Whether you were on Fourth Street that afternoon or not, you know the car: the low-slung gray muscle car with the distinctive brake lights that James Fields used to murder Heather Heyer and injure dozens of others on August 12, 2017.
From video footage and the shocking photograph that won local photographer Ryan Kelly a Pulitzer Prize, the car, a Dodge Challenger, became deeply associated with the terror of that day. Which is why one of our reporters was startled to see a strikingly similar car—another gray Dodge Challenger—with a Charlottesville Police Department decal, on a local street in June.
Police department spokesperson Tyler Hawn confirmed the car is part of the department’s fleet, adding that it was acquired well before August 2017.
Activist Rosia Parker says that when she saw the car, in the police department garage, it “gave me triggers” back to the attack. She raised the issue at a City Council meeting on July 16, 2018, but says she received no response.
A year later, on the way to James Fields’ sentencing, survivor Marcus Martin, who is pictured flying over the back of the car in Kelly’s photograph, said he had seen a similar car on the way to the courtroom and “it all came back.”
In reply to C-VILLE’s questions, Police Chief RaShall Brackney noted that the police department’s car is branded with the logo for the Special Olympics of Virginia Law Enforcement Torch Run and Polar Plunge events, and “this symbolic gesture is appreciated my many members of the local and state community.” Police participate in the events to raise money for athletes with special needs.
In addition to the Special Olympics logo, the roof of the car is emblazoned with what appears to be “thin blue line” iconography, which is commonly used to show support for law enforcement, but which some have argued is meant to show opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. A thin blue line flag was among the flags carried by Unite the Right protesters at the August 12 rally.
“If the community feels threatened by the presence of this car, and request it be removed from our fleet, we would work toward an amicable solution,” Brackney said.