Why Did the Police Stand Down in Charlottesville?

Chris Roberts, American Renaissance, August 19, 2017

Malice, incompetence, image?
Police at Unite the Right

August 12, 2017 – Charlottesville, Virginia – State Police in the streets of Charlottesville. (Credit Image: © Shay Horse/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press)

The war of words in our divided country has reached fever pitch in the wake of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. It comes as a great surprise, therefore, that everyone seems to agree on one thing: The police did not do their job.

Readers are probably aware that Unite the Right makes this claim, but the left does, too. In fact, every segment of the left, fractured as it’s been since President Trump’s victory, agrees that the police—for whatever reason—did far too little to limit violence.

Here is the “vital center” left at The Atlantic:

Charlottesville will not be the last small town to face a challenge like Saturday’s, and police departments will have to learn to do a better job of keeping order and preventing bloodshed, while also protecting free speech even by hateful, and hated, groups.

The leftist investigative journalism website ProPublica wrote an in-depth feature bluntly titled, “Police Stood By As Mayhem Mounted in Charlottesville.” ThinkProgress, one of the Clinton family’s biggest media surrogates, ran an equally frank piece titled, “The police failed Charlottesville:”

. . . protesters, reporters, and clergy present [at the rally] understand the true character of the chaos: violence on Friday night, with police asleep at the switch, led to an uneasy atmosphere Saturday morning. Police again played the bystander’s role the next morning, fanning a tense morning into a bloody afternoon of pitched battles in the public street.

Police did not cause the violence and death in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. But they did fail to act to prevent it using the clear, stern, and proactive tactics common in departments that frequently handle protest activity and civil unrest.

At the other end of the left’s spectrum, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the black militant, wrote in Jacobin Magazine:

Their mob [Unite the Right] action revealed multiple realities: they are relatively small, disproportionately violent—and completely coddled by law enforcement. On Friday evening, the police allowed these torch-bearing racists to descend upon a black church chanting “white lives matter” and the Nazi slogan “blood and soil,” with no permit to protest. The following day, police stood passively as white supremacists lined up in formation, charged at protestors, [sic] and beat people.

The Washington Post write up, “Police in Charlottesville criticized for slow response to violent demonstrations,” quotes black radical Cornel West as saying, “the police didn’t do anything in terms of protecting the people of the community, the clergy. If it hadn’t been for the anti-fascists protecting us from the neo-fascists, we would have been crushed like cockroaches.”

Violence breaks out at Charlottesville free speech rally

Cornel West join a counter protest during the Unite the Right free speech rally. (Credit Image: © Emily Molli/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press)

While lefties agree that the police failed to maintain order, their explanation for this is different from ours. They think the police are secretly pro-white thugs, eager to see the right run riot on blacks and hippies. But that theory is easily refuted: The police were supposed to protect the rally; they failed, and the rally was aborted.

Many have forgotten, but in May a smaller cadre of activists held a similar rally at the same statue in the same park. Many of the speakers—Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Nathan Damigo—who were present last weekend were there. There was no violence because there were essentially no counterprotestors.

This time, it was clear that there would be opposition, and it was the job of the police to maintain order and permit the rally to proceed as planned. They failed to do this and the question is why. The police are generally a disciplined force that acts on orders, and they were clearly ordered to stay out of the way. What were their orders? Unless there is a formal investigation that goes all the way to the top—including Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia—we may never know, but there are several possibilities.

Nearly everyone is familiar with KKK rallies. Two dozen guys march in robes, surrounded and protected by riot police who vastly outnumber them. Anti-KKK protesters surround and outnumber the police. Without police protection, the KKK demonstrators would probably be attacked and killed. Were the police ordered to keep their distance in the hope that counterdemonstrators would crush and humiliate the “racists”? This is not impossible.

Another possibility is that the police were told to permit just enough violence to justify calling the rally “an unlawful assembly” so that it could be shut down despite the permit. The last thing the ultra-liberal city of Charlottesville wanted was hours of speeches by “racists.” Some of the speeches might have been reasonable and persuasive.

Another possibility is that the city of Charlottesville was afraid that vigorous police action would be criticized as “militarization,” like the firm responses in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. The last thing a “progressive” city wants is TV images of its officers breaking heads—even if that is what it takes to keep the peace. Given the bobo image Charlottesville cultivates, this may be the most probable explanation.

In fact, Gov. McAuliffe later praised the police, pointing out that officers injured no one. This is another way of admitting that they did nothing, but that is what snowflakes want the police to do. There would probably be nothing more humiliating for a city like Charlottesville than to join the list of places where police have shot unarmed civilians.

The fact remains that both sides in the Battle of Charlottesville agree that the police did not do nearly enough to stop the fighting. For the rally organizers, this led to violence that tarnished what was supposed to be a peaceful rally and gave the authorities an excuse to shut it down. For the lefties, it was either a direct police assault on the left or tacit encouragement for the right to attack the left.

We may never know the real reason, but I suspect it was neither. It was probably gross negligence by a primly image-conscious city unwilling to take the “militarized” tactics necessary to separate hostile armies.

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Chris Roberts
Chris Roberts is Director of Special Projects at American Renaissance.
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