SPEIRS: Charlottesville needs to prepare for another white supremacist rally

Just over two years after the violent Unite the Right rally, the past may be repeating itself

op-goff-speirs

In the future white supremacists may once again arrive in large numbers in Charlottesville, but this time we need to be prepared to stop them. 

Dan Goff | Cavalier Daily

Two years after the Unite the Right rally, which consisted of a deadly protest in Charlottesville and a march on Grounds, we must begin preparing for history to repeat itself. White supremacist activism on college campuses is becoming increasingly prevalent. During the 2018-2019 school year, the number of fliers promoting white supremacist ideologies on college campuses increased by seven percent. Virginia schools in particular seem to be at a high risk for this type of activism as Virgina falls among the top five states hardest hit by white supremacist propaganda on college campuses. Much of the propaganda is being put out by groups such as Vanguard America, a group that was present during the Unite the Right rally. With an influx of this type of propaganda on college campuses, and specifically in Virginia, it is not surprising that Charlottesville has started seeing similar work.

Flyers promoting the white supremacist group Patriot Front could be seen lining Heather Heyer Way and Market Street Park recently. Stickers and flyers were also outside the First United Methodist Church of Charlottesville. Along with promoting their neo-Nazi group, these fliers had hateful messages such as "Better Dead Than Red.” Chalk writing found scribbled in the area made the demand to "Free James Fields," the terrorist who plowed his car into the counter-protestors on Aug. 12. Sentiments that the racist who killed one and injured dozens should be freed is extremely alarming. It appears that white supremacy is ramping up again and with that comes the need to be proactive in preparing for a second Unite the Right rally and to fix past mistakes made by the Charlottesville City Police and the University. 

The police did not do enough to protect the University from attackers two years ago. Conversations hours before the march began between University Police Captain Donald H. McGee and University Chief of Police Michael A. Gibson showed that they suspected the Rotunda would likely be where the protestors would be marching. Another mistake made by the police was its failure to enforce open flame laws which could have prevented protestors from marching with tiki torches. Before the Board of Visitors strengthened U.Va,’s open flame laws following the rally, the University's policy stated "a person shall not kindle or maintain or authorize to be kindled or maintained any open burning," unless it had been given prior approval. The white supremacists had not been given this approval, and at the time there was no mechanism to tell UPD if an open flame had been approved or not. 

The University was also partially at fault for the violence that occurred that summer. Then U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan may have also had some knowledge of the possibility of the rally entering Grounds a few days before it occurred, though it is unclear how she learned of this. In response, Sullivan sent an email to the Board of Visitors, downplaying the events and suggesting that they "anticipate that some of them will be interested merely in seeing Mr. Jefferson’s architecture and Lawn.” Instead of dismissing the potential that the white supremacist groups would be dangerous, Sullivan should have contacted the police with concerns about the University’s safety and instructed students how to conduct themselves in the wake of a protest.

The same mistakes that allowed violence to break on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 can not be repeated. The responsibility of protecting the Charlottesville community from another hateful attack like the events that occurred during the Summer of Hate falls on both the city of Charlottesville and the University. Both the police and University officials need to stay updated on the types of white supremacist propaganda being found around Charlottesville, the groups it is advocating for and how these groups opperate. Particular attention needs to be on if the same groups that caused violence at the Unite the Right rally are back in Charlottesville. 

Resources and training should also be provided to students in advance of another rally. Students who are inclined to participate in protests or counter protests need to be made aware of the University rules and city laws regarding their engagement in such activities. Workshops or classes should be given teaching students how to engage in peaceful civil disobedience rather than violent conflict. They should also be given clear instructions regarding what is and what is not protected speech under the First Amendment. For students who feel threatened or targeted by hate groups, safe locations on Grounds need to be designated and and their locations should be clearly communicated. 

Furthermore, the police need to be better trained to handle protests and keep them from escalating to violence. It is up to them to be more vigilant and thorough in investigating possible threats and looking into the neo-Nazis and their possible courses of action during protests. Laws and policies which were previously overlooked, need to be enforced to help protect students and Charlottesville residents. Furthermore, the city must assess whether or not a rally is intending to incite violence and if it is, they must not issue permits to such groups. In the future white supremacists may once again arrive in large numbers in Charlottesville, but this time we must be prepared to stop them.

Valerie Speirs is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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