Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe defended the restrained response of state and local law enforcement officers during violent events in Charlottesville on Saturday to National Public Radio Sunday, noting that he will change tactics through the judiciary with similar protests planned in the state next month.
Three people were killed and 35 injured during the protest, which focused on the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, and involved white supremacists and anti-fascists that clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.
When asked by NPR’s David Green why law enforcement did not engage protesters when it appeared the situation got out of hand, McAuliffe responded:
“Now they had to be very careful. We had been planning for this for a while. We had showed tremendous restraint, because we knew we had a lot of intelligence these people all came armed. David, I’ve never seen so many weapons.” The governor went on to say, “These people were wearing better gear than my own state police were wearing. They had body armor– helmets. They were all…people walking around with semi-automatic rifles through the streets.”
McAuliffe, however, was pressed if the situation was so dangerous that this meant that his police officers should have really shown less restraint like he was advocating for. Witnesses reported law enforcement standing by and even leaving their posts as violent brawls broke out in the streets.
“Well let’s be very clear. 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…not one person went to the hospital from the rally. Not one ounce of property damage and not one single gunshot was fired,” McAuliffe said.
The governor then seized on the time to point the finger at the American Civil Liberties Union, who defeated the city of Charlottesville in court for white nationalists to be able to march in Emancipation Park, where a statue of Robert E. Lee was to be removed.
“I will tell you this, though, David, we asked – the city of Charlottesville – asked for [the protest] to be moved out of downtown Charlottesville to a park about a mile and a half away, a 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…it became a powder keg.” He added, “And we’ve gotta look at these permits and we’ve got to look at where we put these rallies and protesters.”
— Sarah McCammon NPR (@sarahmccammon) August 14, 2017
“I’ve got to protect public safety and our police did a magnificent job,” said the Virginia governor.
A confederate group is expected to hold a rally at another Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond next month, The Richmond Times Dispatch reported. According to NPR, more protests in Charlottesville focusing on their own General Lee statue are also in phases of planning.
McAuliffe told NPR he learned from the Charlottesville experience that he has to do a better job with working with the judiciary. The governor stated, “The lesson I learned is we’ve got to do a better job of working with the judiciary; they need to listen to the local city officials about where these permits are allowed…our job’s to protect…and the judiciary needs to do a better job of working with us. I am angry that this was not moved to McIntire Park where the city of Charlottesville had requested. I am very angry today, because these people were dispersed, and that allowed this guy with a car to run through downtown Charlottesville with people everywhere.”