Bill Burke, a fighter for civil rights and survivor of 2017’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, believes the lack of communication could lead to violence May 25 when a KKK group and counter protesters gather in downtown Dayton.
He should know. He ended up in the street, right next to Heather Heyer, after they were run over by a car during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017.
Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, died in the street that day.
Burke, a Wright State University grad and former EMT who describes himself as an Army brat, suffered several serious injuries, including brain damage.
He was one of 19 people injured that August day when James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, plowed his car into a crowd of demonstrators.
Fields, a self-avowed white supremacist, has since been convicted of murder and other state charges in a Virginia court and copped a plea to federal charges that spared him the death penalty. He is to plead guilty July 3 and be sentenced to life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Burke is in Dayton to take part in the planning of the counter-protest to the May 25 rally the Honorable Sacred Knights of Indiana want to stage on Courthouse Square.
"I thought this was going to be a community effort, but then they (Dayton police, city officials and Justice Department officials) shut the community out when we try to get involved with their efforts," Burke told Dayton Daily News and News Center 7 in an exclusive interview Thursday morning.
Burke wants police, city officials and the DOJ officials sent to the city to prevent violence "to let us all up in there" on Courthouse Square.
"I want megaphones, drums to just drown them out," Burke said, "yelling at them so nobody can hear their hate speech."
There hasn't been enough communication between police, city officials and the DOJ in the run-up to the rally, he said, in comments he offered hours before Thursday night's meeting of the counter-protesters who publicly shared their plans to gather across Main Street from Courthouse Square to respond to the KKK group.
"I don't believe the Klan will instigate any violence because that wouldn't live up to their re-branded image," Burke said. "So, if there is going to be violence, it's going to be people that are here to recruit and target. Historically, over the past three years, those are the people who have committed the right wing terrorism," he said.
Burke said there are people throughout the United States who share his passion to stamp out hatred, to challenge hate groups such as the KKK.
“Communication would have saved a whole bunch of violence there,” he said, alluding to law enforcement and city officials in Charlottesville. He declined to say any more than that because he has an active lawsuit against the Charlottesville Police Department.
Still, his fervor was stoked by what happened to him there.
"People go their whole lives looking for the meaning of life," Burke said. "I feel like I was saved to be the voice for those who can't be or who don't want to be.
"I've lost my marriage after [Charlottesville]. I lost memory. I got a brain injury. What's left to lose as compared to what's to gain?"
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