Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told NPR Monday that he believes state law enforcement did a “magnificent job” during a White supremacist rally in Charlottesville that quickly turned violent resulting in three dead and 19 injured after one of the rally's participants rammed a car into counter protestors and a police helicopter crashed near the event.
NPR’s Davide Greene asked about the relatively “tame” police response to the rally compared to protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
“They had to be very careful,” McAuliffe said of state law enforcement. “We had been planning for this for a while, we had to show tremendous restraint because we knew, we had a lot of intelligence that people all came armed.”
“David, I have never seen so many weapons,” he emphasized. “These people were wearing more gear than my own state police were wearing, they were wearing helmets, they were all carrying I mean people were walking around with semi-automatic rifles through the streets.”
“Does that mean that your police officers should have shown less restraint if you were dealing with armed and dangerous people?” Greene asked.
“Well let’s be very clear,” McAuliffe responded, “let’s think about where we are today. Not one ounce of property damage. Not one person went to the hospital outside of the car incident which David you can’t protect against that I mean but not one person went to the hospital from the rally, not one ounce of property damage and not one gunshot was fired so I will tell you this the Charlottesville police were in charge they did a magnificent job.”
He also blamed the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for suing the city of Charlottesville saying, “we asked the city of Charlottesville asked for that to be moved out of downtown Charlottesville to a park about a mile and a half away, lot of open fields that was the place that it should have been. We were unfortunately sued by the ACLU and the judge ruled against us. That rally should not have been in the middle of downtown.”
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, told NPR Monday that she was present at the rally and “law enforcement was standing passively by, waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an ‘unlawful assembly’ and clear the area.”
The ACLU was granted an injunction for the protestors to assemble in Emancipation Park in downtown Charlottesville saying in a statement at the time that they were “grateful that the court recognized that the First Amendment applies equally to everyone regardless of their views.”
“We hope that the city will focus tomorrow on managing the expected crowds using de-escalation tactics and flexibility, and avoid the kind of over-militarized response that was mounted on July 8,” they added. “We encourage everyone participating to commit to non-violence and peaceful protest. We will be there to observe and document police practices as we were on July 8 and at other rallies and protests across Virginia since January and before.”
“Since its inception, and even as we have and will continue to fight for free speech for everyone, the ACLU of Virginia has stood up for respect, decency, equality and humanity for all," the group stated Saturday following the violence. "What happened today had nothing to do with free speech. It devolved into conduct against individuals motivated by hate that was initially thuggish, and ultimately, deliberately murderous. There will be a time to investigate, assign responsibility, and seek accountability, and we will be a voice in that process. For now, we decry white nationalism, reject hatred, and weep.”