CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Charlottesville Chief of Police Al Thomas discussed the aftermath of the violence the city saw during the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally over the weekend in a press conference Monday afternoon.
Thomas began the presser by offering his condolences to the three victims that died Saturday, 32-year-old Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer and Virginia State Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates. Thomas said the Charlottesville Police Department would pursue charges against the driver that killed Heyer, 20-year-old James Alex Fields, Jr., of Ohio.
Thomas detailed the escalation of violence during the events that took place over the weekend, beginning with Friday’s demonstration. He told the room of reporters that the CPD had a plan to ensure that the rally would go smoothly, but the demonstrators did not cooperate, which caused officers to change their course of action.
Thomas fielded questions from reporters about police being imitated by the protestors and whether that may have prevented them from doing enough to stop the violence from escalating.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe also released a statement Monday detailing the next steps he and his administration will take:
“Today, I convened an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the next steps we, as a commonwealth, must take in order to begin the arduous process of healing our community and confronting the racism that stubbornly remains in our nation. The events of this weekend have only strengthened our resolve to combat hatred and bigotry, and I want Virginia to be a leader in the national conversation about how we move forward. I have directed my team to impanel a commission with representatives from community organizations, faith leaders, and law enforcement to make actionable recommendations for executive and legislative solutions to advance our mission of reconciliation, unity, and public safety.
“Also, while we continue to grieve and support the families of those who lost their lives, we must learn from this tragic event to prevent a recurrence in our community or elsewhere. In that spirit, I also directed my team to conduct an extensive review that will include how we issue rally permits, law enforcement preparation and response, and coordination at the local, state, and federal level. In addition, the federal government must focus on the threat of domestic terrorism especially when it comes from beyond state lines.
“Finally, I commend our Virginia State Police and National Guard personnel, who worked in support of the City of Charlottesville, for their tireless work this weekend under very challenging and volatile circumstances. Without their extensive preparations and measured actions, we would be facing a far more grave situation today.”
McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville Saturday in response to the violence.
“Go home,” McAuliffe said to the white nationalists. “You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you.”
The “Unite the Right” rally was organized by the white nationalist blogger and Charlottesville native Jason Kessler. It included white nationalist and other far-right groups protesting Charlottesville’s plan to remove relics of its Confederate past, such as a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park. The rally began on Friday on the campus of the University of Virginia. Counterprotestors gathered to rally against the right-wing demonstrators.