Conservative Column

Denouncing violence doesn’t warrant an apology from state Sen. John DeFrancisco

Courtesy of Ellen Meyers

The violence at Charlottesville sparked controversial responses and New York state Sen. John DeFransisco's comments were not immune.

After a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned to tragedy when a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer, President Donald Trump’s controversially denounced violence on “many sides.” Since then, anti-facist groups have been a greater part of the national discourse, and that may not be a bad thing.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) came to the president’s defense in radio interview shortly after the attack and condemned all violence while stressing the importance of unity. But he made an important distinction in not equating the morality of counterprotesters and white supremacists.

I can just interpret what I think was meant, and I believe, my opinion is, violence on all sides has got to stop, wherever it may happen.
New York state Sen. John DeFransisco

Although he was criticized by the local chapter of the NAACP, per Syracuse.com, DeFrancisco should not be forced to rescind or apologize for his comments. Rather, his message of unity and peace should be applauded as violent protests continue to spread across the nation.

John Burdick, an anthropology professor at Syracuse University, said he was “immediately outraged” by Trump’s equation of white supremacists and the counterprotesters. He believed Trump was being “sympathetic to the glorification of white supremacy.”

Burdick is right: Trump could have been more careful when denouncing white supremacy and should be called out for failing to produce a clear message about the radical right-wing protests.

But the president shouldn’t be criticized for condemning violence on “many sides.” After all, the often-destructive, radical leftist “antifa” groups were also present in Charlottesville.

Burdick said antifa — short for anti-fascists — is a side that cannot be compared to the neo-Nazis. He acknowledged antifa groups’ histories of attacking property, but pointed out antifa members don’t attack lives.

“Is it inherent in antifa (groups) to plow into the population?” Burdick asked. “Neo-Nazis want a group of people to die.”

However, shrouded in black masks and armed with Molotov cocktails, bats, clubs and bike chains, they recently protested at the University of California, Berkeley, suppressing the freedom of speech with violence.

Unlike the neo-Nazis, antifa members don’t carry a tradition of genocide or have a history of killing. Yet if violent antifa groups continue to avoid condemnation, their political violence will be legitimized and could continue to expand.

Antifa groups already have a presence in upstate New York, if the Upstate New York Antifa Facebook page is any indication. Although the group’s protests have shown no indication of violence, DeFrancisco’s comments make it clear that escalation into destruction won’t be tolerated.

These local ties made it necessary for DeFrancisco to recognize Trump’s comments. And he went beyond Trump, making the distinction between the two groups while also condemning all political violence. DeFrancisco should not be criticized for saying “violence on all sides has got to stop” while also acknowledging that “the marchers and counter demonstrators were not of moral equivalence.”

DeFrancisco said in a statement that he wants to see “dialogue and unity, not hatred and violence,” per Syracuse.com. It is absurd to think these words can be called inappropriate and be a cause for apology.

Even Burdick said he could have tolerated a message that focused on violence. But Trump made the mistake of comparing groups and disregarding history.

But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You've just called them the left -- that came violently attacking the other group.
President Donald Trump

Though DeFrancisco defended Trump, his message was different, and it’s a message every American should get behind. Regardless of which group’s ideologically worse, political violence must come to an end.

“We need to start talking to each other instead of past each other,” Burdick said.

This is important to note as Americans begin to move on from Charlottesville. Despite differences in political thought, peaceful and thorough discourse is essential for the country to heal and come together in pursuit of a safer society.

Joseph Pucciarelli is a junior public relations and history dual major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jjpuccia@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @JoeyPucciarelli.

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