Organizations Asking Officials to Investigate Police Response to Counterprotest

Posted: Updated: Jul 17, 2017 04:02 PM

Several legal organizations are asking for an investigation into the police's response in regard to a rally by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Legal Aid Justice Center, Rutherford Institute, ACLU of Virginia, and Central Virginia chapter of the National Lawyers Guild have sent letters to the governor's office and Charlottesville officials.

The organizations are asking officials to ensure accountability and "acknowledge that the deliberate choice to use warzone tactics” is inconsistent with the city's values and "good policing."

Nearly 200 law enforcement officers were on-hand for the rally at Justice Park on Saturday, July 8. Some police officers were equipped with riot gear as a crowd of over 1,000 people gathered in and around the park as roughly 50 Klan members held a rally.

The organizations' joint letter claims, "The militarized, aggressive law enforcement presence of July 8th escalated tensions of an already volatile situation, making everyone less safe and discouraging citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble and demonstrate in public."

Police used tear gas after the rally to disperse people who had amassed on East Jefferson Street. Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas stands by the decision to use the chemical irritant, but Solidarity Cville is labeling the action as police brutality.

"We have serious questions about whether the use of chemical agents to clear the streets was a justified use of force," reads the letter from the legal organizations. "Whether or not the police properly declared the assemblies to be unlawful, we are highly concerned about the use of chemical agents to facilitate the dispersal of demonstrators, particularly those who showed no sign of posing an immediate threat."

The legal experts conclude both letters with, "We look forward to working with you to ensure that First Amendment rights are fully respected."

07/17/2017 Release from the Legal Aid Justice Center:

Charlottesville, Va., July 17, 2017 - Today, the Legal Aid Justice Center, Rutherford Institute, ACLU of Virginia, and Central Virginia chapter of the National Lawyers Guild call on the governor and officials for the City of Charlottesville to investigate the outsized and militaristic governmental response to those who chose to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights to assemble in public and engage in peaceful, nonviolent protests.

The legal organizations ask local and state officials to:

  1. acknowledge that the deliberate choice to use warzone tactics on July 8th instead of planning for de-escalation is inconsistent with Charlottesville's values and good policing;
  2. authorize and initiate an independent investigation into law enforcement's actions before, during and after the permitted demonstration on July 8th to determine whether any actions were unlawful; and
  3. ensure accountability for any unlawful tactics used, whether by the Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) or the Virginia State Police (VSP).

Letters sent to city and state officials are attached.

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