Thursday, August 17, 2017

Police protected the statue, but what about the people?

Embed from Getty Images
This afternoon I listened to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe congratulate his cops for the great job they did in Charlottesville. Why, there was only one civilian death and two of their own killed in a helicopter crash of as yet unknown cause when armed neo-Nazis and white supremacists came to town!

Not everyone is so full of praise for local law enforcement. Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, relates what he experienced:
On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).

Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There's the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

... This is 2017 in the United States of America.

... A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us. At one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?” I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of year
There's much more. Read it all.

Think Progress published a roundup of how Charlottesville and state police failed to do their job in other times and locations over last weekend.
The potential for chaos was clear from early Saturday morning. Outgunned by militiamen and repeatedly outmaneuvered by heavily armored blocs of white nationalist “Proud Boys,” state and local police in Charlottesville simply watched as violence filled the streets surrounding Emancipation Park.

The scene had been tense for more than an hour, before breaking into outright combat shortly after 11:00 a.m. when a column of more than 200 white supremacists arrived from a new direction. Anarchist Antifa demonstrators ran to meet the arriving group’s vanguard, who carried shields and heavy clubs. The counterprotesters sought to block the racists from joining the roughly 1,000 white-pride marchers already inside the park, each group exchanging blows as the corner of 2nd and Market streets became a battleground.

Yet still, police simply watched, standing in a loose line between two rows of metal barricades set up the night before at the park’s edge. The officers looked on as hundreds of people went at each other with fists, sticks, pepper spray, and improvised projectiles.

... State police and national guardsmen in Charlottesville eventually ambled into action, though not until a running street battle had raged for more than an hour.

An officer gave a dispersal order several minutes after roughly half an hour of sustained brawling at the corner of 2nd and Market. Riot cops lined nearby blocks, apparently readying for a push through the crowd that never came. Clouds of pepper spray and gas chased people off of the corner, on a few instances by police, but also by civilians on both sides .

By 12:30 p.m., the corner had cleared — after several warnings that those who did not leave would be arrested. But even then the mayhem was far from over. The dispersal order had not channeled any of the armed groups out of downtown Charlottesville, but simply away from the park and intersection where the most high-profile violence was centered. ...
As the neo-Nazis and counter-protesters wandered the downtown, Ohio white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. smashed his car into on clutch of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Police only showed up later.

The Think Progress account emphasizes that police departments have learned how to handle confrontations between white supremacists (even armed ones) and protesting anti-racists (even Black ones). All that policing equipment, helicopters and protective gear can be used to separate angry crowds and ensure safety. That's why police departments have license to have all that armament.

It may seem naive fantasy to demand that police departments neutrally ensure the safety of all citizens in times of civil conflict. Few of us who have ever taken to the streets to express our politics have escaped seeing and sometimes feeling heavy-handed police over-reach. But a democratic civil society can't work if the lawful authorities cede control of the streets to armed thugs. This is what these white supremacist fascists are. It's not weak to demand that police do their job; this is actually a powerful (if unaccustomed) demand for a healthier, more progressive community.

4 comments:

Hattie said...

I appreciate your careful analysis of this situation. You understand the dynamics at work here. I haven't been to many demos in my life and mostly small ones. I did experience demos in Washington D.C. in the 60's and got pushed around by a cop once.

joared said...

We're living in dangerous times! Hadn't heard this report in Charlottesville.

Brandon said...

As a state-level spelling bee contestant (1989), I hate to point this out but it's not "statute" but "statue" in the headline. However, police--and others--follow and violate statutes.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks Brandon. Fixed. That shows you how exhausting I find contemplating all this.

Related Posts with Thumbnails