Mon, Aug 13, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Vigils, spats during anniversary

CHARLOTTESVILLE:An overwhelming presence of police in riot gear riled some activists, who said that police were making up for last year’s errors


Emily Filler attempts to dissuade state police from advancing on students rallying on the grounds of the University of Virginia on the anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Saturday.

Photo: AP / Craig Hudson / Charleston Gazette-Mail

The city of Charlottesville marked the anniversary of last summer’s white supremacist violence that sent ripples through the nation with largely peaceful vigils and other events, but police had a brief, tense confrontation with demonstrators angry over the heavy security presence there this weekend.

“Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here,” activists chanted on Saturday evening.

Shortly before a planned evening rally to mark the anniversary of a campus confrontation between torch-carrying white nationalists and counterprotesters, activists unfurled a banner that said: “Last year they came w/ torches. This year they come w/ badges.”

A group of more than 200 protesters — students, residents and others — then marched to another part of the University of Virginia’s (UVA) campus, where many in the crowd shouted at officers in riot gear forming a line.

Kibiriti Majuto, a coordinator for UVA Students United, said the students moved to another part of campus because they did not want to be “caged” in the area where the planned rally area.

Majuto said police “were not on our side” last year when white supremacists surrounded counterprotesters on the rotunda.

“Cops and Klan go hand in hand,” he said.

Charlottesville City Councilman Wes Bellamy said he tried to diffuse the situation and told the police commander that students were upset by the officers’ tactics, with “over-the-top” riot gear.

After a few minutes, most demonstrators began walking away. There were no immediate reports of arrests on campus.

At some point after the UVA rally, dozens of demonstrators marched off campus through other parts of the city, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets” and “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?”

The group made its way to downtown before dispersing.

The rest of the day had been much quieter.

In the downtown shopping district on Saturday morning, officers outnumbered visitors. Concrete barriers and metal fences had been erected, and police searched bags at two checkpoints.

“It’s nice that they’re here to protect us,” said Lara Mitchell, 66, who works at a shop selling artwork, jewelry, and other items. “It feels good that they’re here in front of our store. Last year was a whole different story. It looked like a war zone last year.”

On Aug. 12 last year, hundreds of white nationalists — including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members — descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the city’s decision to remove a monument to Confederate genera Robert E. Lee from a park.

Fighting broke out between attendees and counterprotesters that day.

Authorities eventually forced the crowd to disperse, but a car later barreled into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

The death toll rose to three when a state police helicopter that had been monitoring the event and assisting with the governor’s motorcade crashed, killing two troopers.

On Saturday, remembrance events included a “morning of reflection and renewal” at UVA with music, poetry and an address from university president James Ryan.

Lisa Woolfork, a University of Virginia professor and Black Lives Matter Charlottesville organizer, said police mounted a “huge, overwhelming show of force to compensate for last year’s inaction.”

“Last year, I was afraid of the Nazis. This year, I’m afraid of the police,” Woolfork said.

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