine this thought experiment: Hundreds of armed, angry black protesters descend on a small Southern city


Chauncey DeVega
August 16, 2017 9:00AM (UTC)

I offer the following thought experiment.

Last weekend, hundreds of white supremacists and other right-wing extremists descended upon the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. They planned their "Unite the Right" rally months ago on the internet and in other public forums. The organizers encouraged their followers to bring weapons to Charlottesville. Many did so.

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On Friday night, hundreds of white supremacists marched through the city, torches in hand, channeling the brutality and evil of the American Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis of Hitler's Germany. These white supremacists encircled a black church and threatened to burn it down -- and by implication kill all the people inside. This same gang of thugs then surrounded a group of University of Virginia students and beat them.

The violence escalated on Saturday, when hundreds of white supremacists rampaged across Charlottesville. They verbally assaulted people with racial slurs and other epithets. But words were not enough. White supremacists and their allies also attacked anti-racism counter-protesters (as well as bystanders) with bats, sticks, shields, fists, pepper spray and all manner of weapons. Many of the right-wing hooligans were also armed with pistols and rifles. The right-wing mob even attacked members of the clergy. They also bullied the Charlottesville police, pushing back those police officers who dared to interfere. Virginia's governor would offer an excuse for their inaction: Police were "outgunned" by the fascists.

Ultimately, the Charlottesville police looked on and did very little to stop the white supremacist maelstrom. The orgy of white violence culminated with an ISIS-style attack when a speeding car crashed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and leaving many dozens injured. The alleged attacker was later arrested by the Charlottesville police. He was taken alive.

Imagine this: What if the white right-wing thugs in Charlottesville had instead been African-American or Hispanic?

The police would not have shown restraint. They would have been joined by the National Guard and other forces. A bloodbath might well have ensued. The events in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Mike Brown, demonstrate how America's police respond to unarmed black and brown American who dare to engage in civil disobedience and protest. People of color with guns or other weapons would be shown no mercy.

What if the white right-wing thugs in Charlottesville had been First Nations people?

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As occurred last year at Standing Rock, they would have been treated brutally. Unarmed and peaceful Native Americans (and their allies) who tried to stop a toxic pipeline that will pollute the area's water supply were attacked by a militarized police force and private mercenaries.

What if the white right-wing thugs in Charlottesville had been Muslims?

A national emergency would have been declared. The violence and killing in Charlottesville would instantly have been labeled as terrorism. Donald Trump would immediately have given a speech to the American people about the grave danger posed by this terrorist assault on the "homeland." The full weight of the federal government would have been thrown against the Muslims running amok in Charlottesville.

These scenarios demonstrate a basic truth about the color line in America. The white supremacist rampage in Charlottesville last week was an example of white privilege in action -- in the most deadly ways possible.

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I have written previously here at Salon, the white supremacists and their allies in Charlottesville were allotted another type of privilege as well. On numerous occasions, members of right-wing militias and other domestic terror groups have been allowed to point guns at police and federal authorities without fear of retaliation -- Fox News and the right-wing media even go so far as to describe people who do such things as "patriots."

While white men in right-wing militias pose a greater threat to public safety in America than Islamic terrorists, even making such a factual claim is considered impolitic and incendiary. Liberals and progressives are not allowed such latitude. Indeed, they would be labeled as "terrorists" or "traitors" by the American news media if they participated in or threatened the same type of violent action as right-wingers frequently do.

The violence in Charlottesville is a reminder, once again, that white privilege and white racism doesn't just harm black and brown people -- it can hurt white people too.

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A white privilege temper tantrum elected Donald Trump.

White privilege keeps him in office.

White privilege killed and rampaged in Charlottesville last weekend.


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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