Anniversary weekend ends peacefully, with sad remembrances

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Susan Bro hugs Courtney Commander, who was with her friend Heather Heyer when she was killed on Fourth Street August 12, 2017.
staff photo Susan Bro hugs Courtney Commander, who was with her friend Heather Heyer when she was killed on Fourth Street August 12, 2017. staff photo

A year after white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched with torches through UVA and violent clashes in the streets left one woman dead and dozens injured, it was with some trepidation that locals commemorated August 11 and 12. The weekend ended without serious injury and with a handful of arrests on misdemeanor charges.

By late Sunday afternoon, the barricades surrounding downtown Charlottesville, which some said had put the city under “martial law,” were coming down, and the 700 Virginia State Police began heading home.

While sightings of hate group members were rare, more than 1,000 police in town created another sort of tension. A student demonstration planned in front of the Rotunda Saturday night abruptly changed course because of layers of restrictions, barricades and cops, and became a loop around university neighborhoods.

And a march from a morning Washington Park remembrance of last year’s tragedy to Fourth Street, where a driver plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many more, became heated when police blocked access to the Downtown Mall from Water Street, where entrance already was restricted to First Street and Second Street SE.

Those entry spots had cops lined up forming a humans-on-bikes barricade there, and marchers continued down to Fourth, where police refused to let them enter. After some heated moments and negotiations by activist Don Gathers, the band of more than 100 marchers split and some went back to Second Street SE to enter the mall through the checkpoint and commemorate the tragedy that occurred on Fourth Street.

Heyer’s mother Susan Bro came with flowers both for her daughter and for the two Virginia State Police officers—Jay Cullen and Berke Bates—who died in a helicopter crash August 12.

“This is not all about Heather,” said Bro. “Oh my dear heavens. There were so many people who were wounded that day. They’re still suffering, still injured. There’s so much healing to do. We have a huge racial problem in our city and our country and we’ve got to fix that, or we’ll be back here.”

Bro brought two red roses for the downed officers, and purple stock for her daughter, which she laid on a memorial of flowers on the sidewalk.

And Bro hugged many of the people who were there August 12 a year ago, including Heyer’s friends Courtney Commander, Marissa Blair and Marcus Martin, the latter captured in Ryan Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, hurtling up in the air behind James Fields’ car.

Marcus Martin, a year after being thrown over the top of James Fields’ car, says his wife, the former Marissa Blair, has to walk by the spot every day. staff photo

And as people were dispersing, another standoff occurred with helmeted state police in the intersection of Water and Fourth streets.

Observing from the mall was Brian Moran, Virginia secretary of public safety, who was here a year ago and watched from the sixth floor of the Wells Fargo building the violent clashes on Market Street below, and famously compared the sporadic skirmishes to a hockey match.

Moran said he counted the weekend a success with a minimum number of arrests. “I couldn’t be prouder of these officers,” he said. “We said it wouldn’t happen again. The city welcomed our resources.”

As he said that, shouts could be heard down Fourth Street, and when asked what was going on, he said, “They’re yelling at police. Last year a woman got killed when protesters took to the streets. We made sure there was no traffic this time. Police are trying to protect the protesters and they got yelled at.”

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran says one of police goals was to block streets to protect protesters from getting mowed down. Staff photo

Moran noted that Jason Kessler, organizer of last year’s deadly Unite the Right rally, had just boarded a Metro in Vienna to go the sequel event he was having in Washington, and Moran seemed relieved to have him out of the state. UTR2 reportedly drew around two dozen supporters and thousands of counterprotesters.

Four arrests had been made by 4pm Sunday. Tobias Beard, 42, a former C-Ville Weekly contributor, was charged with obstruction of free passage when police say at around 11:04am, he deliberately positioned himself in front of police motorcycle units that were attempting to provide safe passage for a group of demonstrators in the area of Preston Avenue and Eighth Street. He was released on a summons.

Activist Veronica Fitzhugh, 40, and Martin Clevenger, 29, of Spotsylvania were each charged with one count of disorderly conduct when Clevenger saluted the Lee statue in Market Street Park at 11:25am. A small group gathered around him and a verbal altercation between Fitzhugh and Clevenger became physical, according to police. Both were released on a summons.

And Chloe J. Lubin, 29, of Portland, Maine, was arrested by Virginia State Police on four misdemeanor charges: assault and battery, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice and possession of a concealed weapon. At approximately 2:10pm, a state trooper observed Lubin spit in the face of a demonstrator in the area of Fourth and Water streets. As the trooper attempted to take her into custody, she clung to another demonstrator. Upon her arrest, she was found to be in possession of a metal baton, say police. She was released on an unsecured bond.

 

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