A working group composed of officials at the University of Virginia has concluded that campus police and Charlottesville police could have prevented white nationalist protesters from fomenting unrest and violence on campus by bothering to enforce existing laws.
The “Unite the Right” rally and the violence related to it occurred last month. Hundreds of white nationalists and white supremacists wielding lighted tiki torches marched through the University of Virginia campus. They shouted “White lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us.” They also fought with counter-protesters.
The new assessment by the University of Virginia working group indicates that at least two laws exist which law enforcement officials could have used to stem the increasingly violent demonstrations.
An existing policy on the books at taxpayer-funded school prohibits “open burn and open flame operations” on campus without approval by either the fire department or health and safety inspectors. This policy “includes but is not limited to candles and tiki torches,” the working group report says.
No University of Virginia school officials — and no officials of any kind — approved the use of the massive number of tiki torches.
In addition to the university policy against open flames, a Virginia state law enacted in 2002 bans using fire as a means of intimidation. “Any person who, with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons, burns an object on a highway or other public place in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury is guilty of a Class 6 felony,” the law states.
Campus police arguably could have quelled or ended the protests involving fire by applying this law.
In any case, though, campus police were not aware of any regulations or laws against protesters waltzing around with a huge number of open flames.
“Because of the lack of notification procedures,” the campus police department “was not sufficiently aware of its authority to enforce this policy,” the working group report explains.
Campus police also “over-relied on” information provided by the organizers of the white nationalist and white supremacist protest. The information provided by the organizers “turned out to be deliberately misleading and ultimately inaccurate,” the assessment says.
Assumptions based on the outcomes of protests in recent decades also exacerbated mistakes.
“University officials’ frame of mind was shaped by a decades-long history of non-violent protests” on campus, the report explains.
“On a number of levels — intelligence evaluation, policy backdrop, and police response — this mindset led the University to make judgments that were misaligned to the context and left” campus police “insufficiently equipped to respond,” the report also says. University of Virginia police officers viewed their own role in the increasingly violent protest as passive — “to monitor for potential violent disorder by anyone present, amassing backup in the event of such disorder, and intervening only in response to such disorder.”
The working group report suggests that the University of Virginia should adopt registration requirements for future marches and demonstrations which will occur on campus. Such registration requirements have been deemed constitutional, the report says. (RELATED: Mizzou Officials Realize They Could Have Avoided National Humiliation By ENFORCING EXISTING RULES)
To whatever extent the white nationalists and white supremacists had a permit for their “Unite the Right” march, the permit was apparently with the city of Charlottesville and not with the University of Virginia.
Without such a registration policy, the University of Virginia is “vulnerable to an unannounced, nighttime march of approximately 300 white supremacists intent upon intimidation,” the working group report says.
Amid the protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville on the day after the tiki torch protest parade, a Nazi sympathizer allegedly plowed his gray Dodge Challenger through a large group of people on a pedestrian mall near the University of Virginia campus, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. (RELATED: Woman Killed At Charlottesville White Nationalist Rally Identified As Heather Heyer)
The University of Virginia report does not mention Heyer.
The alleged driver of the car, James Alex Fields, now faces a raft of criminal charges. (RELATED: Driver Who Plowed Into People In Charlottesville Identified As James Fields, Reports Say)