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GUEST EDITORIAL: Civil discourse and separate times for counter-protests

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It’s been 152 years since the end of the Civil War. Maybe it’s time for a reconciliation commission.

Leaving behind a bloody, divisive, racially charged past while still living among reminders of it was always going to be a delicate matter. But at least we’re doing it in the worst way possible! No meaningful dialogue, just angry confrontation. And, in the case of Charlottesville, Virginia, injury, death and reopened wounds.

Seriously, is this the best we can do?

First, let’s just all agree that the fringe white supremacy kooks, particularly the one who murdered a protester in cold blood with his car, don’t speak for anyone but themselves. Just as homicidal jihadists don’t speak for peaceful Muslims. And, as one commentator noted, they are definitely fringe: Despite weeks of publicity to protest the impending removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, the neo-Nazis and others only attracted a few hundred to Charlottesville.

That, of course, was several hundred little weekend Nazis too many. And what utter Einsteins — protesting the dishonoring of America’s past by flying the flag of our sworn enemy from World War II. Brilliant.

We’ve been more than a little tardy in trying to reconcile competing, often raging, beliefs and emotions concerning our Civil War legacy — which was the flashpoint of Saturday’s tragic violence. Imagery of the Confederacy understandably remains hurtful to many African-Americans, while others believe just as strongly that purging the landscape of the past is a mistake.

Can there be any accommodation here, short of steamrolling each other? A century and a half later, isn’t it time we tried?

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer asked Sunday, “How do you reconcile public safety and the First Amendment?” Maybe with civil discourse.

In the meantime, we need to do a better job of separating the combatants. Charlottesville police have come under justifiable criticism for not doing more to come between the warring factions this weekend — after knowing the incendiary mixture was coming for weeks.

We’d also suggest that perhaps it’s time for authorities in such situations to not only separate combative elements by distance, but also by time: Maybe it’s time to require that counter-protests take place at a different hour or day than competing protests.

As a legal website notes, “the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that state and federal governments may place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of individual expression... To pass muster under the First Amendment, TPM restrictions must be content-neutral, be narrowly drawn, serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication.”

We believe such cauldrons as the one in Charlottesville apply.