Activists Ask Charlottesville To Drop Charges
Above Photo: Shaban Anthuman/ Times-dispatch
ACLU Asks City To Revise Police Tactics.
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Activists want all charges dropped against protesters arrested at the July 8 KKK rally in Charlottesville after they say police used unnecessary force against demonstrators, and the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking residents to urge the City Council to increase “civilian oversight and accountability in policing.”
Lodging allegations of police brutality, activists associated with Solidarity Cville held a news conference Friday in front of the Charlottesville Police Department, asking for police to apologize for their tactics at the rally and revoke the permit for the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally, organized by pro-white blogger Jason Kessler.
Emily Gorcenski, who attended the rally, said it was unnecessary for police to declare unlawful assembly as protesters gathered around a garage where members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had parked. She said police did not give protesters and others enough time to leave the area before Virginia State Police deployed three canisters of tear gas.
“To be frank, it is ridiculous to expect a grieving community, with a deep legacy of racial violence, to simply pack up and go home after the KKK rallied in our city,” Gorcenski said.
After the Klansmen left, some protesters turned their attention to police and followed officers back up to High Street, where they continued to defy police commands to leave the area.
Gorcenski and other activists also criticized police for bringing riot gear and tear gas to the rally. Citing the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, the activists questioned why police still use tear gas, even though its use has been banned in warfare.
The convention — which went into effect in 1997 — bans the use of riot control agents, like tear gas, in war, but specifically states domestic law enforcement can still use chemical agents to control riots, according to Politifact.
In a brief interview earlier this week, city Police Chief Al Thomas said the decision was made to use the tear gas after people refused to leave and items were thrown at officers and pepper spray was used. The activists deny any use of pepper spray against police and, instead, argue police were not provoked.
When asked for information about the alleged assaults against their officers or the alleged use of pepper spray, a police spokesman said the department will release additional information about the rally in the future, while an internal review moves forward.
Every city officer at the rally wore a body camera during Saturday’s events, and police said it will take time to go through all of the footage.
Two ACLU legal observers and members of the media were among those hit by the tear gas. Now the organization’s Virginia chapter is urging Charlottesville residents to email the City Council about a “lack of civilian oversight of policing at the local level.”
The ACLU’s form letter makes three requests:
- Residents must be given the power to review police policies on use of force, de-escalation, SWAT teams and surveillance methods, including body cameras.
- Councilors must look at how police acquire “militarized weapons” and must adopt an ordinance requiring council approval of the acquisition of military weapons and surveillance gear.
- The city police department must commit to “constitutional policing” and clear policies about escalation and de-escalation.
“We plan on reviewing these requests carefully, as we do all constituent requests of council, in consultation with our staff,” Mayor Mike Signer said.
The Charlottesville police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Adeola Ogunkeyede, director of the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center, also attended Friday’s news conference and said police could have done a better job of de-escalating tensions between the community and Klan members.
Asking for police to remain peaceful and use more de-escalation techniques in the future, Ogunkeyede said it’s important for police to understand how hate groups like the KKK deeply affect the community.
“There is no better way for the city of Charlottesville to demonstrate that it respects the humanity of all its community members than by directing law enforcement to show understanding to those who gather in solidarity to drown out the racist and violent chants of a group of people who want nothing more than to see those who oppose them harmed,” Ogunkeyede said.
Four protesters currently face felony charges, while 10 others face misdemeanor charges. Solidarity Cville is asking the city to drop the charges against them, as well as previous charges filed against activist Veronica Fitzhugh, which include misdemeanor assault charges.
The group also is asking the city to revoke the permit for assembly for the rally in Emancipation Park. The activists question whether Kessler is abiding by the permitting process, and they cite the potential for violence.
According to the permit, the rally is estimated to attract 400 people upset with the city’s decision to rename two parks once named for Confederate generals and to sell a statue in one of them.
While the KKK rally also protested the decision, Kessler has tried to distance himself from the Klan.
Kessler’s rally, though, has been promoted by former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke and is expected to draw several leaders of the white nationalist “alt-right” movement, including Richard Spencer, who led a torch-lit rally at the foot of the city’s Robert E. Lee statue in May.