A review was conducted of the recent events in Charlottesville: Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, Virginia (PDF). The review was led by Hunton & Williams, a law firm founded in Richmond but with offices now around the world.
The report examines three events in the city during 2017; I will focus only on the most recent one – the one that generated the most coverage, controversy and destruction. The report is 220 pages; I will not go through all of it, but draw a few excerpts from the Executive Summary and other selected sections.
Jason Kessler obtained a permit to convene a rally at the Lee statue at which he planned to bring together a wide array of right-wing and white nationalist groups… Counter-protesters began mobilizing for this event and similarly recruited a range of left-wing groups to come to Charlottesville to confront the racist ideology of the Unite The Right groups.
You get the idea of the slant.
The scope of the event was not a surprise to city authorities:
City planners understood the scope and challenge presented by the August 12 event. CPD [Charlottesville Police Department] commanders obtained accurate information about expected attendance at the Unite The Right rally, from online and human sources. They knew the event would attract hundreds if not thousands of people on both sides.
City leaders wanted to deny the legally obtained permit; they then wanted to move the march to a different park. This now required the police to develop a new plan along with the prior plan just days before the event. They decided to move the event despite being warned that this decision would be struck down in court. It was.
Even apart from the complexity introduced by the possible move, police planning for August 12 was inadequate and disconnected.
Officials in other jurisdictions where previous protests were held were not contacted; CPD supervisors did not provide adequate training or information to officers; CPD planners waited too long to ask for assistance; they did not seek adequate legal advice.
CPD devised a flawed Operational Plan for the Unite The Right rally.
Constraints to access; adequate separation was not maintained between the groups; officers were not stationed along the appropriate routes, instead standing behind barricades away from the event.
CPD commanders did not sufficiently coordinate with the Virginia State Police in a unified command on or before August 12.
Formal planning documents weren’t shared; radio communication between the two organizations was not possible due to incompatible systems; no joint training or joint briefing;
Once the unlawful assembly was declared, law enforcement efforts to disperse the crowd generated more violence as Alt-Right protesters were pushed back toward the counter-protesters with whom they had been in conflict.
Regarding the death of Heather Heyer:
Early on August 12, CPD had placed a school resource officer alone at the intersection of 4th Street NE and Market Street. This officer feared for her safety as groups of angry Alt-Right protesters and counter-protesters streamed by her as they left Emancipation Park. The officer called for assistance and was relieved of her post. Unfortunately, CPD commanders did not replace her or make other arrangements to prevent traffic from traveling across the Downtown Mall on 4th Street. A single wooden saw horse was all that impeded traffic down 4th Street as large groups of people continued to roam the streets.
The Executive Summary concludes:
…the City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety on August 12. The City was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech.
Unable or unwilling?
I skipped over the two earlier protests in the city, the previously most recent on July 8 – about one month prior to the events reviewed here. Somehow that event went off without a hitch, but one month later…catastrophe.
Suffice it to say, the Executive Summary is completely unsatisfactory; a superficial analysis at best.
I find a couple of additional sections worthy of comment:
IV. Resistance to Cooperation
Over the course of our review, we were unable to access certain information that we requested from various sources.
Stonewalling, hiding behind potential legal proceedings, deleted text messages, personal email used (and denied), backdated documents intended to hide the lack of preparedness or other shortcomings, refusal to cooperate – all at the local and state government level.
The investigators received cooperation from about half of the Alt-Right groups, including Jason Kessler and various militia members. They received some cooperation from the groups on the left, but notably not from Black Lives Matter, Solidarity Charlottesville, Standing Up for Racial Justice, and Congregate Charlottesville.
Much like the VSP [Virginia State Police] resistance outlined above, the lack of cooperation from various organizations and individuals engaged in counter-protest activities mirrored their approach to the protest events themselves. (Emphasis added)
One of the recommendations is curious, but not surprising:
As explained above, current Virginia law prevents localities from restricting citizens’ right to possess firearms in any circumstance. The General Assembly should change this rule and empower all municipalities to enact reasonable restrictions on the right to carry firearms at large protest events.
Despite the presence of countless firearms, only one shot was fired and no one was shot. Is it too much to consider that the presence of firearms helped to limit the violence?
The authors of the report, in the face of all of the stonewalling especially from government officials, still conclude that they are confident in their findings.
What strikes me is what is missing. Nothing that I see that finds meaningful fault with anyone outside of or above the local police or state police. Yet, as I recall, there was documented information about the pre-protest roles of local and state politicians (including the governor) – ordering officers to stand down, etc.
Am I wrong in remembering this?