Heavy criticism of police response to Charlottesville violence

Both protesters and the press are commenting on what appeared to be a failure of the Charlottesville police to adequately respond to the violence in Emancipation Park that left 14 white racists and counter-demonstrators injured.

Charlottesville authorities dispute that claim.

Guardian:

"Law Enforcement did respond to and break up various fights in and around Emancipation Park prior to the unlawful assembly declaration," Al Thomas, Charlottesville's police chief, said in statement on Sunday.

Thomas claimed that "once the unlawful assembly was declared, we gave people sufficient opportunity to disperse. When circumstances warranted, our officers moved back into the park to address those who had not complied."

His comments were backed by Michael Signer, Charlottesville's mayor who rejected claims on CBS's Face the Nation that the police response had been ineffective.

Signer said: "That's totally mistaken ... We had the single largest assembly of law enforcement officers since 9/11, almost 1,000 law enforcement personnel," he added. "I regret that that happened. But we had ... a very strong security plan in place with a lot of folks, to allow people to express their ... views."

But videos show several violent mêlées taking place between the two sides as Charlottesville police stood passively by.  In this Washington Post video, police are nowhere to be seen.

Some experts dispute the claim that police were on top of the situation.

Washington Post:

"The worst part is that people got hurt, and the police stood by and didn't do a g------- thing," David Copper, 70, of Staunton, Va., said after an initial morning melee at a park that went unchecked by police for several minutes.

Fourteen people were injured in clashes, and 19 others were hurt in the car crash. Later, two Virginia State Police troopers died when their helicopter smashed into trees at the edge of town and burst into flames. The loss of the police officers only compounded the calamity on a day that pushed police, city officials and residents to their limits.

Cable news replayed a seemingly endless loop of the early violence at Emancipation Park, which police in riot gear had surrounded on three sides, although they seemed to watch as groups beat each other with sticks and bludgeoned one another with shields. Many on both sides came dressed for battle, with helmets and chemical irritants.

At one point, police appeared to retreat and then watch the beatings before eventually moving in to end the free-for-all, make arrests and tend to the injured. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency about 11 a.m. and activated the Virginia National Guard.

"The whole point is to have overwhelming force so that people don't get the idea they can do these kinds of things and get away with it," said Charles H. Ramsey, who headed both the District and Philadelphia police departments.

Demonstrators and counterdemonstrators "need to be in sight and sound of each other, but somebody has to be in between," he said. "That's usually the police."

Complicating the dynamics was the fact that several dozen groups of armed militias – men in full camouflage toting assault-style weapons – were in the middle of the crowds. Some claimed that they were there to keep the peace, although none appeared to try to stop the skirmishes.

That last statement isn't true.  ProPublica reports that a New York state militia, armed with assault rifles, tried to break up some fights. 

The police did little to stop the bloodshed. Several times, a group of assault-rifle-toting militia members from New York State, wearing body armor and desert camo, played a more active role in breaking up fights.

One assault on counter-protesters appeared planned, and the police did not interfere:

There was nothing haphazard about the violence that erupted today in this bucolic town in Virginia's heartland. At about 10 a.m. today, at one of countless such confrontations, an angry mob of white supremacists formed a battle line across from a group of counter-protesters, many of them older and gray-haired, who had gathered near a church parking lot. On command from their leader, the young men charged and pummeled their ideological foes with abandon. One woman was hurled to the pavement, and the blood from her bruised head was instantly visible.

Standing nearby, an assortment of Virginia State Police troopers and Charlottesville police wearing protective gear watched silently from behind an array of metal barricades – and did nothing.

It was a scene that played out over and over in Charlottesville as law enforcement confronted the largest public gathering of white supremacists in decades. We walked the streets beginning in the early morning hours and repeatedly witnessed instances in which authorities took a largely laissez faire approach, allowing white supremacists and counter-protesters to physically battle.

It's hard to criticize police in any instance where a riot breaks out.  This is especially true when officers have not been trained in how to break up violent street demonstrations, as the Charlottesville police apparently weren't. 

But surely the violence came as no surprise to local and state authorities.  That the authorities were not prepared or too timid to use the police to keep the peace cost the city dearly.

