After a weekend full of riots and violence, Charlottesville is trying to regroup and recover. Many are asking one question…Where were the police?
Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and white supremacists gathered at Emancipation Park on Saturday for what they called a “United The Right” rally.
The rally started calm, but it soon got out of hand after Cornel West, a Harvard scholar, walked to Emancipation park with about 20 clergy members from a mostly African-American church to counter protest the rally.
Brawls soon broke out. Protestors began macing one another, throwing water bottles, even throwing urine-filled balloons. People then started to beat each other with flagpoles, clubs, and other makeshift weapons.
White nationalist, Jason Kessler, was the one who organized Saturday’s rally. At City Hall, during a planned news conference, Kessler was punched in the face by a man named Jeff Winder.
Winder was reported saying, “Jason Kessler has been bringing hate to our town for months and has been endangering the lives of people of color and endangering other lives in my community, Free speech does not protect hate speech.”
To make matters even worse, a Nazi sympathizer, James Alex Fields, intentionally drove his car into the massive crowd. He injured 19 people and killing one person, Heather D. Heyer.
While all of this was occurring, police were nowhere to be found. Charlottesville police are receiving great amounts scrutiny for not intervening.
Brittany Caine-Conley, a minister in training at Sojourners United Church of Christ reported, “There was no police presence. We were watching people punch each other; people were bleeding all the while police were inside of barricades at the park, watching. It was essentially just brawling on the street and community members trying to protect each other.”
Governor McAuliffe came to the defense of the police. He said that many of the protestors were armed, and was quoted saying that his officers had done “great work” in a “very delicate situation.”
He also said that Heather D. Heyer’s death could not have been prevented.
McAuliffe elaborated, “You can’t stop some crazy guy who came here from Ohio and used his car as a weapon. He is a terrorist.”
However, experts disagree with the mayor and authorities that told the police to stand down:
Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on police reform efforts in Los Angeles, said it was too early to assess the law enforcement response in Charlottesville.
But she said a strategy of disengagement generally works to embolden unruly crowds.
“If things start to escalate and there’s no response, it can very quickly get out of control,” she said. “Individuals can and will get hurt.”
But an overly forceful response, she said, can also make the situation worse. Krinsky said attempts to seize weapons might have led to more clashes between police and protesters. “Trying to take things away from people is unlikely to be a calming influence,” she told ProPublica.
A good strategy, she said, is to make clashes less likely by separating the two sides physically, with officers forming a barrier between them. “Create a human barrier so the flash points are reduced as quickly as possible,” she said.
What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you feel like whoever gave the order for the police to stand down should be blamed?