by Steve Skinner

The judge, jury and executioner made the decision. The sentence: Death. Death by car. Death head-on. Fast death. Famous killer.

The judge decided that the members of the defense team were all the same. They deserved the same fate. If he could have wielded more power, he would have sentenced them all to death and then followed through.

But the only power he had was the power that was handed to him, like so many other young American kids. This self-proclaimed judge had free access to fast cars, weapons, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom to believe, believe, believe. Like so many of us, he ultimately had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, however bad that may be.

Heather Heyer was one of the guilty party. Her crime was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time with the right message. She was walking a crowded street in Charlottesville, Va., peacefully saying “No Place for Hate” to a group of misguided, maniacal haters who felt umbrage, outrage, righteous anger and self-entitlement.

“Alt-right” demonstrators were protesting the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-demonstrators were protesting the message of the protesters.

The judge saw his opportunity: a cluster of guilty, sanctimonious protesters with the gall to challenge his right to free speech and all that he held dear. He would make them understand.

The seas parted in front of Heather, and the judge came roaring in with his 4,226-pound Dodge Challenger, pedal to the metal. The American muscle car can reach 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. The front end of the speeding car rammed Heather and 19 others before backing away and escaping in a hurry. Heather Heyer died.

That could have been me standing there, my daughter or my friend. Maybe it could have been you, your daughter or your friend.

Heather Heyer died for the rest of us. She died saying what so many of us think when confronted by racist hate. She said, “No way!”

Saturday was a lovely day in Charlottesville. Temperatures got into the 80s. There were some passing clouds. A sprinkle of rain was reported in the area.

Heather could have gone birdwatching in Shenandoah National Park. She could have been strolling the peaceful grounds of Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson’s former living quarters.

Instead, Heather Heyer and a crowd of her neighbors spent that day responding to an urgent situation in their neighborhood. A “Unite the Right” rally was in town and people were gathering to protest. They had guns, body armor, hate. They were united in the desire to do battle both ideological and physical.

“If you knew Heather, you would know that she loves everyone, and all she wants is equality for everyone, no matter who you love, no matter what color you are,” her close friend Marissa Blair said in the aftermath.

I’m with Heather.

Frankly I was shocked seeing these hate groups all in one place. The Charlottesville Police Department was apparently expecting 2,000 to 6,000 attendees at the rally. Where were their mothers? Which country were they defending? Why were they carrying weapons and torches? And why in the world were they so angry?

They already had everything in the world a racial supremacist could want.

Our great country allows people the freedom to be righteous fools. That was on display Saturday on the streets of Charlottesville. Media images of the Unite the Righters makes them look larger than they are. The world watches in horror at this behavior. Our country was once the moral compass of the world and is now swiftly becoming the moral morass of the world.

As common sense flies backward in a new political wind, we must once again fight for civil rights, women’s rights, environmental justice, peace and civility.

We will all have to take up our “No Place for Hate” signs and stand on the street, vulnerable fodder for the loose cannons of free, angry young men. Going out there means that we, too, are ready to die. Because it really could happen, fast and furious.

Thank you, Heather Heyer, for taking one for the team. Thank you to the 19 others who fell beneath the wheels of the judge on Saturday. Thanks to those who changed their plans that day, deciding to stand together with one voice against the fiercely senseless and shrill voices of hate.

To say Heather Heyer was a professional and a caring active member of her community does not scratch the surface of who she was.

“This is our city. We work here. We live here. And we didn’t want neo-Nazis and alt-right and racists to come into our city and think they could spread freely their hate and their bigotry and their racism. We wanted to let them know that we were about love, that we would overpower them … We were peacefully protesting and we were just standing up for what we believe in … And that’s what Heather stood for. That’s why she was out there, that’s why we were out there,” Blair said on CNN.

On Sunday there were rallies and protests in Seattle, Wash. My daughter would likely be out there. I saw footage of violent anger. In the background on the corner of the street stood a man with his elementary school-aged daughter. They were standing there for you and me. They were sitting ducks.

Steve Skinner sees that we must stand together. Reach him at