On Saturday, July 8th members of the Ku Klux Klan assembled in Justice Park to protest the city’s proposal to remove the statue of General Robert E. Lee. This action was the latest in recent initiatives to remove Confederate monuments throughout the U.S.
Roughly 50 members of the Klan attended, some in white robes and some in street clothes, all shouting “White Power!” They were met with approximately 1,000 counter-protesters who encircled them and responded with insults.
The police were present in full force, maintaining as much peace as possible between counter-protesters and Klan members. Around 4:30 pm, many from the KKK began returning to their cars, but were followed by counter-protesters who prevented them from leaving the rally. According to city officials, KKK opposers refused to yield when asked to let the cars go, and this is when the police declared an unlawful assembly.
City spokeswoman Miriam Dickler, said in a statement: “There were a number of incidents, including the use of pepper spray by the crowd.”
She went on to say that when the police again ordered the crowd to disperse, they were met with staunch refusal and answered with three canisters of tear gas.
One of the counter-protesters, a woman named Candice Maupin, said: “We were just standing there, peaceful, on the sidewalk and we heard this boom, and then this green smoke and our eyes started burning.”
Spokeswoman Dickler declared that by the end of the day, 23 people had been arrested and three people had been taken to the hospital for “heat-related issues.” Another case was “alcohol related.”
Community leaders and city officials advised residents to spend the day elsewhere and stay away from the rally. Other events in Charlottesville were intentionally planned to encourage residents to avoid the confrontation at Justice Park.
This is just the latest incident in which Charlottesville has been at the center of a debate about how Southern cities should reconcile with their past. White supremacist Richard B. Spencer marched at the mentioned site in May to protest the statue’s proposed removal. Demonstrators at that rally could be seen holding Confederate flags, flaming torches, and a banner that read: “You will not replace us.”
The city council voted in April to sell the statue, but shortly thereafter, a city circuit court judge issued a six-month injunction to stop the statue’s removal after a series of groups filed a lawsuit against the city.
Another rally by white nationalists has been planned for August 12th. Early reports say Richard Spencer and his group will be present in a similar fashion as their May rally.