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United States

Checkpoint Charlottesville: police lock down city one year on from deadly riot

Hundreds of extra officers mobilised to keep order after authorities declared a state emergency, fearing a repeat of last year’s chaos

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2018, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2018, 10:41pm

Police are blocking off streets and mobilising hundreds of officers for the anniversary of a deadly clash between white a nationalist rally and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, alarming activists who plan to rally against the chaos that erupted last year.

State and local authorities framed this weekend’s heightened security as a necessary precaution, but some activists are concerned the measures could be counterproductive.

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he condemned racism, in anticipation of rallies planned to mark the event.

“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”

An independent investigation of last year’s rally violence, led by a former federal prosecutor, found the chaos stemmed from a passive response by law enforcement and poor preparation and coordination between state and city police.

Grace Aheron, an organiser for Showing Up for Racial Justice, said a “militarised police presence” does not make the city safer.

“I’m not looking forward to what that’s going to look like this weekend,” she said.

On the eve of last year’s rally, torch-toting white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia’s campus, shouting racist slogans. On Saturday, students and activists planned to hold a “Rally for Justice” on campus while the university hosted a “morning of reflection and renewal”, with poetry readings and music. Activists also announced plans for a gathering on Sunday morning at a park.

Sunday is the anniversary of the violence that erupted on the streets of Charlottesville, where hundreds of people gathered to protest against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park named after the Confederate general. White supremacists and counterprotesters clashed before a car ploughed into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. James Fields Jnr, 21, of Maumee, Ohio, is charged in state court with murder in Heyer’s killing and also faces separate hate crime charges in federal court.

Jason Kessler, the main organiser of last summer’s rally, sued the city of Charlottesville after it refused to issue him a permit for another event this weekend. However, Kessler dropped his lawsuit last week and vowed to forge ahead with plans for a “white civil rights” rally on Sunday in Washington.

On Wednesday, Governor Ralph Northam and the city both declared states of emergency, citing the “potential impacts of events” in Charlottesville during the anniversary weekend. The state’s declaration allocates US$2 million in extra funds and authorises the Virginia National Guard to help with security.

The city is closing downtown streets and public parks and restricting access to a “security area”, where visitors are prohibited from wearing masks or carrying certain items, including skateboards, catapults, glass bottles, bats and knives. Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle said more than 700 state police will be working over the weekend.