Notably absent from post-mortem discussion of the shameful Charlottesville, Virginia, demonstrations is the role of government. Why did city officials grant a right of assembly to an overtly racist group in an obviously sensitive environment? Did they fear failure in asserting grounds of precautionary public safety in the event of need to defend a freedom-of-speech lawsuit? With the prospect of an unexpectedly large turnout, why did a local judge decline to authorize a change of venue to the more manageable location requested by the city?
When it became evident on the eve of the event that objectionable symbols of hatred would be flouted before opponents spontaneously gathering without an authorized permit, why wasn’t the police presence increased, perhaps including the Virginia National Guard?
Why was law enforcement so passive when the first signs of mutual hostility and weaponry appeared? Why didn’t police intervene promptly and authoritatively rather than imply that any mischief would be tolerated? Were they intimidated by the size and tone of the crowd?
In light of precedent elsewhere, why wasn’t the undersized demonstration site cordoned off to prevent vehicular access?
A primary government responsibility is to protect its citizenry. The tragic but predictable outcome of this imbroglio stands not only as an indictment of its protagonists, but of public officials who evidently failed to anticipate the potential for conflict and prepare accordingly. It’s easy to fault the armed and dangerous combatants, but there appears to be plenty of blame to go around. Boston set a much better example of crowd control.
George C. Betke Jr.