Home TOP STORIES Charlottesville focuses on healing as Unite the Right heads to Washington

Charlottesville focuses on healing as Unite the Right heads to Washington

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Last year’s tumultuous clashes in Charlottesville gripped the nation and became a flash point in a renewed discussion about the state of race relations in America.

White nationalists and anti-fascist counter-protesters clashed violently, and video later showed that officers watched as people were beaten. A scathing independent report released in December found multiple failures by Charlottesville city officials and police.

Now those in the city are looking back at the events of a year ago and commemorating civil rights activist Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed when James Alex Fields Jr. plowed through a crowd of counter-protesters. Two Virginia state troopers also died when their helicopter crashed as they helped monitor the scene.

Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, told MSNBC she will put flowers on the street on Sunday to commemorate her daughter’s memory. “Then I’m going to keep continuing with the work as I see fit — to move racial justice forward,” she said.

Events centered on peace and healing will take place in Charlottesville this weekend amid cordoned off downtown streets and significantly increased police presence.

Meanwhile, the organizers of Unite the Right, the “white civil rights” rally at the epicenter of last year’s violence, have moved this year’s follow-up event to Washington, about 100 miles to the northeast.

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An organizer of the first Unite the Right rally wants to attract a few hundred people to a park near the White House, while at least three counter-demonstrations will congregate elsewhere in the city — in hopes of drowning out their rhetoric.

Upwards of 4,300 people could collectively descend on D.C., according to the permit applications filed to the National Park Service, including members of Black Lives Matter and Shut It Down D.C., a coalition of counter-protesters.

Washington officials and law enforcement say they’re bracing for a wave of demonstrations that have the potential to create chaos similar to what unfolded on Aug. 12, 2017.

“Very, very few of our visitors share the views that will be expressed in Lafayette Park on Sunday,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser at a news conference Thursday with Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham. “We have people coming to our city for the sole purpose of spewing hate. It didn’t make sense last year, and it doesn’t make sense now.”

Newsham added that the goal will be to keep Unite the Right and the other groups separate to avoid a physical showdown, and ensure that “nobody gets injured and nothing gets broke.”

The law enforcement in D.C., including U.S. Park Police, are more than capable of handling a large crowd, said Richard Bennett, a criminal justice professor at American University in Washington. Police dealt with a massive demonstration during Inauguration Day in 2017, including protesters who flung bricks into windows and ignited trash fires.

Bennett added that local laws also prohibit firearms from being within 1,000 feet of a demonstration — even if a legal gun owner has a concealed carry license — which will work in police’s favor.

“These people have demonstrated in the past that they’re willing to engage in violence,” Bennett said. “That’s something that the district police have to keep in mind.”