Both protesters and the press are commenting on what appeared to be a failure of the Charlottesville police to adequately respond to the violence in Emancipation Park that left 14 white racists and counter-demonstrators injured.

Charlottesville authorities dispute that claim.

Guardian:

"Law Enforcement did respond to and break up various fights in and around Emancipation Park prior to the unlawful assembly declaration," Al Thomas, Charlottesville's police chief, said in statement on Sunday.

Thomas claimed that "once the unlawful assembly was declared, we gave people sufficient opportunity to disperse. When circumstances warranted, our officers moved back into the park to address those who had not complied."

His comments were backed by Michael Signer, Charlottesville's mayor who rejected claims on CBS's Face the Nation that the police response had been ineffective.

Signer said: "That's totally mistaken ... We had the single largest assembly of law enforcement officers since 9/11, almost 1,000 law enforcement personnel," he added. "I regret that that happened. But we had ... a very strong security plan in place with a lot of folks, to allow people to express their ... views."

But videos show several violent mêlées taking place between the two sides as Charlottesville police stood passively by.  In this Washington Post video, police are nowhere to be seen.

Some experts dispute the claim that police were on top of the situation.

Washington Post:

"The worst part is that people got hurt, and the police stood by and didn't do a g------- thing," David Copper, 70, of Staunton, Va., said after an initial morning melee at a park that went unchecked by police for several minutes.

Fourteen people were injured in clashes, and 19 others were hurt in the car crash. Later, two Virginia State Police troopers died when their helicopter smashed into trees at the edge of town and burst into flames. The loss of the police officers only compounded the calamity on a day that pushed police, city officials and residents to their limits.

Cable news replayed a seemingly endless loop of the early violence at Emancipation Park, which police in riot gear had surrounded on three sides, although they seemed to watch as groups beat each other with sticks and bludgeoned one another with shields. Many on both sides came dressed for battle, with helmets and chemical irritants.

At one point, police appeared to retreat and then watch the beatings before eventually moving in to end the free-for-all, make arrests and tend to the injured. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency about 11 a.m. and activated the Virginia National Guard.

"The whole point is to have overwhelming force so that people don't get the idea they can do these kinds of things and get away with it," said Charles H. Ramsey, who headed both the District and Philadelphia police departments.

Demonstrators and counterdemonstrators "need to be in sight and sound of each other, but somebody has to be in between," he said. "That's usually the police."

Complicating the dynamics was the fact that several dozen groups of armed militias – men in full camouflage toting assault-style weapons – were in the middle of the crowds. Some claimed that they were there to keep the peace, although none appeared to try to stop the skirmishes.

That last statement isn't true.  ProPublica reports that a New York state militia, armed with assault rifles, tried to break up some fights. 

The police did little to stop the bloodshed. Several times, a group of assault-rifle-toting militia members from New York State, wearing body armor and desert camo, played a more active role in breaking up fights.

One assault on counter-protesters appeared planned, and the police did not interfere:

There was nothing haphazard about the violence that erupted today in this bucolic town in Virginia's heartland. At about 10 a.m. today, at one of countless such confrontations, an angry mob of white supremacists formed a battle line across from a group of counter-protesters, many of them older and gray-haired, who had gathered near a church parking lot. On command from their leader, the young men charged and pummeled their ideological foes with abandon. One woman was hurled to the pavement, and the blood from her bruised head was instantly visible.

Standing nearby, an assortment of Virginia State Police troopers and Charlottesville police wearing protective gear watched silently from behind an array of metal barricades – and did nothing.

It was a scene that played out over and over in Charlottesville as law enforcement confronted the largest public gathering of white supremacists in decades. We walked the streets beginning in the early morning hours and repeatedly witnessed instances in which authorities took a largely laissez faire approach, allowing white supremacists and counter-protesters to physically battle.

It's hard to criticize police in any instance where a riot breaks out.  This is especially true when officers have not been trained in how to break up violent street demonstrations, as the Charlottesville police apparently weren't. 

But surely the violence came as no surprise to local and state authorities.  That the authorities were not prepared or too timid to use the police to keep the peace cost the city dearly.

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