Char­lottesville protest takes a deadly turn Po­lice are faulted for slow re­sponse; 2 Va. troop­ers are later killed in crash


Po­lice in Char­lottesville came un­der crit­i­cism for fail­ing to keep apart war­ring white na­tion­al­ists and coun­ter­protesters who bat­tled it out in the city streets Sat­ur­day amid what at first seemed an ane­mic re­sponse from au­thor­i­ties.

Anger over how the po­lice re­sponded came from all di­rec­tions and in­ten­si­fied af­ter the death of a woman struck by a car that plowed into a group of coun­ter­protesters. Ex­perts said po­lice ap­peared out­num­bered, ill-pre­pared and in­ex­pe­ri­enced.

“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

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 as­sault­style 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.

Cor­nel West, the Prince­ton pro­fes­sor and writer who at­tended a morn­ing church ser­vice at First Bap­tist Church in Char­lottesville with a large group of clergy mem­bers, said “the po­lice didn’t do any­thing in terms of pro­tect­ing the peo­ple of the com­mu­nity, the clergy.”

West said that “if it hadn’t been for the anti-fas­cists pro­tect­ing us from the neo-fas­cists, we would have been crushed like cock­roaches.”

Richard Spencer, the white na­tion­al­ist and one of the lead­ers of the rally, said po­lice failed to pro­tect groups with which he is af­fil­i­ated. “We came here as a demon­stra­tion of our move­ment,” Spencer said. “And we were ef­fec­tively thrown to the wolves.” The po­lice, he said, “did not pro­tect us.”

Lo­cal and state au­thor­i­ties de­clined to ad­dress spe­cific quesvi­o­lence about how the demon­stra­tion was han­dled or their strat­egy for the day. The city’s mayor, po­lice chief, city man­ager and McAuliffe also did not an­swer ques­tions at an early-evening news con­fer­ence.

Al Thomas, the po­lice chief, said only that the city will be “re­view­ing events of the day over com­ing weeks and months.”

McAuliffe thanked law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and noted that “this could have been a much worse day to­day.” He put the blame squarely on the white na­tion­al­ists “who came here to hurt peo­ple.”

He added, with­out men­tion­ing a spe­cific in­ci­dent, “And you did hurt peo­ple.”

Lt. Joseph Hat­ter, a com­man­der with the Char­lottesville po­lice, said of­fi­cers tried to cre­ate sep­a­rate ar­eas for pro­test­ers and coun­ter­protesters to “re­duce the vi­o­lence.” But, he con­ceded: “It didn’t work, did it? I think there was a plan to have them sep­a­rated. They didn’t want to be sep­a­rated.”

About the ap­par­ent de­lay in re­act­ing to the vi­o­lence, Hat­ter said, “I don’t know that we did wait. I think we did the best we could un­der the cir­cum­stances.” He de­clined to elab­o­rate.

State Del. David J. Toscano (DChar­lottesville), mi­nor­ity leader of Vir­ginia’s House, praised the re­sponse by Char­lottesville and state po­lice.

“Things were get­ting out of hand in the skir­mishes be­tween the alt-right and what I would de­scribe as the out­side ag­i­ta­tors who wanted to en­cour­age vi­o­lence,” he said.

Asked why po­lice did not in­ter­vene sooner, Toscano said he could not com­ment. He said they trained hard to pre­pare for the demon­stra­tion “and it might have been that they were wait­ing for a more ef­fec­tive time to get peo­ple out” of the park.

Ex­perts on han­dling large demon­stra­tions said au­thor­i­ties in Char­lottesville are likely not as pre­pared for such events, which oc­cur with more reg­u­lar­ity in such cities as New York and Wash­ing­ton. They also said that sep­a­rat­ing an­tag­o­nists is paramount.

“Big cities han­dle this stuff all the time,” said Eu­gene O’Don­nell, a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer and pros­tions ecu­tor in New York City. “It seems an enor­mous stretch for Char­lottesville and even for the state po­lice.”

A pro­fes­sor at John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice in New York, he added that “plan­ning on pa­per can va­por­ize pretty quickly” and “many po­lice think that if you do noth­ing, it’s less bad than if you do some­thing . . . . Po­lice de­part­ments need to learn to strike a bal­ance and cre­ate safe zones for peo­ple preach­ing hate.”

But he also said that, too of­ten, the po­lice are faulted for the poor choices of oth­ers.

“When peo­ple run amok and cause dam­age, peo­ple blame the po­lice,” O’Don­nell said. “When po­lice act proac­tively, they get blamed for over­reach­ing. Peo­ple ask, ‘Why weren’t you more pa­tient?’ ”

Laura Vozzella and Sarah Larimer con­trib­uted to this re­port. Heim and Sil­ver­man re­ported from Char­lottesville. Her­mann re­ported from Wash­ing­ton.


A car strikes peo­ple march­ing against Sat­ur­day’s white na­tion­al­ist rally in Char­lottesville. One was killed and 19 were in­jured, and the driver was ar­rested and charged with sec­ond-de­gree mur­der.

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