34ºF

Charlottesville prepares for Unite the Right anniversary

Plans have been in the works since January

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Ahead of the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, city leaders are bracing for the potential for more unrest.

They hope events this weekend will be peaceful, but they're preparing for the worst. 

They've been working on a strategy since last August, and more intentionally with Virginia State Police since January.

A city spokesperson tells us they learned last year that they needed to have one unified plan for all public safety agencies and city departments. They're heading into this weekend hoping that plan can prevent a tragedy like we saw last year.

Last year at the Unite the Right rally, a man drove his car into a crowd of people and killed Heather Heyer.

Another violent clash between opposing sides is exactly what Charlottesville's leaders are trying to prevent this year with new policies in place, including street closures and no-parking zones, to create a security perimeter around the downtown mall. 

"We learned last year that we needed better barriers to protect the public, and again we're expecting a large number of people who want to exercise freedom of speech, and we need to make sure that we can give them a safe place to do that," said Brian Wheeler, director of communications for Charlottesville.

Another way they're trying to do that is by denying all permit requests for the anniversary weekend --including to last year's rally organizer, Jason Kessler.

Instead, he's said to be taking his rally to Washington, D.C. this weekend, but some community activists don't buy that. 

 "I just consider that a ruse, we very much expect that they'll be back," said Don Gathers, a community activist. 

"We'll pray that again that we'll get through this weekend without the loss of life, without the loss of property, without anyone being injured but we are fearful and aware that they may be coming back, maybe not with the full force that they were here last year, maybe so," said Gathers. 

Bracing for that possibility, police have already started ramping up patrols, which will continue as the weekend approaches, with officers from Charlottesville, Albemarle County, the University of Virginia and Virginia State Police. 

"We're treating this as a weather emergency. You know, if you don't have to be on the roads, if you don't have to be downtown, then you probably shouldn't be. We have a public safety plan that we're pretty confident about, but in a civil unrest environment, we can't guarantee anyone's safety," said Wheeler.