ACLU Blames Cops for Charlottesville Violence

"Law enforcement was standing passively by, seeming to be waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an 'unlawful assembly' and clear the area."


Ronald Bailey

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—As the world sadly knows, three people died this past weekend when a bunch of racist assholes showed up in my town to rally around a statue of Robert E. Lee. The worst moment in the weekend's violence came when one of the white supremacists deliberately ran his car into a crowd of anti-racist counterprotesters, but even before then fights were breaking out around town.

Those fights erupted despite the fact that state, city, and police officials mobilized 1,000 first responders, including 300 state police and National Guard members, to control the protests. Many of the cops wore riot gear, carried shields, and were backed by armored vehicles.

Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, has said the plan was to keep the two sides separated. "There were physical barriers to separate those opposing sides and law enforcement as well, however individuals chose to assemble on the streets," she told The Wall Street Journal. "We are not in a position to tell people where to assemble."

So what happened?

"It is the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure safety of both protesters and counter-protesters. The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence," said Virginia ACLU chief Claire G. Gastanaga in a statement. "I was there and brought concerns directly to the secretary of public safety and the head of the Virginia State Police about the way that the barricades in the park limiting access by the arriving demonstrators and the lack of any physical separation of the protesters and counter-protesters on the street were contributing to the potential of violence. They did not respond. In fact, law enforcement was standing passively by, seeming to be waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an 'unlawful assembly' and clear the area."

Ronald Bailey

Here's what I saw as a reporter. First, a disclaimer: I am not a policeman, a lawyer, or a frequent participant in public protests. Second, nobody is ever justified in punching people for their political beliefs, no matter how much I detest their views.

That being said, I noticed a great difference in how the cops and barricades were deployed when a month earlier I covered a KKK rally at Charlottesville's Stonewall Jackson statue. At that rally, double-fenced metal barricades separated the Klansmen from the counterprotesters. This created a no-man's-land where a line of police stood, keeping each side from coming into physical contact with each other. Police evidently had no problem telling the Kluxers where to assemble. I stood within 20 feet of the KKK during their whole demonstration, and a not single rock, bottle, or any other missiles were thrown by either them or the hundreds of counterprotesters. And no one got punched or bashed with clubs either.

This past weekend, by contrast, police deployed a single line of metal barricades which could easily be reached across. They placed no police between the racists and the counterprotesters. When I got to the park, the police and National Guard all appeared to be standing on the sides and behind—not in-between, as they did at the KKK rally.

The state of emergency had apparently been called just as I approached the park, and riot police were marching in to clear out the area. A line of police behind shields basically pressed the neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates down Market Street between crowds of counterprotesters who had lined the street. Despite the dangerous decision to remove them by that route, I am happy to report that I saw only a few scuffles break out between the racists and the counterprotesters.

It is hard to believe that the police were less prepared at this event than at the Stonewall Jackson rally. Sadly, Gastanaga's assertions ring true.

Full disclosure: I have been a card-carrying member of the ACLU since 2003 and I just sent an additional small donation to the Virginia chapter to show my appreciation of their support for First Amendment rights. Also, I believe that the monuments celebrating Confederate leaders should be removed from public property, whereas memorials to the war dead should remain.

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  1. So I guess Bailey normally gives small donations to the ACLU, but their support for free speech in this instance only warranted an "extra small" donation.


    1. F: Who needs editors anyway? 🙂 FWIW, it was $100.

      1. And your annual donation is 101$ and when you give it to them you put into Mr. ACLU's hand and say "Don't spend it all in one place" then give a grotesque wink.

      2. You really still believe the ACLU robustly supports and defends the First Amendment of the US Constitution?

        1. ACLU may have one name but the chapters are different organizations with significant independence and autonomy. For example, while the national ACLU has written out the "free exercise of religion" from the First Amendment, various state ACLU chapters still actively assist in cases where that is infringed. Similarly, while the ACLU VA seem unabashed supporters of "free speech", the ACLU CA can't seem to decide whether there should be a community veto on it.

      3. Who needs editors anyway? 🙂

        Edit buttons?

        At H&R we have the sharp eyes and ofttimes aggressive pedantry of the commentators to keep us all in check.

  2. Also, I believe that the monuments celebrating Confederate leaders should be removed from public property, whereas memorials to the war dead should remain.

    That puts you at odds with much of what your fellow contributors are posting today.

    1. Don't you have a sandwich to cry about?

    2. Clearly everyone who write for Reason must be in perfect agreement on everything.

  3. 3 people died? Huh. I honestly missed two of those.

    1. I guess they're counting the police who died in the helicopter crash.

      1. And who will be charged with felony murder?

    2. For some reason, people keep including a totally unrelated and accidental crash of a police helicopter that killed the two occupants. Yes, tragic. But part of the death toll from the riots, no.

