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Va. governor, Charlottesville declare states of emergency ahead of ‘Unite the Right’ anniversary

FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, people fly into the air as a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Law enforcement agencies around the country are honing their responses to a string of rallies held by white nationalist groups as they struggle to balance free-speech rights with public safety. At the heart of the changes is a determination to prevent a repeat of the bloodshed resulting from a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, when a car mowed down a counterprotester. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the city of Charlottesville have declared states of emergency ahead of the anniversary of the deadly white nationalist rally in the city that left one woman dead and several others injured.

The Virginia state of emergency ordered by Northam will allow state agencies to quickly mobilize resources to aid local authorities, the governor’s office said. The order, which also allows Virginia National Guard to assist in security efforts, was announced Wednesday afternoon as Charlottesville officials held a news conference on the city’s efforts to prepare for the anniversary of the Aug. 12 rally.

The state of emergency comes as a number of groups and counterprotesters have rallies planned this weekend to mark the anniversary in Virginia and downtown D.C.

During the news conference, interim Charlottesville City Manager Mike Murphy said he had also issued a local emergency declaration. Law enforcement officials said Charlottesville residents should expect a heavy police presence, road closures and parking restrictions this weekend.

The organizer of the last year’s event, Jason Kessler, dropped a court challenge last month seeking a permit to hold a “Unite the Right 2” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. Instead, he said his group is planning a 400-person rally at a park across the street from the White House. But opponents of the white-nationalist anniversary march — and city officials — are wary that hostile groups may still arrive in town.

Last August’s rally saw violent clashes break out between white nationalist-affiliated rallygoers and counterprotesters.

Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters. Two Virginia State Police troopers who were monitoring the protests were killed when their helicopter crashed. Dozens of others were injured.

An independent review issued late last year faulted the city’s handling of the rally, saying law enforcement failed to properly prepare and were not effective at preventing clashes between opposing groups.

Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney, who was not on the job for the first rally, said the city has learned from its mistakes.

“There were gaps identified in how we may plan and how we communicate with each other,” Brackney said at the news conference. “I am confident to say that with all of our partners those gaps have been filled and backfilled as well.”

Gary Settle, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said his agency has also spent months preparing for the anniversary.

“Nothing would excite us any better than (for) this to be non-eventful and folks to go home and it be a peaceful weekend for all.,” he said.


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