Mayor tells vigil Reading community ‘shall not be divided’ by terror attack

The mayor of Reading has said the town’s community “shall not be divided” by the recent terror attack at a vigil held in memory of the victims one week on.

Cllr David Stevens said the Berkshire town would always be “inclusive and diverse” at a private memorial event held in Market Place on Saturday evening.

David Wails, 49, Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and James Furlong, 36, lost their lives after the incident in Forbury Gardens that took place shortly before 7pm on June 20.

Following short speeches by local officials, family members of the three men were the first to lit candles in their memory.

Afterwards, the small group of relatives embraced in a huddle for a few moments, before speaking and laughing together.

Home Secretary Priti Patel joined a host of representatives from the Reading community in also lighting candles.

Cllr Stevens told the vigil that the attack had left Reading “feeling a mix of horror, disbelief and immense sadness.”

He added: “Just one week ago, friends and families were sat in Forbury Gardens, just a few yards from here, making the most of the warm weather on a summer’s evening and enjoying one another’s company.

“It was around now, the happiness and tranquillity of the evening was shattered in the cruellest and most horrific way.

“Three men lost their lives and several people sustained injuries. Others were forced to witness the most horrendous scenes.

“Last Saturday, Reading lost James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails. To their families and close friends, we can only imagine your grief.” Around 50 people invited to the vigil stood in front of their socially distanced chairs for much of the half hour long event.

In the distance, behind a small podium set up for speakers, police tape from the large cordon still shutting off the roads connecting to Forbury Gardens could be seen.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Reading Borough Council was due to stream the event on its Facebook page to avoid a crowd gathering in Market Place.

But a large screen was also erected on nearby Broad Street for residents to watch proceedings.

The Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, James Puxley, paid tribute to Mr Wails, Mr Ritchie-Bennett and Mr Furlong at the vigil.

He said: “From what I hear they were honest lovely outstanding people and good law abiding citizens. “They did not deserve what happened to them. They had so many years ahead of them.

“Who knows what they would have achieved in life had they lived to an old age. Doubtless they would have achieved many good things that the community is now deprived of benefiting from.”

He also praised the emergency services and members of the public who helped the victims of the attack, some of whom “tore off their shirts to make bandages”.

Thames Valley Police chief constable John Campbell added his force’s condolences to the family of the victims.

He told them that Mr Wails, Mr Ritchie-Bennett and Mr Furlong had been “cared for and comforted by my officers and others who came to help them in in their final moments”.

Mr Campbell said Reading should take “pride” in how it has responded, which highlighted a “coming together of a diverse community, joined by the bond of humanity and a shared sense of injustice”.

Hailing the work of his officers, he also vowed to “seek justice for those who lost their lives and those that were harmed” in the incident.

Before the lighting of candles, the Bishop of Reading, The Right Reverend Olivia Graham, read a poem by Irish poet John O’Donohue.

Among those also lighting candles were the co-headteachers of the Holt School where Mr Furlong taught.

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Categories: mayor, News, Reading, terrorist attack

Mississippi moves toward stripping Confederate image from flag

Mississippi legislators have taken the first steps toward erasing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, a symbol that has come under intensifying criticism amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.

The second-ranking officer in the Mississippi house, Jason White, told his colleagues: “The eyes of the state, the nation and indeed the world, are on this house.”

The house voted by more than the required two-thirds majority to suspend legislative deadlines and file a bill to change the flag.

The senate is expected to vote on the suspension later, which will allow debate on a bill as soon as Sunday.

Republican governor Tate Reeves said for the first time that he would sign a bill to change the flag if the Republican-controlled legislature sends him one.

He had previously said that he would not veto one – a more passive stance.

Mr Reeves said on social media: “The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag.

“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”

A bill will only need a simple majority to pass the house and senate. It will say that the current flag will be removed from state law.

A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate battle emblem but must include the phrase “In God We Trust”.

The new design would be put on the ballot for November 3. If a majority voting that day accepts the new design, it would become the state flag. If a majority rejects it, the commission would design a new flag using the same guidelines.

“I know there are many good people who … believe that this flag is a symbol of our Southern pride and heritage,” said Mr White, the Republican speaker pro tempore of the House.

“But for most people throughout our nation and the world, they see that flag and think that it stands for hatred and oppression.”

Republican representative Chris Brown of Nettleton appeared at a 2016 rally outside the state Capitol for people who want to keep the Confederate emblem on the flag.

He said on Saturday that the current flag and a proposed new design should both go on the ballot.

“I don’t think we can move forward together if we say, ‘Ýou can have any flag you want except … this one,’” Mr Brown said.

“If we put the current flag on the ballot with another good design, the people of Mississippi will change it. I believe that. Let’s not steal their joy. They want to show the world that they’re moving on.”

Mississippi has the last state flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem – a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars.

The battle emblem has been in the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag since 1894. White supremacists in the legislature put it there during backlash to the political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.

The Mississippi supreme court ruled in 2000 that the flag lacked official status.

State laws were updated in 1906, and portions dealing with the flag were not carried forward. Legislators put forward a flag election in 2001, and voters kept the rebel-themed design.

The current flag has remained divisive in a state with a 38% black population. All of the state’s public universities and several cities and counties have stopped flying it because of the Confederate symbol.

Influential business, religious, education and sports groups are calling on Mississippi to drop the Confederate symbol. Flag supporters say the banner should be left alone, or put on the statewide ballot for voters to decide its fate.

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Categories: Battle Emblem, Black Lives Matter, Confederate Battle Emblem, Confederate Image, Mississippi, News