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Counterprotesters, Charlottesville Officials Speak Out After KKK Rally in Justice Park

Posted: Updated: Jul 09, 2017 06:39 PM
Charlottesville police arresting counter protesters at a KKK rally Charlottesville police arresting counter protesters at a KKK rally
People gathering at Justice Park in Charlottesville (Courtesy skycladaerial.com ) People gathering at Justice Park in Charlottesville (Courtesy skycladaerial.com )
Police used a chemical irritant to disperse protesters in Charlottesville (FILE) Police used a chemical irritant to disperse protesters in Charlottesville (FILE)
Members of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK gather at Justice Park in Charlottesville (FILE) Members of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK gather at Justice Park in Charlottesville (FILE)
Police officers outfitted in riot gear at a KKK rally Police officers outfitted in riot gear at a KKK rally
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Nearly two dozen people were taken away by police and placed under arrest during the chaotic Ku Klux Klan rally in Justice Park Saturday, July 8.

The rally attracted more than 1,000 counterprotesters, compared to about 50 members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Of the counterprotesters, 22 were arrested. Their charges include obstructing free passage, failing to disperse in a riot, and wearing a mask in public.

More than 100 police officers with various police agencies including the Charlottesville Police Department, Virginia State Police, Albemarle County Police Department, University of Virginia Police, and Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office were in the park Saturday. They were outfitted with riot gear both during and after the rally.

Some activists are saying the amount of police involved with the event amped up the tension. Activists are also questioning if the amount of police force used to keep the crowd under control was necessary.

Nic McCarthy was one of the 22 counterprotesters arrested during Saturday’s KKK Rally in Justice Park. He was among those fighting against the Klansmen entering the park.

"We did not want the KKK to enter the park so we linked arms and police did what they felt was necessary,” McCarthy explained. “We, as citizens, also have our First Amendment rights to gather and say, 'Actually, no we don't want you here.' That's what we were doing.”

A day after the rally, many are coming forward saying the large police presence was uncalled for.

"Time and again police chose to protect the Klan and use aggression and brutality towards the people who were present and towards protesters,” said Mimi Arbeit, Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) member. "All of the equipment, all of the money that was used to bring in a violent police presence, and all of the police presence that was targeted against activists.”

The counterprotesters moved to from Justice Park to streets as authorities worked to safely moved members of the KKK out of the area. When the protesters refused orders to disperse, officers used tear gas to break up the crowd.

"I believe it was the state police that started firing off the chemical grenades to try to disperse the crowd and it just wasn't called for,” said Don Gathers, Charlottesville resident.

“That sort of presence and attitude the police brought to the event actually had the effect of ramping things up,” explained Jalane Schmidt, of Black Lives Matter.

Those who were in Justice Park say, despite the few chaotic moments, the unity shown at the rally was unforgettable.

“I have never been more proud to call myself a Charlottesvillian and more proud of the community,” said Gathers.

Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas released a statement saying the Charlottesville Police Department will complete a full review of its successes and shortcomings in handling Saturday’s rally. 

In referring to the protestors who tried to block the KKK from entering Justice Park, Thomas said:

Several outside groups made it clear they would become confrontational however, we were prepared for the unrest that occurred near the conclusion of the event which unfortunately resulted in a number of arrests. Order was quickly restored and our community remains safe."

Officials with the city of Charlottesville also voiced their reactions to the KKK rally.

Mayor Mike Signer released a long statement on Facebook Saturday night discussing the need to, "Tell the truth about race in our city."

Signer attended many of the counterprotest events and said the community came out stronger than ever at the end of the day.

Charlottesville City Council member Kristin Szakos also visited counterprotest events around town Saturday and said the rally wasn't ideal, but was proud of Charlottesville.

"It wasn't perfect. It didn't go particularly smoothly at the very end but until the very end, it was very well. I was very proud of our local police. I thought they did a good job of being professional,” Szakos said.

Szakos also said she hopes Saturday’s s rally will help police officers prepare for the Unite the Right rally planned for August 12 in Emancipation Park.

Statement from Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas: 

“First and foremost, our primary goal was community safety and protecting the civil liberties of all of our citizens.  At the end of the day, three people were transported to the hospital; 2 for heat related issues and one for an alcohol related issue.  I was pleased with the professionalism and commitment of our law enforcement partners as our safety plan was well executed. Officers traveled from near and far to assist the CPD in maintaining law and order during this difficult endeavor. 

Hundreds of local citizens rose up in a non-violent protest against the hate that was being spewed in Justice Park. When klan members arrived, the atmosphere quickly became emotionally charged. Several outside groups made it clear they would become confrontational; however, we were prepared for the unrest that occurred near the conclusion of the event which unfortunately resulted in a number of arrests.  Order was quickly restored and our community remains safe.

As is common practice, we will be reviewing the events of the day over the next weeks and months to assess our successes and shortcomings.  We are committed to providing our residents with a strong, safe city to live in and to being a partner to our community.”

Facebook Statement Released by Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer: