Minutes before their rally was scheduled to begin August 11 in front of the Rotunda, UVA student activists dropped a banner that said, “Last year they came with torches, this year they come with badges,” and instructed hundreds of attendees to move their demonstration a few hundred feet to the left, where cops weren’t already waiting for them and they wouldn’t have to pass through metal detectors.
“They are here to control us,” said Erik Patton-Sharpe into a megaphone, and the crowd of students, community members, and out-of-town activists who came to support them echoed it. “They are here to control us,” the student said again, stomping a black combat boot on the pavement with every word.
It was the anniversary of the night that hundreds of white supremacists marched across Grounds, carrying lit tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” When they reached the Thomas Jefferson statue at the base of the Rotunda, they encircled it and a group of counterprotesters—mainly students and faculty—and then pepper sprayed them and beat them with their torches.
The victims have often said that night in 2017 set the tone for the rest of the August weekend, when countless brawls between neo-Nazis and anti-fascists broke out in the streets, and law enforcement stood by idly.
At an event titled The Hope That Summons Us earlier that morning, President Jim Ryan said on his 11th day in office that UVA must admit to the mistakes it made last summer, pledge to learn from those mistakes, and not be afraid to apologize.
He earned himself a standing ovation with his message for the victims: “I am sorry. We are sorry.”
At their rally for justice that evening, a student said she didn’t believe him.
Others said cops don’t exist to protect them, and that law enforcement has a history of violence against anti-racist protesters.
Students C-VILLE interviewed at the rally declined to give their names, but allies passed around a flier with their unified message.
“What you see around you is not what we asked for,” it said, alleging that UVA administration forced them to plan the rally within the security parameters, required them to choose a select group of community members to join them, suggested they only allow those with student IDs inside the barricades the university erected, and designated a space for white supremacist counterprotesters. Said the flier, “It is a betrayal of our ideals and our community. …The city and the university’s desire to control images and protect their brands has created a dangerous police state.”
“This was a wonderful opportunity to look at the physical structures that they were being framed in as an analogy for the institutional structures that they are trying to resist,” said Lisa Woolfork, a Black Lives Matter organizer who teaches at the university.
She was wearing a T-shirt that said “professors act against white supremacy” when one of the student organizers at the rally asked her to help pass out their fliers.
Many professors wore the same shirt, and another student said she could feel the support from UVA faculty that night.
“I do have a certain degree of power and authority, and I think it’s useful for those in positions of power to support those who have less power,” said Woolfork.
The flier also listed the students’ demands to the university: To pay all outstanding medical bills for victims of last August 11 and 12, to denounce white supremacy by issuing lifelong no trespass orders to the men identified on Grounds last August 11, and to disclose any profits raised at last summer’s Concert for Charlottesville.
By 7:20pm, riot cops had lined up on the outskirts of the new rally location on the triangle of grass in front of Brooks Hall, and the activists began hurling a new chant at them: “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here.”
Some went face to face with law enforcement, while others advised them not to escalate the situation. The rally resumed peacefully and its attendees were again on the move.
They marched to The Colonnades amphitheatre at Lambeth Field, with a dozen first stopping to confront a person they called “Nazi” wearing a Longwood University T-shirt and cowboy boots. By about 8:05pm, they had regrouped and some decided on a march through the streets of Charlottesville.
Students, faculty, and allies then marched through town, chanting and cheering as people came out of their homes and businesses to clap along or record the chaos on their cellphones. A few miles later and after many had tapered off, a group of about 100 local and out-of-town activists arrived downtown.
A police helicopter trailed the march, and officers were lined up along the way. On Water Street outside of Mono Loco, a Virginia State Police officer darted into the crowd and tackled one woman, for reasons VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller was unsure.
Immediately, the woman’s anti-fascist comrades swarmed her, and yanked her out of the officer’s grip. The brawl had separated into two smaller ones, and the activists joined back with the march without any arrests.
Video of the mini melee shows two VSP officers holding a third one back, as he struggled to break free in an apparent attempt to reach the protesters involved in the fight.
Another similar scuffle broke out on the Downtown Mall, where police say an officer saw a man masking his face and he and the suspect were knocked to the ground as the officer moved toward him. Charges are pending in this incident, but, again, the activist and his friends rejoined the demonstration and were lost in the crowd. They made their way to Market Street, where they decided to call it a night.
And to make sure everyone in the group was on the same page, they shouted their plan: “Come back tomorrow morning.”
Additional photos by Eze Amos: