In the last few days I have been focused on the novella-length report of the summer’s awful events, especially the one I wrote about that occurred on August 12. Though I was skeptical about the report, given that Heaphy seemed to be buddies with various people in City government and that he requested to undertake this project paid for by the City. I believe he did a creditable job. As I said at the time, we were failed by government at every level and this report documents all those failures. Besides City government, the appalling actions of the Virginia State Police were brought into the light.
Heaphy criticizes the City for its failure in two areas vital to our civic life: failure to insure free expression of ideas (however repugnant) and ensuring public safety. The most common reaction everyone had to the events of August 12 was that police did not intervene in violence between the Alt-Right White Supremacists and the Anti-fascists opposing them. Though the police — both City and Virginia State Police — deny that they had a “stand-down” order, that is exactly what they did, including failing to respond to pleas for help from people. It seems to have been their plan to let the violence escalate until they could give the order to shut down the event, thus denying free expression requested by the Alt-Right group.
When I read about one of the earlier events of the summer, a visit by the silly-looking Ku Klux Klan who have lost their terrifying clout, I remembered how discouraged I was by the apparent unwillingness of some in our community to recognize their right to free speech. I believe their speech, with the help of their pointy hats and purple robes, discredits them rather than giving them a platform to intimidate people. I recognize that it’s not always so simple, but having grown up in the time when protesters against the Vietnam War were struggling to have the right of free speech, I am not comfortable shutting it down.
It’s been poignant in the last few days to walk and drive the streets where these terrible things happened. This summer after the murder of Heather Heyer to honor her I walked to the street where she died almost every day as long as the street was closed to traffic. It was heartening to see the flowers and many other offerings of tribute people left there.
A healing for this community seems a long way off, but it is a good start to see an honest accounting of the events in print.
Timothy J. Heaphy, Hunton & Williams, LLP, Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, Virginia, 2017, 207 pages.