Charlottesville, DC prepare for anniversary of violent rally

Law enforcement officials in two U.S. cities are aiming to avoid a repeat of the violence that erupted a year ago in Charlottesville, Va.

“There seemed to be confusion as to who had authority to respond in a certain way,” RaShall Brackney, the new Charlottesville Police Chief, said at a July 12 community briefing. “We have a very clear, a very clear understanding from the top…as to what the expectations are, and the expectations are that there will not be the type of violence that occurred in this community that occurred last year.”

Aug. 12 marks one year since a group composed of mostly white supremacists clashed with counter protesters and Antifa demonstrators in the usually picturesque and historic town of Charlottesville. Several people were injured and one counter protester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a driver rammed his car through a crowd gathered near the Downtown Mall.

Charlottesville officials expect crowds to assemble for commemorative events around the city, but they haven't granted any permits for Market Street Park, the site of last year’s contentious “Unite the Right” rally. The organizer, Jason Kessler, withdrew a permit request to hold an anniversary event there and, instead, is urging followers to attend what he is calling “Unite the Right 2” in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

Heads of agencies involved in protecting Charlottesville this weekend said they're preparing for any civil disturbances or unrest.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the City of Charlottesville declared States of Emergency Wednesday, a move which allocates $2 million for response efforts and permits assistance from the Virginia National Guard.

Law enforcement personnel there will be operating under a Unified Command, made up of leaders from the Charlottesville Police Department, the Virginia State Police and the Charlottesville Fire Department. Officials from those agencies have declined to say how many officers will be active in Charlottesville during the weekend, but Virginia State Police Captain Craig Worsham said officers from his agency will be “very present.”

“We’re going to be active and assertive. Expect interactions with the police. Expect them to be dressed in various uniforms, because we’re going to be out-and-about doing what we do. Not a lot of standing around,” Worsham said at the briefing. “There will be some police officers and law enforcement types standing in perimeters, but there’s going to be many, many people out-and-about working and patrolling.”

Charlottesville will close streets downtown and parks throughout the city. Certain items used as weapons last year are also banned, including: sticks, shields and open flames. According to Virginia State law, firearms cannot be banned in public spaces.

Brackney cautioned, however, law breakers aren't likely to heed city ordinances.

“Law breakers do not care about our ordinances, they don’t care about our legislation, they don’t care about statutes. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do the things that they do anyway,” Brackney said.

In Washington, D.C., the National Park Service approved Kessler’s anniversary event application for Lafayette Park, which is directly across the street from the North side of the White House

According to Kessler’s permit application, he expects a crowd of approximately 400 people. A National Park Service spokesperson said Wednesday that though Kessler’s application was approved, the permit is still pending. Multiple permits were requested for counter demonstrations set to be held elsewhere in the District.

The United States Park Police, United States Secret Service, the National Park Service, Metro Transit Police, and DC Metropolitan Police are all involved in securing the event.

“We intend to have the entire police department engaged to make sure that we handle this," MPD Chief of Police Peter Newsham said at a news conference.

Law enforcement officers were heavily criticized in the aftermath of the Charlottesville rally last year for not separating opposing groups. Newsham did reveal part of their security strategy this time is to keep conflicting groups apart.

“We've had those types of high-tension assemblies here in the District before,” Newsham said. “We 100 percent are going to make sure groups remain separate.”

Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter said simply being prepared isn't enough.

“I always challenge our staff to be able to define success for me when we’re talking about a program or initiative or response,” Baxter said. “So I will tell you that my goal, my definition of success will be on Monday, August the 13th, that the community says to us, ‘You guys were too prepared.’ I’ll be OK with that.”