Virginia Governor McAuliffe told The New York Times in an interview Sunday morning that police in Charlottesville did their best considering the circumstances. “It’s easy to criticize, but I can tell you this, 80% of the people here had semiautomatic weapons,” McAuliffe said in an impromptu interview with the NY Times. “They had battering rams and, you know, we had picked up different weapons they had stashed around the city,” McAuliffe. “This was a powder keg. This was a very volatile situation.”
McAuliffe appeared to suggest that police were unprepared for the rally.
“You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army … I was just talking to the State Police upstairs; [the militia members] had better equipment than our State Police had,” McAuliffe said. “And yet not a shot was fired, zero property damage.”
The Governor failed to mention that dozens were left injured and a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when an apparent white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd.
According to the Washington Post “militia” at the demonstration totaled 32.
Virginia State Police disagreed with McAullife’s assessment: “No, the State Police did not have inferior equipment,” Corinne Geller, Virginia State Police public relations manager, told the Free Beacon. “Our personnel are equipped, and were equipped, with the necessary protective and tactical gear for their safety and, obviously, to protect those that were in attendance of the event.”
Corinne Geller also told Reason magazine that the Governor’s accusations that militia’s had stashed weapons in the park was not accurate–after a search no weapons caches were discovered.
“The governor was referring to the briefing provided him in advance of Saturday’s rally and the extra security measures being taken by local and state police,” Geller said. “As a safety precaution in advance of August 12, such searches were conducted in and around Emancipation and McIntire Parks. No weapons were located as a result of those searches.”
The McAuliffe quote has since been edited and rephrased by the Times in the hours since the piece was originally published but the paper did confirm the quote is accurate.
Law enforcement was on hand on Saturday, however reports note police on the scene were reported to have been ordered to “not intervene until given command to do so,” according to the ACLU. That kept them from suppressing the numerous scuffles that broke out.
When police were ordered to disperse the rally, that unfortunately directed the white nationalists into the antifa demonstrators, leading to further street brawls. Police didn’t seem to try to get in between the two groups or suppress the fights.
As ProPublica reported, state police and National Guardsmen mostly stood aside and watched as the violence grew worse. “There was no police presence,” Brittany Caine-Conley, a minister-in-training who protested the alt-right rally, 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.”
According to ProPublica, the militia members seemed to be the only ones breaking up fights and trying to keep the peace in the tumult. “The police did little to stop the bloodshed. Several times, a group of assault-rifle-toting militia members from New York State, wearing body armor and desert camo, played a more active role in breaking up fights.”-ProPublica
Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor said a strategy of disengagement generally works to embolden unruly crowds. “If things start to escalate and there’s no response, it can very quickly get out of control,” she said. “Individuals can and will get hurt.”
Mayor Mike Signer, Governor McAuliffe, and Lt. Gov. Northam were quick to make political hay over the events–Democratic controlled cities such as Baltimore have quickly taken advantage of the opportunity by removing memorials in the dark of night. McAuliffe and Northam still have some explaining to do:
Why were the local police, state police, and National Guard unprepared prior to the start of the legally permitted rally at noon? Why were they late to the rally in force? Why were the law enforcement agencies incapable of protecting the demonstrators? Why weren’t the demonstrators contained behind barricades? Why wasn’t there a cordon of police to isolate the demonstrators? Did the police know beforehand that the counter protesters were preparing to be there? What did they know, and when did they know it? Why were counter protesters allowed to discharge flame-throwing materials and chemical compounds? Why were police and guardsmen told to stand down?