Police Stand Down in Charlottesville

By Nancy Flory Published on August 14, 2017

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests that turned deadly Saturday morning, some witnesses have criticized police response. Besides the uncontrolled rioting, suspect James Fields, Jr. allegedly drove his car into the crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others. Police were reportedly told to stand down until ordered to intervene.

Bystanders now say that police did not do their job and that the only response to the melee was a delayed response by riot police. Minister-in-training Brittany Caine-Conley told the New York Times that there was no real 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 brawling on the street and community members trying to protect each other.”

Jason Kessler, organizer of the white nationalist rally, wondered if a swift police response could have prevented the violence that occurred. Kessler said in a statement that although he had worked with the police to come up with a plan for maintaining safety, it was not followed. He said the police did not separate the nationalists and the counter protesters, which “exacerbated the violence.” Police, Kessler said, were “underequipped for the situation.”

Police were simply doing what they were ordered to do prior to the event. According to the ACLU of Virginia, police said, “We’ll not intervene until given command to do so.” ProPublica reported that state police and National Guardsmen watched for hours without trying to separate the protesters and counter protesters.

Brian Moran, Virigina’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, said that the police’s plan “went extremely well.” When asked why the police didn’t try harder to stop the fighting, Moran said, “It was a volatile situation and it’s unfortunate people resorted to violence.”

State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said, “It may have looked like a lot of our folks were standing around … there were other troopers and law enforcement officers who were responding to incidents as they arose.” 

Moran asked Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency and police called for protesters and counter protesters to disperse. Shortly after that, James Fields, Jr. drove his car into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Fields has been charged with second-degree murder. 

On Sunday, Governor McAuliffe defended the police in an interview. He praised the “great work” of the police and said that Fields’ action was “car terrorism,” and unpreventable. “You can’t stop some crazy guy who came here from Ohio and used his car as a weapon,” he said. “He is a terrorist.”

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