From the State investigation into the events of August 12: “…James W. Baker, a consultant with the International Association of Chiefs of Police who led the review, said state police and local police each had their own response plans, which should have been unified before the event. Baker said that despite collaboration and meetings in advance, “we were left with the impression not everyone was clear what their roles were.”
He said that in some instances, rank-and-file police on the ground were confused about where commands were coming from and, in others, commanders were not always clear where units were positioned. Baker also recommended a “more robust permitting process” going forward, which he said would have gone far to head off violence.
He said that in the future, local officials should shorten the length of rallies with potential for violence, ban weapons, make clear in advance that there will be no tolerance for illegal activity, bus attendees in and out of the area, and erect more barriers, including “hard barriers” that would stop the kind of car attack that killed 32-year-old counter protester Heather Heyer….” Read More.
Further thoughts from the DTM: City Councilor Bob Fenwick, according to statements made on his website, believes that protesters and rally attendees were adequately separated, but that is not what I observed at one certain location. While there were many rally attendees in a double-fenced in area in the park, separated from protesters and observers, other groups of rally attendees marched up Market Street toward the stairway/entrance on the Market Street and 2nd St. NE side of the park where many protesters were waiting for them. This is the intersection where rally attendees, clergy, and protesters began to clash, and where most of the heavy fighting took place. There were no barriers or police presence in this location that would have served to separate the two groups, and they were allowed to merge here and confront each other. I believe all other entrances to the park were closed off by police.
When heavy fighting began to take place at this location, no police stepped in to control the violence, and the few state troopers in grey uniforms who had before been standing along the fence lines at the end of 2nd St. NE had left that location. As someone who was there, I can say the absence of a police presence at this location led to an increased sense of fear. I saw a TV news crew frantically flee the scene, a camera man whose hands were shaking so badly that he was having trouble securing a camera to a tripod, and the self-absorbed and frantic faces of young rally attendees and protesters consumed by adrenaline, running at you like you weren’t there, high as kites on the chaos of the moment.
According to Fenwick, however, the police were there, they were just out of sight, which he says was a “prudent strategy” and a “preemptive de-escalation tactic to limit the movement options of the armed militias and to minimize police visibility.” The idea being that strong police visibility around the park would have increased the likelihood of violence, and could have led to fire fights been police and citizens. “I have no question the decision not to put the city police in the streets was the correct strategy,” says Fenwick. Fenwick has a point. While one rally attendee fired his handgun into the crowd, as state troopers were standing passively nearby, what would have happened if police were in the streets when the man fired? Then again, if police were in the streets, the man might have been deterred from drawing his gun.
That “hard barriers” were not in place at the vehicle entrances to the DTM was a terrible mistake.
That a permit for the rally was granted to a group who planned to arrive armed and had already expressed a desire to commit violence defies logic and common sense. As investigations like this move forward, it’s important to remember that, and that police and city officials were perhaps put in a completely strange and unmanageable position because of that.