Virginia State Police cleared Emancipation Park Saturday after a white nationalist demonstration turned violent, but the action forced attendees into a crowd of counter-protesters.
The rally was organized as a protest to the ordered removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in downtown Charlottesville, Va. The rally was named the “Unite the Right” rally, but attendees largely identified as white nationalists or white supremacists when asked by reporters on the ground. Both Black Lives Matter and then antifa declared they would bring members to Charlottesville to protest the rally, setting up a showdown between the two groups.
The white nationalists applied for a permit from City Hall, and originally obtained a permit for McIntire Park, a location roughly a mile and a half away from the statue. But white supremacist Richard Spencer declared that the group would meet at the much smaller Emancipation Park, the home of the famed Lee statue. City Hall approved the permit Friday evening.
Protesters on both sides roundly criticized police behavior, but police officials say they did the best with the resources they were given. The Daily Caller News Foundation provides an exclusive look into what steps the police took in their effort to clear the park, based on accounts from reporters on the ground.
The call for police assistance echoed through the streets until police took control of the downtown area after a car slammed into a group of protestors Saturday afternoon. Several protesters cited the lack of a police presence as they tried to get help for their injured.
“Where are the police?” one antifa protester said in the crowd. “I don’t see any police here!”
“The police actually allowed us to square off against each other,” a Black Lives Matter protester told CNN. “There were fights and the police were standing a block away the entire time. It’s almost as if they wanted us to fight each other.”
The police initially offered to keep the rally attendees and the protesters separated. The department provided a line of police support at the southern edge of the park. Both Charlottesville Police (CPD) and Virginia State Police were present on the scene Saturday morning, but CPD maintained control of the scene until Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. The state police took control of the scene and pushed rally attendees and protesters together on East Main Street. Police then stood back, only stepping in to intervene after a white supremacist ran a Dodge Challenger through a crowd of protesters.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) initially reported that members of the local police department were ordered to stand down and not engage with members of either the rally or protest in any way, according to the ACLU’s paid observers. Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas quickly refuted that report during a press conference Monday afternoon. He said that members of the police force pulled back because Gov. McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in order to change into protective riot gear. He also argued that limited resources resulted in the stretched law enforcement, according to the New York Post.
McAuliffe originally asserted during a Sunday interview that the police didn’t come between the protesters and members of the alt-right protest because of the existence of the militia during an interview with The New York Times.
“You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army … I was just talking to the State Police upstairs. [The militia members] had better equipment than our state police had,” McAuliffe said in a Sundayinterview. “And yet not a shot was fired, zero property damage.”
Thomas asserted those claims were false during the Monday press conference.
The police force on-site originally consisted of local officers who cordoned off the northern access to the park. Thomas reported that the force offered rally attendees a protected entrance into the park from the north, something that he says alt-right organizers refused to do.
“We had a plan to bring them in at the rear of the park,” Thomas said in a Monday press conference in Charlottesville “They had agreed to cooperate with the plan. Unfortunately, they did not follow the plan. They began entering at different locations in and around the park, and we had to quickly adjust our force to facilitate the process.”
The red lines in the photo above illustrate the area blocked off my local and state police. The white arrow shows the route taken by members of the alt-right, and the yellow arrow shows the path taken by a majority of the antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters toward the event.
Members of law enforcement blocked off the north, east, and west entrances of the park, leaving only the south entrance open. Members of state police occupied a line through the middle of the park to ensure that there was a barrier between the alt-right rally in the park and the antifa and Black Lives Matters protesters on East Market Street. Attendees entered the park from the westward stair of Emancipation Park starting at about 8 a.m. until the initial conflict began around 10 a.m.
Daily Caller News Foundation reporters on the scene were forced to walk from several blocks away to the north due to the roads that local police closed in anticipation of the event. Members of the local police department stopped from checking their phones to point the reporters in the general direction of the rally. The rally was four blocks out of the way to East Market Street, where a crowd of protester gathered front of the park on the South side.
There were three lines standing between the protesters and the white supremacists in the park. The first was a line of state police in normal uniforms. There was also a line of heavily armed militiamen who carried semi-automatic rifles, as well as pistols. Finally, a line of “faith leaders” held themselves arm in arm to provide an additional barrier.
Groups of white supremacists began to march in from the East, and they were pelted with water balloons, glitter bombs, and spit. The stench of urine filled the air as more and more protesters joined the crowd at the front of the park. Some protesters tried to push their way past into the entrance of the park but were stopped by a small group of “enforcers” donning handmade shields and batons to contain the protesting groups to the street.
TheDCNF reporters worked our way through the crowd towards the park, where members of the protests began yelling at us and pointing their middle fingers toward the camera. Occasionally, a protester would scream at us, but then quickly cover their face when the camera moved to them. The police maintained their distance through all of this.
Eventually, we made our way to the entrance of the park but were turned away. Members of the white supremacist groups told us no press was allowed.
Shortly before 10 a.m. we noticed protesters making way for a new group marching from the east. We ran over to discover that the new group was a battalion of antifa members from all across the country.
Protesters began testing the limits of the civilian barriers. The “faith leaders” were the first to go as they silently fell back towards the down town mall, but the militia and the state police stayed in place for the time being. Members of both groups threw filled water bottles at each other. Often, the targeted group would return fire by throwing the water bottles back……..