On Monday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) blamed the ACLU for violence — which included three deaths and over 30 injuries — at Saturday's political demonstrations in Charlottesville.
In an interview with government-funded NPR, McAuliffe refused to accept any responsibility for law enforcement's failure to provide security at the political rallies. NPR neglected to inquire about McAuliffe's directives to law enforcement.
Hours later, the ACLU responded via statement from its Virginia chapter's executive director, Claire Gastanaga (emphases added):
We are horrified by the violence that took place in Charlottesville on Saturday and the tragic loss of life that resulted from it. The ACLU of Virginia does not support violence. We do not support Nazis. We support the Constitution and laws of the United States. We would be eager to work with the governor and the attorney general on efforts to ensure that public officials understand their rights and obligations under the law.
But let’s be clear: our lawsuit challenging the city to act constitutionally did not cause violence nor did it in any way address the question whether demonstrators could carry sticks or other weapons at the events.
We asked the city to adhere to the U.S. Constitution and ensure people’s safety at the protest. It failed to do so. In our system, the city makes the rules and the courts enforce them. Our role is to ensure that the system works the same for everyone.
In the weeks after the July 8 protests, the city (working with the governor and others) had ample opportunity to put together a case and present it in court on its own motion justifying the revocation of the permit and the imposition of a prior restraint on speech. If the judge in our case had been presented with any credible evidence or testimony by the city of an imminent threat of harm (other than a list of internet entries) or evidence that the change in permit would, in fact, result in no demonstration in downtown Charlottesville, I have confidence that he would have denied the injunction, and the city would have been faced with enforcing the change of venue and protecting demonstrators and counter-demonstrators in two locations.
Instead, the city’s pleadings said that its decision to revoke the permit was based primarily on the unmanageable numbers of people who would show up. An affidavit from the police chief said that they expected twice as many counter-protesters (2,000) as protesters (1,000). Yet, the city did not revoke the permits for the counter-protesters, too. In light of those facts, the judge couldn’t get beyond the fact that the city hadn’t revoked all permits for demonstrations downtown on Saturday.
It is the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure safety of both protesters and counter-protesters. The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence. I was there and brought concerns directly to the secretary of public safety and the head of the Virginia State Police about the way that the barricades in the park limiting access by the arriving demonstrators and the lack of any physical separation of the protesters and counter-protesters on the street were contributing to the potential of violence. They did not respond. In fact, law enforcement was standing passively by, seeming to be waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an ‘unlawful assembly’ and clear the area.
Rather than seeking to scapegoat the ACLU of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute for the devastating events on Saturday, it is my firm hope and desire that the governor and other state and local officials will learn from this past weekend how constitutionally to prevent events like the horror we saw in Charlottesville from ever happening again.
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