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Charlottesville Police Chief Addresses Use of Tear Gas After KKK Rally

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Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas
Police using tear gar to disperse protesters in Charlottesville (FILE IMAGE) Police using tear gar to disperse protesters in Charlottesville (FILE IMAGE)
Rally at Justice Park by supporters and members of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK (FILE IMAGE) Rally at Justice Park by supporters and members of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK (FILE IMAGE)
Officers in riot gear confront protesters in downtown Charlottesville (FILE IMAGE) Officers in riot gear confront protesters in downtown Charlottesville (FILE IMAGE)
Person being detained by law enforcement at a rally in Justice Park (FILE IMAGE) Person being detained by law enforcement at a rally in Justice Park (FILE IMAGE)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas is defending the use of tear gas to break up a crowd of counterprotesters following Saturday’s controversial rally.

A crowd of more than 1,000 people filled Justice Park on Saturday, July 8, as roughly 50 supporters and members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held at rally at the base of the statue to Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson.

The North Carolina-based group had acquired a permit to hold an hour-long rally, originally at the steps of Charlottesville Circuit Court. Members had stated that their event was to support Southern heritage.

Thomas said the police department's goal was community safety, and it wanted to get Klan members in and out of the city as quickly as possible.

The police chief said the counterprotesters were generally peaceful until KKK and its supporters arrived for the in Justice Park.

Then, he said, the mood changed: "The crowd became more agitated, more aggressive, pushing toward officers, blocking streets, blocking exits. We actually had individuals spraying pepper gel at police officers, throwing items at the officers, refusing to disperse. Then the commanders on the ground - the on-scene commanders - made a decision to deploy three canisters of gas to disperse the crowd."

Chief Thomas said he supports the decision to use tear gas, and added, "It was very effective. We did not want to physically remove the crowd, disperse the crowd. The gas worked well. We did not have to go hands-on. It was very effective. The crowd dispersed quickly and officers were able to return to their staging areas."

Twenty-two people were arrested by law enforcement: several people are facing an obstruction-related charge, a handful of folks are charged with wearing a mask in public, and two may have committed assault.  

The Charlottesville Police Department is in a debrief process to review all actions taken Saturday. The process is expected to take a few weeks.

The chief said they will take lessons learned from the event in mind when planning for another controversial rally set for August 12 in Emancipation Park.