Charlottesville Shuts Down the KKK; Police Attack Community

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Cover Photo by Ryan M. Kelly

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Their white hoods couldn’t have saved them. But their white privilege did.

This past weekend, about 30 stray members of the “Loyal White Knights [who’s leader is an FBI informant] of the Ku Klux Klan” rallied in one little corner of Justice Park in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. A few wore white or purple hoods. Many carried Confederate flags or other racist insignia. A few openly gave Nazi salutes. Hundreds of police protected them, many donning riot gear and others in plain clothes, effectively using state violence and the threat of violence to support their hate, not hiding their affinity with the Klan at all. After all, the cops were the largest fascist group in the park that day.

We can safely declare victory for the day. About 1,500 anti-racist activists had come out to oppose the KKK. At first, activists of all persuasions had linked arms to block the entrances to the park, but police violence and arrests at one of the entrances cleared the way for the tiny racist group to saunter in under police protection. They had arrived 45 minutes late to their own rally.

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Despite the best efforts of the police state to protect their rally, the Klan had to cut their event short. They only stayed for about half an hour. At one point, racists in full floor-length gowns tried in vain to give speeches on a small portable sound system, pointing out at the crowd of anti-racist activists, but no one could hear them. Not even their fellow racists were listening, many preferring to prance, yell “white power!” at random intervals, imitate Nazis, and intimidate the crowd from behind a militarized police line.

No speeches were heard, because the Klan was surrounded on all sides by a wall of sound – people chanting, orating, playing drums, using noisemakers, and banging pots and pans. A few projectiles may have been seen mid-air, forming graceful arcs of justice as they made their way into the Klan’s corner. The message was clear that no one was sanctioning their platform, except the State. After a half hour of absolute impotence, the Klan gave up and walked out without a fight.

A statement by local Charlottesville organizers declares:

The people of Charlottesville showed the vibrancy of our collective energy to resist intimidation and initiate change. Charlottesville is mobilizing to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

Activists were not about to let them leave town quietly. Over 100 activists formed a blockade around the parking garage where their vehicles were parked, and stood in a driveway, facing down a line of riot cops with shields and helmets. The cops pushed, and we resisted. Ultimately the police were able to open one of the two driveways, and the Klan escaped. But the fight was far from over.

The cops began to retreat. A face-off occurred on East High Street, with about 100 riot cops standing in the middle of the road in perhaps ten long columns. Activists questioned the police, “Where is Sage Smith?” referring to a black transgender woman missing since 2012. We rightfully struck up the chant, for the umpteenth time that day, “No cops! No KKK! No fascist USA!” An intense skirmish erupted when police attempted to march one of the day’s arrestees through our crowd, resulting in police violence and several arrests.

Then came the tear gas. Then came a long line of brave activists linking arms against the line of riot cops in the middle of the road. Then came more arrests. By the end of the day, the police had arrested 22 people, with charges ranging from felony to misdemeanor. They deployed three tear gas canisters. Legal support has been abundant and the cases are ongoing.

Much credit should be given to Charlottesville organizers.* Legal observers were present. A legal and jail support team made sure everyone who was arrested was supported, and are at work to support the arrestees this week and beyond as they go into next week. The media team worked hard to ensure that independent and mainstream media had access or our hopeful narrative, and came up with the block party concept and the #BlocKKK social media hashtag. Local groups and a group from Washington DC provided water and snacks for the crowd. Local activists rocked the megaphone early in the day to help the event find its chant voice. Organizers were on point.

We must continue to stand opposed to these horrendous hate groups, because they will return. When they do, we must be ready. When these racists come for us, we will stand and fight back. As Assata Shakur has said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.”

Here’s Exactly What Happened, Play-by-Play

Times are accurate to within 10 minutes or so on Saturday, July 8, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

2 PM – Justice Park

Black Lives Matter activists, people of color, Stand Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), antifascist activists, socialists, and others begin arriving at the park. Messages range from mainstream to Democrat to liberal to radical. People chant “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Nazis! No KKK! No Fascist USA!”

Signs show a variety of anti-KKK, anti-racist sentiments:

“No room for Amerikkka.”
“Queers celebrate black lives.”
“Fuck white supremacy.”
“We don’t want your hate here.”
“KKK, we are your white enemies.”
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”
“Cops and Klan go hand in hand.”

