As the anniversary of last year’s deadly white supremacist rally approaches, states of emergency have been declared for the city of Charlottesville, parts of Northern Virginia and the state of Virginia.
The announcement was made Wednesday as state officials detailed their preparations at a press conference. They described a massive influx of law enforcement officers, two checkpoints south of the Downtown Mall and a significant list of items banned within the perimeter. They declined, though, to detail specific security threats or whether known white supremacists and nationalists, such as rally organizer Jason Kessler, would be in the area.
“We are treating this as a statewide event,” said Jeffrey Stern, coordinator of emergency management for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “We will be in support both of the city and [Albemarle] County here, as well as Fairfax County and other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and our partners across the Potomac [River] in Washington, D.C., for the events on Saturday and Sunday.”
More than 1,000 federal, state and local law enforcement members are expected in the area over the weekend. Officials said roughly 700 members of the Virginia State Police would be in the area and about 300 Virginia National Guard members would be on standby.
Both Market Street Park, where last year’s rally was held, and Court Square Park will be completely fenced off, according to city spokesman Brian Wheeler.
The states of emergency will allow state and city agencies to get additional resources, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “Virginia continues to mourn the three Virginians who lost their lives in the course of the demonstrations a year ago. We hope the anniversary of those events passes peacefully.”
The emergency declaration mobilizes and funds resources from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health, Virginia National Guard and others. Officials confirmed that the declaration of emergency also would allocate $2 million to pay for the response.
Charlottesville also has announced a security perimeter downtown that will include blocked streets, limited parking and pedestrian checkpoints. The changes will go into effect at 6 p.m. Friday.
Anyone wishing to access downtown residences, businesses or the mall will have to enter through checkpoints on Water Street at First Street South and Second Street Southeast.
Interim City Manager Mike Murphy has prohibited the following items within the downtown security area: BB guns, pellet guns, air rifles or pistols, paintball guns, nunchucks, Tasers or other stun guns, heavy-gauge metal chains, lengths of lumber or wood, poles, bricks, rocks, metal beverage or food cans or containers, glass bottles, axes, axe handles, hatchets, ice picks, acidic or caustic materials, hazardous or flammable or combustible liquids, skateboards, swords, knives, daggers, razor blades or other sharp items, metal pipes, pepper or bear spray or Mace, aerosol sprays, catapults, wrist rockets, bats, sticks, clubs, drones, explosives, fireworks, open fire or open flames and any other item considered to be an “implement of riot.”
Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney said police will not search bags unless they think someone is attempting to bring a prohibited item into the perimeter. She also said officials cannot ban firearms from the area.
“[Handguns] are not on that list; we have to honor your Second Amendment rights,” Brackney said. “This has its challenges.”
The city also noted that police would enforce the state’s ban on wearing masks.
Brackney said she was planning additional patrols around “vulnerable communities” and had provided those groups a liaison to make sure concerns and any threats were quickly heard.
The University of Virginia has fenced in the Thomas Jefferson statue on the Rotunda’s North Plaza, where a student protest is planned for Saturday evening.
Charlottesville also will close the western section of McIntire Park to traffic, and all staffed parks and recreation facilities will be closed.
Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave County Executive Jeff Richardson the power to declare a local emergency. An order has not yet been issued.