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U.Va. Students United rally draws hundreds, moves across Grounds

The protest was originally planned to take place on the North Side of the Rotunda under heavy security measures

<p>Members of U.Va. Students United stand in front of the Rotunda at the start of a rally on Saturday.&nbsp;</p>

Members of U.Va. Students United stand in front of the Rotunda at the start of a rally on Saturday. 

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Saturday night at a U.Va. Students United rally against white supremacy and an increased police presence in Charlottesville this weekend. Originally planned for the North Plaza of the Rotunda, the protest quickly relocated to the grass triangle beside Brooks Hall and eventually moved down Rugby Road. 

Seemingly in protest of the heightened security the University enforced on the North Plaza area — which included a capacity limit and metal detectors for entry — demonstrators moved toward the Lambeth Road Residence Area where state law enforcement personnel were being housed.

Eventually, the organized protest disbanded, and many of the remaining demonstrators continued marching toward the Downtown Mall.

Before the rally officially began at 7 p.m., organizers passed around flyers condemning the heavy police presence in the area, which included law enforcement personnel in full riot gear. The flyers also listed their demands of the University after Aug. 11 and 12 and criticized the University for “retaliation” in response.

The groups’ demands include that the University pay or waive the medical fees of those injured at the white supremacist rallies last August and issue lifelong no trespassing bans for all white supremacists involved in the torchlit rally last Aug. 11.

“Last year they came with torches, this year they came with badges,” one flyer read. “We will not be holding the rally within the confines of security apparatus, forced upon us by the University administration. It is a betrayal of our ideals and our community.”

A Students United spokesperson told The Cavalier Daily they decided to relocate their rally outside of the security area prescribed by the University when they found out attendees would be required to go through metal detectors.

“When we figured out there’d be metal detectors … it was just too much for us,” the spokesperson said. “At some point we just came to the determination that we were not going to have [our people] in that space because we knew it was a betrayal of our community … being basically cattled by the police, surrounded by the police and it wasn’t going to go well with our people.”

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Leslie Cockburn, Democratic candidate for the Virginia Fifth Congressional District, said she was not surprised by the heavy police presence at the rally.

“It’s overkill,” Cockburn said. “And that’s not a bad thing.”

Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy said he believed the police were trying to keep the peace.

But Grace Hale, a protester and American Studies professor, said she found the increase in police presence from last year “depressing.”

“Is it somehow to make up for the fact that they really didn’t do much at all last year to protect the anti-racist, anti-Unite the Right protestors?” Hale said. “I feel like it’s upsetting. It’s too much.”

As the rally persisted, demonstrators shouted chants including — “Hey, hey UVA, who will you exploit today”, “Cops and the Klan go hand and hand” and “No justice, no peace, abolish the police.”

Students United had planned to carry out the original intentions of their rally from the new location on the triangle of grass by Brooks Hall, including speeches, poetry recitations and live music, the spokesperson said. However, when police approached the area in riot gear, members of the crowd became agitated and the direction of the rally quickly changed.

“A lot of people just don’t get that the trust between the people and the police just is broken,” the spokesperson said.

Organizers eventually steered crowds away from the Rotunda area altogether, marching down Rugby Road and ending at Lambeth Field Residence Area. Police officers followed.

According to the Students United spokesperson, the specific movement to the Lambeth Field area was not planned in advance.

“We did not decide that … somebody might have made a turn but I cannot tell you that we had planned all of that,” the spokesperson said. “Our plan was to stay in that space until [we were done] and we could disperse back to our homes.”

Despite the group diverging from the plan, the spokesperson said the event still demonstrated solidarity for Students United and their demands of the University.

University Chief Operating Officer Patrick Hogan and Gloria Graham, associate vice president for safety and security, issued a University-wide email warning individuals to the Rugby Road area due to the demonstration.

“Demonstrators are proceeding north on Rugby Road after leaving the designated demonstration area on the Rotunda North Plaza,” the statement reads. “Be advised and avoid the area. Additional information will be shared when available.”

The University Health System also issued a statement on Twitter declaring Lee Street closed for safety. It reopened the street a few hours later.

“We've temporarily closed Lee St. as a precaution to ensure the safety of our patients, visitors and staff,” the post reads. “We continue to operate normally. Patients should come directly to Lee Street and will be admitted. Visitors should park in our 11th Street garage.”

Many demonstrators relocated to the amphitheater at Lambeth Field with others on the field and a line of clergy in between demonstrators and police.

Another large group of demonstrators moved further up Rugby Road and onto the intersection of Rugby Road and Gordon Avenue. The Rotunda remained guarded by police, some in riot gear.

At around 8 p.m., U.Va. Students United officially declared the protest over.

“The rally is officially OVER,” the post read. “The police have made it abundantly clear that they won’t tolerate peaceful assembly by students and community members. Thank you so much to all the people who came out to support us on the anniversary. We are still here, still fighting: the white supremacists are not.”

After protesters attending the U.Va. Students United rally dispersed, Hogan sent another email to the University, writing, “those that gathered for the U.Va. Students United protest have left Lambeth Field and moved off Grounds.”

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Deputy University Spokesperson Wes Hester confirmed no arrests were made at the official rally. The Joint Information Center also said no arrests were made in the City of Charlottesville.

After the crowds dispersed, many demonstrators continuing to march toward 10th Street. Some marched downtown, getting as far as West Market Street.

Meanwhile, dozens of police officers remained stationed in front of the Rotunda, at times formed in a line near the trespassing barrier, at times at ease.

The police officers remaining at the Rotunda did not leave the premises, despite the absence of protesters. Around 9 p.m., the police officers disbanded from the line.

This article has been updated.