FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A Statement from the Legal Aid Justice Center
Charlottesville, Va., August 17, 2017—
Our community, Charlottesville, has been devastated by the attacks carried out in our town this past weekend by people attending the “Unite the Right” rally. We grieve the tragic loss of Heather Heyer, Jay Cullen, and Berke M.M. Bates, and our hearts go out to those injured while speaking out against racism and hate.
While last Friday and Saturday were terrible for all of us, we know it was particularly terrifying for our black, brown, Muslim, Jewish, and LGBT residents who were specifically targeted for violence and intimidation by white supremacists, whose ideology has historically called for their oppression. If there is any silver lining to the events of this weekend, it is that people of all backgrounds, faiths, and identities– from Charlottesville and beyond–came out by the thousands to stand in emotional and physical solidarity with their neighbors and friends to denounce white supremacy and all forms of bigotry.
However, disappointingly, the law enforcement response to the events of this past weekend appeared in stark contrast to the community’s show of support. At both Friday night’s terror-inducing torch march through the University of Virginia and Saturday’s events throughout the City, the police demonstrated a shocking indifference to the safety of those they are sworn to protect. We know this from our own staff, client, and community reports and from extensive news coverage. We understand that the weekend presented enormous challenges for law enforcement. But we also know that white supremacists repeatedly brutalized anti-racist community members and other counter demonstrators while law enforcement looked on and failed to intervene.
We have a duty now to ask the question: why? Why did the police refuse to intervene in incident after incident? Were there orders to stand down?
Sadly, the failure of law enforcement to appropriately calibrate its response to the particular detriment of communities of color and other marginalized populations is not new to Charlottesville or to the nation. So, while we join with every person of conscience in condemning the overt embrace of white supremacy exemplified by those attending the Unite the Right rally, we also need to question the covert ways our systems and institutions, and their leaders, allow white supremacy to flourish and go unchecked. And where found in our own community, we must condemn it.
When our town became a national target for white supremacist violence on August 11th and 12th, it laid bare for all to see what our clients and communities of color here already knew: the structures and systems meant to protect the people of Charlottesville cannot be relied on to protect them. The first step towards healing our community is acknowledging this old and hard truth. Only then can we begin the difficult work of accountability and reconciliation.
Over the next weeks and months, LAJC will ask the difficult questions to ensure that all facets of our government including law enforcement are held accountable for their actions, and will insist that this community take steps to ensure that all members are protected in a fair and equitable manner.
About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty through litigation, policy advocacy, and community organizing. LAJC’s Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program works to end the criminalization of poverty in Virginia by exposing and addressing the connections among policing, poverty, race, and injustice.