      1. The reason the hero's died?

    3. B: Counting the two police helicopter pilots who would not have been flying over town had there been no racist rally.

      1. Aren't you precious.

      2. They weren't exactly flying over the town the day of the racist rally either.

        Too soon or do I have to wait for them to put up a statue first?

        / Don't forget to tip the veal

      3. so the helicopter is only used during protest never for traffic on a daily basis?

        1. It was a Virginia State Police helicopter, not a CPD or Albemarle County helicopter.

          The Virginia State Police are not in the business of monitoring traffic in Charlottesville or Albemarle County.

      4. Ron, I love your science reporting. You should stay out of this culture-war area; it's ugly and makes everybody ugly.

      5. Jesus Ron, you have lost your mind.

        You are counting helicopter malfunction or bad police aircraft maintenance on skinheads now too?

        Bad enough that you want to give discretion for what historical markers should be kept to lefty nutjobs.

      6. So if they had crashed while monitoring a BLM rally, it would have counted as two deaths caused by the rally as well? Somehow I don't think so.

        1. Logic: 1
          Ron: 0

        2. +2 cops beating innocent helicopter

      7. So it was the specially designated racist riot copter that otherwise never gets flown? Maybe that's the problem, VA hasn't had enough race riots to keep the thing in good working order.

      8. The helicopter "[...] was over the downtown area at 4:04 pm and engaged in mission-related activities there until 4:42, at which time it departed the area to provide support for a motorcade carrying Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe." Does anyone blame the governor?

  4. I'm hoping to be memorialized by having my friends carve my name into the moon with a giant laser.

    1. I will gladly sell to your friends any number of mutated and ill-tempered sea bass, upon the heads of which your friends can mount the necessary number of lasers.

  5. So what happened?

    all day every day

  6. Sigh. Get your shit together, ACLU. Pick a side and stick to it.

  7. So what happened?

    your town got community organized

  8. The whole purpose of the antifa protestors is to provoke the police into reacting with violence so they can catch it on camera and use it to delegitimize the police and the state. The tactic is as old as black blocs, and they've been around for ages. Police nationwide have known to resist such antagonism since the Battle of Seattle in 1999.

    Why should the police give in and do what the antifa protestors want them to do--especially with the cameras around?

    1. Its their job. Its also the primary reason for needing permits to demonstrate.

      1. Protest permits are completely unconstitutional anyway.

  9. I'm not someone who thinks the state should have an exclusive monopoly on violence. Generally speaking, shouldn't libertarians be happy to see the police slow to react? We're usually complaining about them overreacting. They only seem to have two speeds--idle and ass kicking. If you want more nuance, then maybe the protestors need to be ready to defend themselves. There's generally nothing wrong with standing up for your own right to protest.

    I suppose we should differentiate between antifa protestors and neo-Nazis going toe to toe over the right to protest, on the one hand, and somebody going over the edge, on the other hand, and plowing his car into a crowd. Plowing your car into a crowd of people because you disagree with them is indefensible. Apart from that, if you're going to a protest in full Nazi regalia when you know antifa is going to be there to shut you down (or vice versa), maybe the cops of Charlottesville aren't equipped for that--and shouldn't be.

    Ever been to a boxing match? The contestants get in the ring to fight. The cops are supposed to protect the spectators. Protecting the contestants from each other doesn't make any sense. They're there to fight, and both sides are hoping the cops will beat up someone from their own team on camera so they can make a big deal out of it.

    1. ""They only seem to have two speeds--idle and ass kicking""

      Aka, Got gum and all out of gum

      1. So I guess they had gum.

    2. I was thinking along these lines. It seems to me the cops should be there to protect non participants and property. But, if someone is getting the shit kicked out of him, the cops should step in. It's a hard problem.

      1. I think that's generally how cops do behave. If you think of them as really jaded people who deal with the dregs of society every day. They really don't care if people want to fight, they're happy to let them. Their concern is only covering their asses. So they step in when it goes too far, or after the fight has gone on awhile they'll arrest the last few fighters who refuse to leave, to show they did something.

    3. Doesn't this make you more of an anarchist than a Libertarian?

      And, is there any evidence that the white identitarians where there to fight? They didn't set it up as a ring. They had a platform and a bunch of speakers waiting to speak none of whom were allowed to do so because McAuliffe shut them down. Despite all the recriminations about how they were armed and otherwise decked out for combat, no one on the other side was hospitalized until the reported vehicular assault.

  10. The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence

    I'd like to nominate this for the Understatement of the Year award.

  11. Feels like this is a common occurrence. Local government doesn't want rally- tells police not to interfere in melee- declares the demonstration unlawful due to violence- eventually gets to end rally that they didn't want to begin with.

