I have been investigating a rumor that the mayor of Charlottesville issued a stand down order to police during a far-right rally in Emancipation Park, near the city’s downtown area on Saturday. As it turns out, this rumor is probably untrue.
I did find, however, a statement from police chief Al Thomas describing preparation for the event (see link above):
In preparing the park, we established three areas, one for the demonstrators, one for counter demonstrators and an area between the two for police officers. The security plan called for the demonstrators to enter through the rear of the park, and we also staged law enforcement in that area to facilitate that entrance. Rather than doing so, the demonstrators entered from the front of the park. They also chose to leave the park on a number of occasions, entering the area designated for counter-demonstrators, walking along the street and confronting counter-protestors.
Because the demonstrators did not stay in their designated area, the police moved from the area between the two areas to better patrol the park and area. Once the demonstrators did not stay in their designated area, the police moved from the separated area to manage the crowd. There were a number of fights throughout the area that officers from all agencies responded to. Once people in the crowd released gas, the decision was made to put the officers in riot gear to better address the unfolding situation.
This statement doesn’t tell me a lot about what happened, and I question it because of this report I found on the Daily Beast about a similar protest last month where the headline is accompanied by a picture of KKK members standing behind police barricades, and there is no mention of barricades or the breaking of barricades in this report. And it doesn’t say which group released tear gas.
What is interesting about the report on the previous protest is that it talks about police escorting the KKK members out of the park and to the parking garage, a procession which counter-protesters followed, and police used tear gas to disperse them. It is followed by a statement by a Solidarity Cville member criticizing the police for protecting the KKK members.
After the Klan members left the event, some protesters followed them to a garage where they were preparing to leave the city. Taking issue with the fact that police officers were shepherding the members out, like an arrival party of Robocops, protesters approached the line of police asking why they were doing this. The police officers released tear gas to get the large crowd to disperse.
As the proceedings died down, with a few small skirmishes between protesters and police, some 23 people were arrested by the evening.
While Signer praised the police for their work during the day, Solidarity Cville was far from pleased with their actions.
“Police provided the Klan safe passage out of the park, while a community member called to the police, ‘Do your job, and protect us.’ Today and every day, the police were there to protect white supremacy,” the group said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast.
So during the last protest over the statues, the police prevented counter-protesters from physically confronting the KKK members as they were leaving, and used tear gas on them, a move that was criticized by the local solidarity group.
For the protest on Saturday, the city attempted to move the venue from Emancipation Park to a larger park on the city’s outskirts, a move that was opposed by the organizer Jason Kessler and the Virginia ACLU who successfully sued the city and received an injunction at 8 PM the night before. Thus it appears to me that the police may have prepared the protest venue in the larger park, and may not have done so in the park where the protest actually took place, thus protesters on both sides would have less restriction on movement.
And I wonder about the tear gas mentioned as “once people in the crowd released gas,” in the Chief’s report. Was it released on the cops, and by whom? The report doesn’t say.
I haven’t found any evidence that the KKK members have resisted crowd control efforts made by the police in the past. While during the last protest, police were required to intervene when the opposition protesters followed behind at the conclusion of the protest, and were involved in skirmishes with the opposition in which tear gas was used and arrests were made, and event that was criticized as protection of the supremacists.
This does not mean that the KKK members were not there looking for a fight this past Saturday. It is entirely possible that they were prepared for one given the happenings during the conclusion of the previous protest. Additionally, it appears that the opposition was prepared for one, apparently bringing their own tear gas to gas the cops.