Terror in Charlottesville: Violent Clashes and Vehicle Attack Leave Country Reeling
Over the weekend protesters and counter protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia, leading to violent clashes and a deadly vehicle attack.
Over the weekend, the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into racially-charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rally Turns Violent
The rally began on Saturday as white nationalists met for a scheduled protest in Charlottesville against the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. The protesters brought tiki torches and waved Nazi and Confederate flags as they changed racist and anti-sematic slogans. The event was expected to see more than 6,000 people.
Counter-protesters met the group of protesters in violent clashes throughout the rally. Rally supporters and counter-protesters screamed, chanted, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday morning, leading the Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency and call the National Guard to help aid in response to the violence.
As police and the National Guard were brought in, the rally became more violent. Video footage from the event shows bloody fights between groups, most using something as a weapon to help them inflict the most pain.
The rally continued through the streets of Charlottesville, becoming more crammed and crowded with the two differing groups. It was in a street filled from building to building with counter-protesters that the protest would turn deadly.
Vehicle Crash Kills 1, Injures 19
Cars had slowed in the street to allow people to move freely from one sidewalk to the other, but a silver Dodge Challenger in the back of the line was not willing to wait anymore.
According to witnesses at the scene and video of the event, the silver convertible speed up through the crowds of counter-protesters, ramming into the back of the car in front of it causing that car to hit the car in front of it. One person flew through the air as the Challenger rammed through the crowds and then backed up, dragging people along with it.
One person, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was crossing the street when the crash happened and died at the scene. Nineteen other people were transported to the hospital. A spokesperson for the University of Virginia Medical Center said they received five patients from the crash in critical condition, four in serious condition and six in fair condition. There were four others who were listed in fair condition at the hospital.
At the time of the crash, the driver and his silver Dodge Challenger was able to get away, but it wasn’t long before police were able to arrest him. The suspect, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old from Maumee, Ohio, is being held in a Virginia jail on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
Two Troopers Die Bringing Aid to Charlottesville
Two Virginia State Patrol troopers were killed in a helicopter crash while “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” the agency said in a news release. The pilot, LT. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates, who would have been 41 on Sunday, died in the crash.
The two troopers were in the helicopter to monitor the rally from an aerial perspective. There is no information as to why the helicopter crashed at this time.
Security Increased to Break up Rally
Police, padded in riot gear and holding sheilds, began to break apart crowds shortly before noon, after city officials declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly.”
The entire park where the rally was to take place was cleared out by police by 1 p.m. local time.
Police presence at the event was heavy, more than 1,000 officers were expected to be deployed. Police said they anticipated the rally would attract as many as 2,000 to 6,000 people.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said it could be the "largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States."
Charlottesville: The Aftermath
As Saturday’s sun finally slipped beneath the horizon, the city – and the country – was still reeling from the events that unfolded that morning. Many people took to Twitter to denounce the violence, hate and bigotry.
Some Twitter accounts were being used to identify rally supporters suspected of violence. Some of the identified have since been let go from their jobs and a few have been arrested as a result of their assaults on others.
The president took a moment from his vacation to condemn the “hatred, bigotry and violence on many side.” Leaders from both sides of the aisles said Trump’s criticism of “many sides” was vague and week.
As leaders called for him to condemn white supremacy by name, the white house clarified Trump’s statement to say he condemns “all forms” of violence and hatred, and “of course that includes white supremacists, KKK neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”
Security Being Stepped Up Around the Country
On Sunday, a rally similar to the on in Charlottesville was being conducted in Seattle. Police were dispatched to the event in riot gear and used pepper spray to cut protesters and rally supporters from leaving their determined areas. There were clashes between groups, but not on the same scale of Charlottesville. By 4 p.m. local time, the crowds had been dispersed.
Security in New York City and other big cities around the country had increased their police patrols and kept an eye on social media to look for unlawful gatherings such as the ones seen in Seattle and Charlottesville.