    Rinse and repeat. Kind of explains why the governor was lying about guns at the event

    1. Not just local. Wasn't it McAuliffe who declared the state of emergency or some such?

  12. I still think there is a political angle to the lack of police response. The VASP and national guard take orders from McAuliffe, so he probably knew that telling them to stand down would result in mayhem-making for good optics for the democrats-especially in an election year and upcoming midterms where the announced GOP US senate candidate, Corey Stewart, has courted the white nationalist/neo-confederate vote.

  13. As libertarians I'm sure we all agree that Ferguson was too much police action, even if we aren't sure if this was too little.

    Cue the caveats, three, two...

    1. What does Ferguson have to with this?

      1. Same question. Plus: Where can I buy a decoder ring to comprehend Tony's comments?

        1. The NSA could not decode his nonsense.

    2. You're not a Libertarian Tony.

  14. Is the second amendment a civil liberty?

    I used to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

    1. Not according to the ACLU

  15. Who here still thinks the government is NOT the opposite of what they declare?

  16. THE COPS DID IT ON PURPOSE! They pushed the two groups together to create chaos. This is not about racism. Black Bloc, Antifa and Occupy are nothing but old fashioned communists trying to destroy the last vestiges of capitalism left. This is right out of the communist playbook. That girl's blood is on McAullife's hands.

      1. Wow, quite a video. The Unite the Right are in classic peaceful resistance mode and being forced into antifa by the VSP.

  17. While I disagree with Ron's statement that the statues should go, I do appreciate his perspective, considering he was there. His main point that in the previous protest the two sides were kept apart (with no resulting violence), but in the latter the police actually pushed one side into the line of fire of the others is telling, and, to my mind, could be considered criminal. If I were the Unite the Right people, I would at least sue the city/state for a civil rights violation.

    I have heard elsewhere that the Unite the Right people could have been shunted in the opposite direction to the counter-protesters, which would have made a lot more sense.

    1. Ron was there and he was too busy feeling pissed at neo-Nazis to actually gain good material to report.

      Congrats Ron, you are a visibly biased jooornalist like the biased regular media.

      1. ... But his version of events supports with your views...

        1. What?

          1. Ron Bailey's account of events supports your view.

            He said that the police at the Unite the Right rally deliberately let the two sides get close to each other, and then shunted the Alt-Righters into the Antifa/Black Bloc lines. Thus creating an excuse to shut the rally down.

            Isn't that what you think happened?

            1. I said Ron was too busy doing something else besides getting information to write a detailed article but then people are giving him credit for being #1 joornolist.

              1. Well, he paid enough attention to see that the barricades were different, and that the cops did indeed shove the UTR people into the antifa.

                I am afraid, good sir, that your missives strike as rank pedantry.

                1. It was not worth the cost, if Reason was paying.
                  Sad really.

                  1. What's sad is that you will never know the hedonistic excess of a m?nage ? trois with ENB and KMW.

                    Unfortunately, only members of the elite and shadowy Ron Bailey Comment Section Defense Unit are granted such boons.

                    I assure you there is no trial I am not willing to overcome, no fellow commenter I am not willing to nag, in order to return once again to their heart-shaped, rose-petal-strewn bed.

                    1. Jesus, you are some piece of work.

                    2. You started it, es?.

                      You mess with the gerbil, you get the incisors!

                    3. I'm so glad I checked on this article before bed

  18. So, what you're saying, Ron, is that there were bad actors on many sides? 😉

  19. It always makes me laugh when someone references Nazis, Neo-Nazis, etc. They always feel compelled editorialize.

  20. I am unsurprised. Ever since the WTC riots of the 90's, anytime a 'peaceful protest' turns violent I cynically blame it on politicians not allowing the police to prevent things from escalating while still maintaining the demonstrators right to protest. Sometimes it's because the politicians agree with the protestors and give them too much leeway, sometimes it's because they disagree and want an excuse to shut it down or (in this case) to hope like hell something with good optics happens that will let them score points off their political rivals.

    Let's face it, peaceful alt-right march met by equally peaceful counter-protest isn't a good enough story for the culture-war-crazy-days of August.

  21. Its becoming quite clear to me that the city officials wanted a violent confrontation in order to discredit the protestors whom they had just lost to in court.
    Immediately after the violence, city, state and national democratic politicians came up to the microphone and praised the police for a wonderful job that they did. This was within hours of the death of the young women. No investigation had been done, no study, no meetings had taken place to discover what happened. The politicians got out of their planes, rode to the press conference and praised the police.
    It seems, having been humiliated in court, the city decided to subcontract out what they wanted to do themselves. They allowed the antifa group to beat upon the protestors, something that they initially wanted their own police force to do.
    10 minutes after a bank robbery, you don't rush down to the police station and claim that you had nothing to do with the robbery. If you are doing that,,its a good chance you did have something to do with the crime.

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