Ten­sion amid peace vig­ils for US race clash

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

CHARLOTTESVILLE: The US city of Charlottesville in Vir­ginia marked the an­niver­sary of last year’s white su­prem­a­cist vi­o­lence that sent rip­ples through the coun­try with largely peace­ful vig­ils and other events, but po­lice had a brief, tense con­fronta­tion with stu­dents 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 pre-planned evening rally to mark the an­niver­sary of a cam­pus con­fronta­tion be­tween torch-car­ry­ing white na­tion­al­ists and counter-pro­test­ers, ac­tivists un­furled a ban­ner that said, “Last year they came w/ torches. This year they come w/ badges.”

More than 200 pro­test­ers then marched to an­other part of the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia (UVA) cam­pus, where many in the crowd shouted at po­lice of­fi­cers in riot gear who had formed a line.

Kibir­iti Ma­juto, a co-or­di­na­tor for UVA Stu­dents United, said the stu­dents moved to an­other part of cam­pus be­cause they didn’t want to be “caged” in the area where the rally had been planned.

“How does that cre­ate a sense of com­mu­nity? How are we go­ing to be safe in that sit­u­a­tion?” he asked.

Ma­juto said po­lice “were not on our side” last year when white su­prem­a­cists sur­rounded counter-pro­test­ers 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 the stu­dents were up­set by the of­fi­cers’ tac­tics, call­ing the of­fi­cers’ riot gear “over the top”.

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

The rest of the day had been much qui­eter.

In the pop­u­lar down­town shop­ping district on Satur­day morn­ing, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers out­num­bered vis­i­tors. Con­crete bar­ri­ers and metal fences had been erected, and po­lice were search­ing bags at two check­points where peo­ple could en­ter or leave.

“It’s nice that they’re here to pro­tect us,” said Lara Mitchell, 66, a sales as­so­ciate at a shop that sells art­work, jew­ellery 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 com­pared to what it is to­day.”

On Au­gust 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 Gen­eral Robert E Lee from a park.

Vi­o­lent fight­ing broke out be­tween at­ten­dees and counter-pro­test­ers that day. Au­thor­i­ties even­tu­ally forced the crowd to dis­perse, but a car later bar­relled into a crowd of peace­ful counter-pro­test­ers, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

The day’s 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.

Among the re­mem­brance events on Satur­day was a “morn­ing of re­flec­tion and re­newal” at UVA that fea­tured mu­si­cal per­for­mances, a po­etry read­ing and an ad­dress from uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent James Ryan.

Ryan re­called how a group of stu­dents and com­mu­nity mem­bers faced off against the white su­prem­a­cist marchers near a statue of Thomas Jefferson on cam­pus, call­ing it a “re­mark­able mo­ment of courage and brav­ery”.

A group of anti-fas­cist and Black Lives Mat­ter demon­stra­tors march on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia af­ter a rally to mark the an­niver­sary of last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Vir­ginia, on Satur­day.

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