The availability of credible information has made it difficult to know what went wrong with the police response that failed to prevent rioting and murder in Charlottesville last weekend. We all know that the mainstream media is biased. One way to combat that bias is to check twice as many sources to tease out facts that the various sides inadvertently agree upon.
That begins to build a picture of what actually happened. Information coming out of Charlottesville is compromised. If you can’t trust the data going in, the data coming out is worthless. So I don’t know what happened and I don’t expect to find a credible answer soon.
Both sides came looking for a fight and got one. The police were judged marginally effective. However, partisans on both sides will blame the police to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. The police will bow to their political masters, take their licks, and hope the price of their silence was worth it.
What the Permit Should Tell Us
Best I can tell, the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) had a permit to demonstrate at Charlottesville’s Lee Park for a specific period. Another crowd showed up to oppose the demonstration. The issuance of a permit represents a leg up for the police. They get to make rules, or they don’t issue the permit.
We don’t know what rules were made or what information the police had, but I would expect the following:
- The number of KKK members expected to participate.
- An estimate of the number of supporters.
- An agreement from the organizers for a parking area far removed from the protest site. Arrangements would be made to transport KKK protesters and supporters to and from the site.
- A limitation on acceptable and unacceptable items allowed at the protest site: no baseball bats, no poles on protest signs thicker than one-half inch, no pointed or metal-tipped poles. No chains, slingshots, prohibited knives, or weapons.
- Police would provide an escort to enter and exit the site to minimize the chances of confrontation.
This is all long-established protocol for how to manage a demonstration. Law enforcement will typically assign assembly points and routes to the event. They try to make sure that the points are sufficiently removed from one another so the groups won’t reach critical mass and explode. The police line the routes to maintain peace along the way. There will always be rabble-rousers who try to disrupt the process.
The left-wing opposition group Antifa, and associated groups such as Black Lives Matter, did not have a permit. This means the police had no prior agreement with and very little control of left-wing protesters. Given prior examples of Antifa protests, law enforcement would have been justified in setting up a controlled area and an exclusionary zone. The exclusionary zone apparently was the curb line of E. Market Street, shared with the Lee Park. Since the only entrances to the park were along E. Market Street, then, confrontations were guaranteed.
What the Police Should Have Done
The police missed an opportunity by not setting an exclusionary zone for a one-block radius around the park. By exclusionary zone, I mean a no man’s land occupied by the police and cleared individuals, the press, and people whose intent is to join the rally. No hanging around outside, they are going in or leaving.
The purpose of the control area is to give law enforcement the opportunity to relieve the participants of baseball bats, two by fours, one and two-inch dowel rods affixed to signs, and slingshots, plus any garden-variety prohibited weapons. They can keep the sign. People armed in such a manner give up these implements, leave the area, or, depending on the nature of the item, face arrest.
Each group winds up at its assigned demonstration point, and they do their thing without interacting with one another. Protestors have a right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean that police have to provide the audience. The ultimate irony, of course, is Antifa complaining that their right to free speech was infringed while they engaged in a protest to deny another group the right to free speech.
Declaring civil disobedience is an admission that the protestor is going against established norms and may violate the law in doing so. It is an admission that the violator may be arrested and is willing to take that risk. It is not civil disobedience to beat somebody whose views you oppose about the head and shoulders while refraining from calling the person a “motherf-cker.” That activity is called aggravated assault and is a felony.
What the Crowd Is Comprised Of
Police and protestors know that estimates of crowd size are meaningless. I am not sure what the press knows. A protest crowd has four components without regard to the issue: The leader organizers, a relatively small cadre. They are committed to the cause. Then, more and more there are hired guns committed to whoever hires them, and they are geared towards violence.
Then there are the supporters, and they come in two flavors. There are the true believers, and the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” types. There are just so many causes and not enough time, what with soccer practice and the dog needing to visit the vet, so what’s an activist to do? Bundle. The “Save the Whales” folks agree to show up at the “Stop Autism in Dogs Demonstration” if the Stop the Autism in Dogs group can make the Save the Whales protest. Neither group has the least interest in a cause outside their interests, but numbers are numbers.
The vast majority of people who show up at demonstrations are the Me Toos. They don’t know what the cause happens to be and don’t care. They have been told, “Dude, there’s gonna be a killer band,” “Chicks dig guys who protest, maybe we can get laid.” They are curious and looking for entertainment. For most, assault is not entertaining.
One final component of the crowd are the opportunists. Mostly criminal in inclination, they go where large bodies of people are because you never know.
Now for the Critical Question
Question: How many protesters will stand and fight if not given an outlet to escape?
Answer: All of them.
Given the opportunity, at the first sign of trouble, most of the crowd will leave. This means an estimated crowd size of 4,000 dwindles to 400. Among the first to leave are the planners and organizers, leaving the mob without direction.
One of the key considerations in handling confrontations at protests is what to do when the party is over. The police may time the rallies so they end at different times and they can move the crowds out. With good prior planning, police move opposing sides off in different directions. Officers try to channel opposing groups away from each other. It is one thing to walk the gauntlet with 50 of your buds, but it’s something else entirely to do it alone.
Look at the picture above again. The police could have moved the KKK and supporters to the back of the park and loaded them on buses. Even without the buses, the KKK folks would have had a block-long head start. Instead, the Klan was pushed out onto E. Market Street, where Antifa was waiting. There seems to be some debate as to whether the rally was shut down early with an immediate order to vacate the premises. I don’t know. It seems at this point the cops just stood back and didn’t escort either group or attempt to direct their movement. And that is when everything went to hell.
What the Operations Order Would Reveal
Given the number of police agencies and officers involved, I would be interested in seeing the operations order. There are probably several hundred copies floating around. The operations order would lay out the chain of command and lines of communication. It would describe the overall operation, its goals, and contingency plans. It would define the area of operations. It would probably describe various triggering events. If this, then that, and so forth.
Another item of interest would be the recording and log of activities and events maintained in the command post. With information from those two sources, it would be possible to see how the actual events varied from the plan and who gave the order to deviate from the plan.
If what happened at Charlottesville was just bad luck and poor communication, then I would expect that some law enforcement elements would have stuck with the original plan while other elements implemented the new plan and charted a different course. But that didn’t happen.
Round up the usual suspects. While doing so, ask yourself: has there ever been a state police agency that would roll over so completely for a small-town mayor? (The answer is no.)