Charlottesvillians pulled out the unwelcome mat for the Loyal White Knights of the KKK July 8 in Justice Park. An estimated 1,000 people surrounded the park before the arrival of the 50 or so out-of-town Klansmen, and the event was loud, but aside from the arrests of protesters who refused to move, without incident. It was afterward that Virginia State Police in riot gear tear gassed protesters who refused to clear High Street, a first for protest-prone Charlottesville, at least in C-VILLE Weekly’s memory.
Charlottesville police officers, Daily Progress reporters and ACLU observers were gassed, as well as bystanders near those blocking High Street, leading some to question the show of force at a demonstration that was breaking up on a street that was already closed to traffic
John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, had advised local police before the event to avoid heavy-handed tactics and militarized equipment, and says people react differently when the riot shields come out. “What we had was an army,” he says. “What they were saying to the crowd was, this is a riot.”
Whitehead says he’s gotten calls from all over the country. “What I saw yesterday was not a community policing event. It was an armed police state. It’s not a good image to portray around the nation.”