Following the Ku Klux Klan’s rally held in Justice Park Saturday, activist groups and community members have offered different reactions to the levels of police activity and the handling of protests concerning Confederate monuments moving forward.
The KKK rally, meant to protest the removal of Confederate monuments, faced more than a thousand community members in counter-protest. 22 people were arrested at the protest.
Among the counter-protesters were members of activist organizations like Showing Up for Racial Justice and Black Lives Matter. These groups and hundreds of community members came to oppose the KKK.
Laura Goldblatt, a local activist and member of SURJ, said the showing of counter-protesters was “heartening.”
“I think one of the things that we showed is that the community really came out en masse in this act of self-defense, community self-defense and collective self-defense, and we completely outnumbered them,” Goldblatt said. “I think that was really heartening to see so many people come out and say ‘we’re not going to allow these people to come into our community and terrorize members of our community,’ that we are going to stand together and face them.”
After the KKK had left the police building, police told protesters the Commonwealth had officially deemed the situation an “unlawful assembly” and later used tear gas on counter-protesters when they would not disperse. More than 100 officers were present,including the Charlottesville City Police Department and Virginia State Police.
Mimi Arbeit, a member of SURJ who attended the rally, said the police force on Saturday was “atrocious.”
“The police chose the Klan over the people of Charlottesville and showed once again that the purpose of the police is to protect white supremacy,” Arbeit said.
Goldblatt said the police conduct at the rally gave the impression that the protesters were a threat to the KKK rather than the reverse.
“I think after the rally, the police's insistence on clearing the park and terrorizing the remaining counter-protesters was excessive, and I think the use of tear gas was totally unwarranted and unnecessary,” Goldblatt said.
Jason Kessler, president of Unity and Security for America and a University alumnus, held a press conference Wednesday where he denounced the counter-protesters. He said SURJ and other activist groups were “violent groups, domestic terrorist groups,” and said he blamed them for the police activity Saturday.
“No one wanted [the KKK] here, but they at least came and peaceably assembled,” Kessler said. “The main problem were one thousand people from Black Lives Matter, the terrorist organization Antifa, SURJ, attacking our police officers, telling them that they are the Klan, telling them to die, attacking the police to the point where they had to deploy tear gas. That is unacceptable.”
At his press conference, Kessler also said the Unite the Right rally planned for Aug. 12 in Emancipation Park, formerly named Lee Park, will be held for people from Charlottesville, Virginia and the rest of the country “to peaceably assemble and to speak [their] minds.” The rally is planned to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue.
“It is not acceptable for politicians like Kristin Szakos and the anti-white bigot Wes Bellamy to try and remove our statues,” Kessler said. “Wes Bellamy has clearly said that he's starting with the Robert E. Lee monument — Monticello, Thomas Jefferson need to be taken a look at next.”
Like the KKK rally, this planned rally has spurred debate in Charlottesville. SURJ has demanded the permit for the rally be revoked.
“We demand that Mayor Signer and the city of Charlottesville revoke the permit for the August 12 Unite the Right march on Charlottesville,” Arbeit said. “These newer white supremacist groups are no different from the KKK and pose an even greater threat of violence against our community. The permit must be revoked as a matter of public safety.”