CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Unite the Right rally drew large crowds and heavy police presence in the Downtown area of Charlottesville Saturday. Demonstrators and counterprotesters began gathering around Emancipation Park in Charlottesville just after 9 a.m.

Clashes between opposing groups took over the streets of Charlottesville even before the Unite the Right's scheduled noon rally ever started.

The permit that was approved by the city of Charlottesville stated that they Unite the Rally could begin at noon. The original location of Emancipation Park was in jeopardy when city officials stated that Jason Kessler would have to hold the event at McIntire Park. A federal judge granted an emergency injunction to allow the event  to be held at Emancipation Park. 

Just before the rally, members of the Congregate Charlottesville blocked sections of stairs to the park. Around 10:15 a.m, more Unite the Right supporters began standing along police barricades holding flags and shields. As more people descended toward Emancipation Park, counterprotesters began throwing paint at the Unite the Right demonstrators. After that, fights broke out among members of the crowd. 

Pro-white groups and counterdemonstrators spent about two hours in repeated skirmishes on East Market Street. State police say people were throwing cans full of concrete at each other along with pepper spray, tear gas, and other weapons.

"I'm just amazed that the police have allowed people to assault other people and throw things at them,” said Jeff Fogel, protest witness. 

An unlawful assembly was declared at around 11:30 a.m. which prompted riot police to respond. Governor McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. Police say one person was arrested.

People, including criminal defense attorney Jeff Fogel, are questioning why it took police so long to intervene and call for an unlawful assembly.

"I don't think this is a proud day for Charlottesville and it's not a proud day for Virginia to see two opposing groups who have sides, they have freedom of speech, but to turn to violence is not the way,” said Corrine Geller with Virginia State Police. 

Virginia State Police made three arrests related to the planned rally and the unrest following the declaration of an unlawful assembly:

  • Troy Dunigan, 21, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
  • Jacob L. Smith, 21, of Louisa, Virginia, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault & battery.
  • James M. O’Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

After the unlawful assembly was declared, many of the white activists made their way to McIntire Park. A steady stream of people made their way down the Route 250 bypass and into McIntyre Park by the Brooks Family YMCA.  A crowd of around 100 people gathered at McIntire Park but by around 2:30 all that remained were just a few small groups of people as Albemarle County police and state police watched over the park.

Event organizer, Jason Kessler, felt that police were not adhering to terms of the permit that was ordered by a federal judge.  "The Charlottesville city government and police refused to do their jobs.  They refused to protect our event and enforce the terms of the permit as ordered by the federal judge. They created an unsafe environment and denied us our rights."