Cities, including Wichita, need to pass strong hate-crime ordinances to deal with extremist demonstrations and prevent deadly escalations like the Charlottesville white-supremacist march this past weekend, Sen. Pat Roberts said Monday.
“The answer is for Wichita and other cities to pass an ordinance with regards to hate crimes,” Roberts told the Wichita Rotary club in a luncheon speech. “And then give law enforcement the opportunity when they see trouble starting: stop it, right there.”
A 20-year-old Ohio man who had gone to Virginia for the white-supremacist “Unite the Right” rally is facing a second-degree murder charge after plowing a car into a group of counter-protesters Saturday, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others.
Roberts said the rally should have never gotten that far and should have been shut down the night before, when extremists held a torchlight march through the University of Virginia campus chanting racist and Nazi slogans.
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“In Charlottesville, that night (Friday) when they came through going to the statue of Thomas Jefferson with flaming torches, man right then, you knew that something was gonna happen bad,” Roberts said. “That’s when law enforcement should have stepped in.
“That’s when you should have had the mayor and everybody else down there and said ‘Hold it.’ Then you wouldn’t have had the reaction from the other side.”
Roberts, a Republican, praised President Trump’s response to Charlottesville, including Trump’s widely criticized statement Saturday that blamed the violence on “many sides” and didn’t name white supremacists as the primary cause.
“I thought he made a very good broad statement (Saturday),” Roberts said. “Today he clarified that statement, specifically mentioned the Klan and neo-Nazis and everything else.”
The Charlottesville march drew a nationwide response from white supremacists, including neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and self-styled militia members, who traveled to Virginia to protest a city plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park.
“I’m very worried about the First Amendment in this country today,” Roberts said. “We’ve seen a lot of politics of disruption” and “the lack of reasonable dialog, meaningful dialog.”
Roberts said both he and fellow Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran have had to lock their doors at the Capitol to avert confrontation with left-wing protesters who were intent on noisily invading the offices and getting themselves arrested.
“It’s been quite a time,” he said.
Rep. Ron Estes, R-Wichita, also denounced white supremacy and praised Trump’s statements on Charlottesville, but took a softer line than Roberts on what do going forward.
“It (protest violence) is getting fanned a little bit, just from a standpoint of having headlines, having it running on the news reel, when there’s so many other things we can talk about,” he said. “That’s something we want to make sure we don’t lose sight of. There’s lots of other good things going on as well.
“We want to make sure we reinforce those as well as condemn the things that aren’t right.”