Fiasco in Charlottesville

Fiasco in Charlottesville

Maintaining order is fundamental to civil society.

There was little question that, in the aftermath of the violence and disorder in Charlottesville, Va., in August, state and local authorities fell far short of their duty to maintain public safety.

How else could the warring parties — a group of right-wing protesters that included white supremacists and counter-protesters led by so-called "anti-fascists" — been allowed such close access to each other, a circumstance that guaranteed the mayhem that followed?

But now comes a lengthy report into what occurred, drafted by former U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy and based on an extensive investigation, that not only confirms first impressions but also goes into shocking detail in outlining just how poorly law enforcement prepared for what it knew was an explosive situation.

Indeed, the leadership of the Charlottesville Police Department and the Virginia State Police could hardly have done worse if they had been trying to make a mess of the situation.

The report faults city and state officers for failing to establish a "unified command," state police for not sharing its "formal planning document with CPD," both agencies for not being able to communicate each other by radio and not holding joint training sessions or "all-hands briefing on or before August 12."

Heaphy's report stated that "planning and coordination breakdowns" produced "disastrous results." Among them were the misalignment of officers who lack "accessible protective gear," failure "to intervene in physical altercations" because police "directed ... officers to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury."

"When violence was most prevalent, CPD commanders pulled officers back to a protected area of the park, where they remained for over an hour as people in the large crowd fought on Market Street," the report states.

Those shortcomings sound like a game plan for disaster, and they were.

"This represents a failure of one of government's core functions — the protection of fundamental rights. Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death. Charlottesville preserved neither of those principles on August 12, which has led to deep distrust of government within this community," the report states.

Heaphy also noted that local authorities were reluctant to cooperate with his investigation, citing Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas and some of his subordinates for withholding information.

"We learned that Chief Thomas and other CPD command staff deleted text messages that were relevant to our review" and that Thomas "used a personal e-mail account to conduct some CPD business, then falsely denied using personal e-mail in response to a specific FOIA request," the report states, while noting that Thomas and CPD commanders "denied any effort to hide information from our review team" and contended that "we received everything in the department's possession that bears upon the issues at stake in our evaluation."

Three people died as a consequence of what transpired in Charlottesville, a citizen who was killed when struck by a car driven into a group and two state police officers who died in a helicopter crash that occurred while they were following events from the sky.

Obviously, there is much for law enforcement to learn from what occurred, most particularly how important it is to keep groups antagonistic to each other far apart.

But there is another issue hanging over the episode in Charlottesville.

Some have argued, essentially, that because the collection of right-wing protesters, most specifically the racist element, are despicable, those left-wing extremists who came to confront them should be absolved of their share of responsibility for what occurred.

The right-wing nuts can be handled, so few are their numbers. Their ideology is toxic, but their ranks are minimal.

That's not so with the large "antifa" groups who were bent on physical confrontation. They far outnumbered the small band of right-wing protesters, who had a legal permit as well as a constitutional right to express their odious viewpoint.

Here's just one example of the kind of danger posed by the "antifa" group whose behavior some have ignored or sought to minimize.

On July 8, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Charlottesville, drawing a presence from both police and antifa counter-protesters. Heaphy's report notes that after Klan members left the scene, "counter-protesters focused their anger at law enforcement" and "failed to disperse when directed to do so and obstructed the actions of officers."

"This led to scuffles between officers and counter-protesters, multiple arrests, and the declaration of the event as an unlawful assembly. (Authorities) ultimately deployed three canisters of CS dispersion powder to disperse the crowd," the report states.

In other words, the counter-protesters were there to fight, and they weren't particularly choosy about whom they would fight.

Politically motivated violence and disorder are antithetical to a democratic society, no matter what the source. Equally unacceptable are efforts by one group to intimidate or silence another.

Both of those authoritarian activities were manifest in Charlotteville because authorities weren't up to the extremely difficult job required to maintain order. That can't be allowed to happen again.

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Glock21 wrote on December 07, 2017 at 10:12 am

So just going all in with the white nationalist propaganda that those very fine people were peacefully exercizing their rights if it weren't for those authoritarian leftists hell bent on violence and their so-called anti-fascism. It paints a picture alright. A distorted and dishonest one that shines a big light on the hatred from behind the writer's pen.

Between this and the Toeppen piece today, I'm guessing this is a reaction to Trump's troubles and his losing his mind after Flynn too. Who knows? It's vile on its face regardless.