CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Pointing out that local police have a critical role to play in a tense, unfolding drama over the removal of Confederate statues from the City’s parks, The Rutherford Institute is warning that heavy-handed tactics, militarized equipment, excess force and an authoritarian approach to law-and-order by police could very well set the match to an increasingly volatile situation. In a letter to Police Chief Al S. Thomas, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead is asking the City of Charlottesville (Va.) Police Department to employ less confrontational tactics in engaging with the public, especially in light of several recent incidents in which local police employed a gross display of force in carrying out routine duties.
“Too many communities across the country are suffering the aftershocks that result from police employing an unwarranted and excessive use of force in situations that might have been resolved with less aggressive methods,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “For starters, I would caution police against relying on heavy-handed, militarized, shock-and-awe tactics (swarms of police banging on doors in the middle of the night, SWAT team raids, flashbang devices, etc.) for routine police work, which sends an ominous message and could result in the kind of tragedies that no one wants or needs in their communities.”
In 2016, the City of Charlottesville began examining whether it should remove Confederate memorials to Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson located in city parks. The debate over the removal of the Confederate statues has since resulted in heightened tensions, demonstrations and clashes between those who wish to retain the monuments for historic reasons and those who want them reviewed and view them as tributes to a segregationist past. The community is bracing for further disruptions in light of an announcement by a group associated with the Ku Klux Klan that they plan to stage a rally to protest the statue’s removal. Noting that local police have a critical role to play in ensuring that Charlottesville remains a place where residents and visitors alike are safe from violence, secure in their liberties, assured of fair and equal treatment under the law, and able to fully enjoy the rich history, beautiful surroundings, diversity, and vibrant culture the community has to offer, The Rutherford Institute warned police against contributing to the simmering tensions by employing unnecessarily aggressive tactics, which establish a confrontational relationship between law enforcement and those they are charged with protecting and serving.
Specifically, Institute attorneys referenced a recent incident involving a gross display of force whereby five police officers and five police cars executed a warrant for a misdemeanor assault charge against a 72-year-old local attorney, Jeff Fogel, who has become embroiled in some of the controversy over the removal of the Confederate monument. According to Fogel, police banged on his door at 12:30 am, waking him up and proceeded to handcuff and arrest him, refusing to allow him to change into appropriate clothing. This ill-advised show of force on the part of the Charlottesville police was undertaken despite the fact that the attorney is well-known within the community, clearly presented neither a risk of flight nor a danger to officers, and could have—as is standard practice for those charged with a minor crime—simply been allowed to voluntarily appear on the charge.