As inexcusable as violence is, it is preventable when proper policing procedures are followed.
Look no further than the Republican and Democrat National Conventions held in the summer of 2016. They were prime locations for the type of political violence witnessed recently in Charlottesville. Unlike what happened in Virginia, because of proper city and state planning, both conventions went off smoothly.
Charlottesville Police, Virginia State Police, Mayor Signer, and Governor McAuliffe all failed to follow those simple policies when managing the Unite The Right rally. They ignored their responsibility to the citizens of Charlottesville and to all those who were present over the weekend. Their neglect was to such an extent that it’s hard to believe that their incompetence wasn’t a deliberate attempt to create chaos.
The Unite The Right rally drew hundreds of white supremacists and alt-right members as well as an equal number of counter protesters and Antifa, a loose coalition of left-wing “anti-fascist” demonstrators.
Republican and Democratic National Conventions went smoothly
Those attendance numbers sound hard to manage are nothing compared to the scale of the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Conventions, each of which drew thousands of attendees and a greater number of protesters, and yet both were conducted peacefully.
In four days at the RNC in Cleveland, police were well prepared and cordoned off areas around the convention in addition to designating sites for demonstrations and protests. Both sides were kept separate. As a result, there were very few interactions, let alone altercations.
It was a similar story in Philadelphia for the DNC. While there were over a hundred citations issued, only seven arrests were made. Once again, police kept demonstrators separated from the main facilities. Those procedures saved lives.
Furthermore, in addition to preserving public safety, the free speech rights of demonstrators and protesters were upheld during both party conventions.
Simple, basic crowd control procedures were not followed in Charlottesville
In Charlottesville, the city approved the permits for the rally and knew well in advance what that entailed. They requested additional state police and the governor was made aware of the situation. Yet, nonetheless, when the time came it was utter pandemonium. Why?
For one, the barricades that were enacted weren’t used to keep the rally members and counter protesters apart. Instead, police officers used them to hide behind while they watched the violence unfold. This was all caught on film and can be seen in various clips on social media. On multiple occasions, officers are recorded standing on the sidelines watching beatings take place.
Blatant disregard for public safety was on full display once more when the rally organizer Jordan Kessler attempted to give a statement in front of city hall.
As can be seen in the available video, there are only a handful of police officers present who are greatly outnumbered by protesters. Given those odds, it’s not surprising that protesters broke through the barriers and rushed the podium. Nor is it surprising that Kessler was attacked by those protesters while police watched from yards away. Only after a violent altercation did officers intervene.
Inadequate police presence left counter-protesters vulnerable
Worse still, there were other instances where there was no police presence whatsoever. The most infamous example of this was when counter-protesters marched up a city street completely unsupervised. There were vehicles leaving the area through that street at the time and it was clearly unsafe for pedestrians.
One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed and more than 20 were seriously injured when a car drove through the crowd because there was no police presence to prevent it.
The Charlottesville Police are responsible for allowing such a dangerous situation to develop that would permit these casualties to occur.
And the politicians, too. Mayor Signer is at fault for attempting to rescind the rally permit instead of taking appropriate steps to make sure the event would be conducted safely.
Worse still are the actions of Governor McAuliffe. Instead of offering the proper police support before the event, he simply declared the assembly “unlawful” and sent in police to disperse the previously permitted organizers.
In addition to the obvious lack of regard for public safety, such wanton dismissal of the free speech rights of those involved is shameful. Whether or not Mayor Signer or Governor McAuliffe disagree with the speech of the rally organizer is irrelevant.
As public servants, they have a responsibility as to protect the safety of the citizens they represent. Their failure to act appropriately is to blame for creating a situation that led to violence, death and destruction.
(Photo of White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and members of Antifa attack each other during the melee outside Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)