It is a felony in Virginia to wear a mask, so many antifascist activsts and other radicals who may usually wear masks were donning more colorful attire and were not masked, though many had brought masks or bandanas in case they were needed.

A special pen had been set up with police barricades in the northeast corner of the park. This small pen was for the band of racists, the KKK. Mainstream press are present and cameras are everywhere.

2:30 PM – Justice Park

Confederate flag enthusiasts keep appearing in the crowd like gadflies. One man with a Confederate flag hat and a giant knife on his hip gets interviewed by local news but has nothing to say. One woman with a Confederate flag tattoo insists she can’t be racist because she has siblings who are not white. Four people stand along the fence in formation, one giving a Nazi salute. Another man appears with a sign reading, “No Black Lives Matter Racism,” and demands police protection when onlookers object to his message. Two large men in motorcycle vests stand menacingly, one with a Confederate flag patch. None of these people were let into the special pen for racists, though some of them gathered at the gate, hoping to be let in. Police were not opening the gate for anyone, no matter what kind of bigotry they were displaying. It would appear that not every racist got a ticket to the main event?

Meanwhile, it has become apparent that the number of anti-racist activists and others standing opposed to the KKK is massive. Estimates have placed the number on our side at 1,500.

2:50 PM – East High Street

An attempt is made to blockade the northeast entrance to the park facing East High Street. Activists link arms and block the entrance, forming two rows of those wiling to risk arrest. Blockade appears strong and activists appear ready.

3:00 PM – Northeast/Southeast Entrance

While the northeast entrance sees a strong blockade, confusion follows regarding what entrance the Klan would use to enter the park. Some activists insist that the Klan will be coming through the other side, the southeast side. Many activists run to the southeast side of the park to confront the Klan, only to find many of the same Confederate flag enthusiasts who we had been seeing circling through the park. Most activists protested these racists. Some formed a blockade of the southeast entrance. This left the northeast side less covered, and leaves a mixed group of blockaders to defend the northeast entrance.

3:10 PM – Northeast Entrance

Sometime after, police move on the northeast entrance, clearing away the blockaders with brutal violence and physical force, and making a handful of arrests. Riot cops then stand in the entrance to guard it and hold space for their friends the KKK, who are expected to arrive soon.

3:20 PM – Justice Park

If it hadn’t been clear to any onlooker that “cops are Klan,” it should be clear now. Cops faithfully stand guard to monitor the little corner of the park where the Klan is supposed to have a rally. They protect the Klan, yet people of color are often not safe even walking out their door any day of the week in Amerikkka.

3:45 PM – “Klan Korner” of Justice Park

KKK members finally arrive. About 30 of the Klan were there. Their members barely filled the tiny northeast corner of the park that had been lovingly prepared for them with police barricades and scores of cops standing guard. They were 45 minutes late to their own rally and their permit only lasted for an hour. A few members wearing white hoods and one wearing a purple hood. Some clearly were not going for intimidation, as one grey-haired leader who spoke clearly had shorts and sneakers under a white robe that barely extended beyond his knees. He looked prepared for a summer picnic, not a fight for his white homeland.

Some Klan members give Nazi salutes. Others give the middle-finger salute. A few prance around and act as if they are ready for a fight, not realizing how cowardly they actually appear when taunting from behind a police line.

Many of the signs, most of which were scrawled in black marker on white posterboard in the same wayward handwriting with misspelled words and bad grammar, focused on anti-Semitism, hatred for people of mixed racial backgrounds, and people in the LGBTQ community.

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4:25 PM – East High Street

After trying to hold a rally, but having their speeches completely drowned out by the wall of noise of people who stand against them, the KKK decides to end the rally after only half an hour of flaccid speeches.

KKK members cross East High Street and walk down stairs to parking garage under intense police protection. Police edgy and pushing activists out of the way. Many activists follow them and walk around to exit of parking garage, facing 4th St NE. About 100 activists stand in driveway to try to prevent the Klan from exiting their parking garage.

