Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police say they’re determined not to repeat the mistakes of Charlottesville, as they prepare for white supremacists and anti-fascist protesters to descend on the nation’s capital Sunday for the anniversary of last year’s violent “Unite the Right” rally, which left one dead and dozens injured.
“The ultimate goal will be to make sure nobody is injured and nothing gets broken,” D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said in a press briefing Thursday. "We would ask everyone who attends not let their personal passions overcome their civility,"
City officials said that that the National Park Service has issued three different permits for events in D.C. on Sunday.
Jason Kessler, a lead organizer behind Unite the Right, was officially issued his permit Thursday for his so-called “white civil rights” event. He’s reserved a space in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, to accommodate anywhere from 100 to 400 people, which he will march to from Foggy Bottom (although his route may change between now and Sunday).
A coalition of anti-fascists have reserved a portion of Lafayette Park to accommodate 1,500 people, as well as two other spaces in D.C., which each accommodates 500 people. Another activist coalition, including Black Lives Matter, have reserved Freedom Plaza, half a mile from Lafayette Park, for 1,000 people.
It’s unclear how will attend on Kessler’s side, given the infighting across the alt-right, and the fact that many of the main figures present in Charlottesville last year suffered serious consequences, including jail time and expensive lawsuits.
Anti-fascists, on the other hand, are traveling to D.C. from all over the county to protest.
Chief Newsham says that they’re prepared for a potentially fluid situation, and will do what it takes to keep the two sides separate, unlike police in Charlottesville.
“Law enforcement’s goal during the entire operational period will be to keep the two groups separated,” Newsham said. “What we have seen in the past, when these two groups have been in the same place at the same time, it leads to violent confrontations.”
Newsham said that police would ensure to keep both sides separate, especially in Lafayette Park.
A searing 220-page report published in December lay bare some of the major failures of Charlottesville Police Department during last year’s rally. In addition to the directive from the police chief “let them fight,” an independent review team concluded that authorities failed to keep both sides separate, and also failed to coordinate communication between state and local law enforcement.
“We have a counter-move for every move any group could make”
D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, citing the report, said that they were determined not to repeat the same mistakes.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also said that she’d signed an order earlier in the day allowing the city to active level two of its Emergency Operations Center, which ramps up coordination between local, state and federal agencies.
Newsham also noted that Washington D.C. is no stranger no large-scale events. “We have had months to plan this, and this is what we do on a regular basis,” he said. He emphasized that all of D.C. police actions this weekend would be to ensure public safety and the safety of property.
In response how he plans to respond in the event of flash mob events, like the torchlit march on UVA’s campus last year, Newsham said that they “anticipating the unanticipated.”
“We have a counter-move for every move any group could make,” Newsham said.
Guns will be banned from the event, even for those with concealed carry permits.
Authorities in Virginia and Charlottesville are also on high alert. On Wednesday, Virginia’s Gov. declared a state of emergency. Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health and Virginia’s National Guard will all be present in Charlottesville over the weekend.
Cover image: White Supremacists rush forward with shields and sticks during clashes with counter protestors at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)