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Charlottesville anticipates softer police presence on two-year anniversary of white supremacist rally

Heavy law enforcement presence drew sharp criticism last year

<p>Visitors can anticipate seeing a softer police presence throughout the City this weekend, with an emphasis on motorcycle, bicycle and foot patrols.</p>

Visitors can anticipate seeing a softer police presence throughout the City this weekend, with an emphasis on motorcycle, bicycle and foot patrols.

In the final days before the two-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally in downtown Charlottesville this weekend, City officials have announced that they anticipate more calm than last year.

Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall M. Brackney said last Wednesday that police will have “a much softer presence that's very nimble, very interactive, and very friendly.”

“You’ll see lots of officers on bicycles, on foot and on motorcycles so that they can interact with you in a very meaningful, in a very personal way, and encouraging people to participate in the Unity Day events,” she said.

Brackney added that the City’s police presence will be similar to what was done while the Virginia men’s basketball team won the NCAA Tournament in April, when fans flocked the Corner to celebrate. Street crossings at the Downtown Mall, including Fourth Street — where the car attack occurred — will be closed to all vehicle traffic. Market Street will remain open.

Last year, Virginia State Police spent around $3.1 million assisting Charlottesville on the one-year anniversary weekend of the white supremacist rallies, while the City spent approximately $921,000 and U.Va. $422,981.

Hundreds of law enforcement personnel, including more than 700 Virginia state troopers, were present in the downtown Charlottesville area and throughout the region during the Aug. 11 and 12 weekend as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Interim City Manager Mike Murphy declared state and local emergencies, respectively.

Police activity during the weekend drew sharp criticism from community members and students for the heavy law enforcement presence and use of riot gear. The elevated police presence came after law enforcement failed to intervene to stop white supremacist violence at the rallies in August 2017, which resulted in one death. An independent report called the 2017 police response inadequate.

Virginia State Police will again be assisting with local law enforcement during the two-year anniversary weekend, according to Brackney. 

“We are not aware of any large-scale planned events on Grounds, and we anticipate a less significant police presence than last year,” University spokesperson Wes Hester said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “We have been working in partnership with the City, county and state to develop a unified plan to support the City’s Unity Days events and to ensure public safety throughout.”

Charlottesville’s Unity Days events are planned annually “to educate, inspire, and honor people in our community to create movement towards healing and unity on a path for economic and racial justice,” according to a press release.

The main Unity Days events include an interactive art project on the Downtown Mall, the C’Ville Sing Out at the Spring Pavilion Aug. 10, the Call to Action Resource Fair at Market Street Park Aug. 11 and an interfaith service at First Baptist Church Aug. 12.