4:40 PM – 4th Street Northeast

Line of riot cops begins, without verbal warning or warning of any kind, to slowly push activists. Many activists come into contact with cops’ clear plastic riot shields as the entire crowd is pushed back. That’s a typical cop strategy “opening play” when they want to escalate the situation and make the crowd angry. Angry crowds justify the existence of riot cops. Consequently, riot cops love escalation.

Cops keep pushing until they are met with enough resistance. The people can only be pushed so far before they push back. A reaction warrants an equal but opposite reaction.

A standoff continues for at least five minutes. Eventually, the police relented, and began backing up. This was probably because the KKK had managed to sneak out of a different entrance. (Perhaps the cops were only pushing us to try to convince us that the Klan was indeed coming out of that entrance.) We follow them and taunt them for retreating because, hey, why not claim small victories?

4:50 PM – East High Street

About 100 riot cops standing in the middle of the road in perhaps ten long columns. Activists chanted, “Where is Sage Smith?” referring to a black transgender woman missing since 2012. We also chanted, “No cops! No KKK! No fascist USA!”

Shortly afterwards, an arrestee from earlier in the day was sighted being walked out of the Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office. The arrestee was still in police custody and was being marched somewhere else, presumably to another of the nearby police buildings. Activists quickly responded by moving to block the processing of our comrade. We moved into the walkway of the Sheriff’s office, only to be pushed and assaulted by police in heavy riot gear. One activist got kicked clear in the face so hard that everyone around them gasped. Their body fell backwards onto the sidewalk. Many experienced the police violently trying to pick them up and shove them. The police randomly pushed and assaulted numerous activists. One cop lost a riot helmet and another piece of gear in the commotion. Police began pushing the crowd back and trying to form a perimeter around the violence.

Several arrests were made in that moment. The charges vary and activists face court dates in the coming weeks.

4:55 PM – East High Street

A police line of riot cops had formed across East High Street, facing west. A group of activists gathered in the street. The activists had nowhere to go and many were visibly emotional about the police violence they had just witnessed and been on the receiving end of.

Then the first tear gas canister was launched, a loud “boom” accompanying it. A crowd of activists were sent into a panic, and many began walking away from the police line. Many others, to their credit, remained calm and focused. Tear gas lingered in the air. Many people put on masks or bandanas in order to lessen the impact of breathing gas still hanging in the air. The gas was also visible on the ground as a yellow-colored powder.

Two more tear gas canisters were launched. Nearly everyone present felt it to some degree, with dozens of people screaming in pain, unable to see, and/or emotionally distraught due to the physical pain and trauma. Medics responded rapidly with water and fluid to pour into the eyes of those affected, and other support.

5:00 PM – East High Street

Police began running towards nearby activists in the crowd and arresting the people they were able to find. All of the people they body-snatched in that moment were wearing masks in order to reduce the impact of breathing tear gas. Wearing a mask is a felony in Virginia, and several of the individuals snatched in that moment have been charged with the felony of wearing a mask. Yes, folks, you heard that right. Virginia cops think it is okay to tear gas people and then moments later arrest them for trying to protect their airways from the gas by using a mask.

5:05 PM – 4th Street Northeast

The riot cops finally relent and walk away from the crowd. Meanwhile, other police march menacingly into the midst of the crowd, seeking to try to make additional arrests. That had the impact of breaking up the protest. By the end of the day, the police had arrested 22 people. Many people walked directly over to the courthouse, which was only a block away, to initiate jail support and begin organizing for legal support as needed.

Fighting Back!

We must win this fight. A dangerous current of hate is threatening communities of color, trans communities, immigrant communities, Muslims, women, indigenous people, and the LGBTQ community. These are dangerous storm clouds gathering. In order to keep our communities protected, we must win this. But to do so, we must fight.

The right wing racists are going to be in Charlottesville again on Saturday, August 12th, for the so-called “Unite the Right” rally. All are invited to come to Charlottesville to counter this hate. We must oppose them.

To connect with those doing legal support for the arrestees who bravely confronted the KKK, please connect through the Facebook Page for Stand Up for Racial Justice – Charlottesville.

*Giving or taking credit for organizing can be tricky. In order to not accidentally exclude anyone, we’ll not mention any group or anyone in particular. We will let the organizers give or take credit where they wish. Hope you understand!