On the one-year anniversary of the deadly white supremacist Unite the Right rally, over 200 anti-racist activists convened in Washington Park Sunday morning as speakers reflected on the tragic events of last year and criticized the heavy law enforcement presence in Charlottesville this weekend.
“What we [saw] on that day, it will never go away,” Charlottesville resident and activist Katrina Turner said of the white supremacist rally last Aug. 12. “I just say that I am so proud of this community for coming together in the time of need and if we just continue to stick together and I love my community.”
Turner was one of several community members who addressed the crowd, speaking into a microphone along the slope of a hill in the park. Each speaker stood above banners which included the statements, “Cville Fights Back” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The rally comes the morning after led by anti-racist activists, which began at the University, and weaved its way through the streets of Charlottesville until demonstrators reached the barricades of Market Street Park in downtown which was heavily guarded by law enforcement personnel in riot gear.
According to officials, no arrests were made during the march, and it was largely allowed to proceed under police protection.
Courtney Commander, a survivor of last year’s car attack at the Unite the Right rally, focused on the legacy of her friend, Heather Heyer, who was killed when a vehicle plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters near the Downtown Mall on Aug. 12, 2017.
“We don’t all have to die doing this work and standing up but we do all have to stand up, show up and fight for justice and dismantle the system that continues to oppress us,” Commander said.
Don Gathers, a member of the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board and a local Black Lives Matter activist, sympathized with the demonstrators who marched downtown yesterday.
“God bless the students from yesterday,” Gathers said. “That was an incredibly awesome sight, and we were just there to support them as they went about taking back their space and not allowing white supremacy to win.”
A.D. Carson, assistant professor of Hip-Hop and the Global South at U.Va., recited a poem to the crowd on his experience as a black man in America and how police treat minority communities.
“Hands up, stand up and they shooting you down,” Carson said. “So keep your eyes on your mirror when you cruise through your town. I’m from where the boys in blue don't play, cough up a lung where I’m from, U.S.A.”
Law enforcement at Sunday’s gathering in Washington Park was limited, and the rally was allowed to continue as planned despite the event not having received a permit from the City.
In a text message to a rally organizer, Interim City Manager Mike Murphy said the City asked the organizers, identified as Showing Up for Racial Justice, to submit a permit application for the event Friday which the City received. However, the City did not have time to review the application due to the public safety resources focused on downtown and the permit was neither approved nor denied.
There was no apparent police presence directly at the rally Sunday morning, except for at least one police car parked across the street.
At the end of the rally, an activist invited survivors from last summer’s rallies to march downtown and stand on Heather Heyer Way. Many activists proceeded to walk downtown. As of press time activists began crowding the streets downtown and the City announced a road closure for Water Street.