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Confederate Monuments Protest

Charlottesville was a perfect storm for violence


Several factors led to the violence that resulted during Saturday's protest in Charlottesville, Virginia which led one dead and dozens injured.

The situation was ripe for violence from the start. Far right protesters descended upon Charlottesville for what was called the "Unite the Right" rally, protesting the city's plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the city's Emancipation Park. They were met with counter protesters from far left groups. The presence of the two factions set the stage for clashes which led to the death of one woman and the injuring of dozens.

"For months this was anticipated to be a very large gathering ... and those numbers, those predictions kept growing, and growing and growing," said Charlottesville Mayor Michael Singer. "And we had on the ground here the largest deployment of law enforcement professionals since 9/11."

City and state officials activated nearly 1,000 police personnel in expectation of a large attendance. Charlottesville's city manager also attempted to move the protest itself from Emancipation Park to a larger, more open area in an effort to engage in better crowd control. The move was overturned by a federal judge on Friday night after a suit was filed to keep the protest at the original location.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute filed the suit on behalf of Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler. They argued that the city was infringing on Kessler's constitutional rights by preventing him from and the protesters from holding their rally at Emancipation Park. The organization later condemned Saturday's violence.

Singer noted officials were forced to declare a state of emergency on Saturday in response to the massive amounts of violence, which the city manager was trying to prevent.

As clashes raged, some witnesses criticized the government's ability to control the situation.

"There was no police presence," Brittany Caine-Conley, a minister in training at Sojourners United Church of Christ, told the New York Times. "We were watching people punch each other; people were bleeding all the while police were inside of barricades at the park, watching. It was essentially just brawling on the street and community members trying to protect each other."

Larry Engel, a local business owner, criticized police for not separating the two sides earlier.

"It's a joke," Engel told the Los Angeles Times.

Kessler claimed he and his group had coordinated with police months before the rally, He noted that police "exacerbated the violence" by failing to separate the two groups.

James Fields, Jr. killed 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injured 19 others when he drove his car through a crowd of counter protesters. He apparently harbored neo-Nazi sentiments, according to the New York Times.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe defended the government response, despite the casualties.

"You can't stop some crazy guy who came here from Ohio and used his car as a weapon," said McAuliffe. "He is a terrorist."

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