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Jury selection began this week here in Charlottesville for the trial of James Fields, driver of the car that killed Heather Heyer and severely injured numerous others on August 12, 2017. It came out during jury selection that, three months before Heyers' death, Fields had posted to Instagram a meme showing a car plowing through a group of people with the accompanying text, "YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO PROTEST BUT I'M LATE FOR WORK." Apart from the tastelessness of the meme, it is another blow to the Fields legal team's claim of self-defense in the August 12 violence; indeed, the image's uncanny resemblance to the later act suggests a layer of premeditation on Fields' part.
Journalist Hawes Spencer, author of Summer of Hate: Charlottesville USA, has been following the leadup to the trial and, after the news of the Fields meme came out, posted the meme to his own social media. Facebook removed the post, citing violations of their policies, although Spencer contextualized the meme and his intentions clearly were journalistic.
Spencer then posted to social media an image that compared the meme with Ryan Kelly's Pulitzer-winning photo of the fatal assault on 4th Street (see below). Facebook not only removed the image; it placed a twenty-four-hour ban on Spencer's account. Spencer was informed that, should he violate Facebook's standards again, his account will be subject to longer bans or even cancellation. With the deletion of Spencer's post, dozens of comments, which had grown into a vibrant discussion of the image and its implications, were also lost. Facebook would do well to understand that journalists must be allowed to report the news—and that communities, especially those struck by violence on the scale of August 12, must be allowed to process it through discussion.