CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia – One year after a white-supremacist rally turned violent, ultimately killing Heather Heyer, a Charlottesville local, people gathered to memorialise the one-year anniversary.
Last year, a gathering of white nationalists at the Unite the Right rally clashed with counter-protesters. This year, locals and demonstrators came together to honour Heyer, stand in solidarity against racism, and protest the way police and officials handled last year’s deadly events.
Here’s how Saturday unfolded:
Notably absent from the city was any sign of the white-supremacist organisations that drew thousands of counter-protestors last year.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville ahead of the one-year anniversary, anticipating a repeat of the violence between white supremacists from the Unite the Right rally and counter-protestors, some of whom were members of the left-wing group Antifa.
Some local residents remarked that the heavy police presence this year was too little too late.
A memorial of flowers, hand-written notes, and footpath-chalk messages of hope, healing, and grief lay near the site where a white supremacist drove through a crowd and killed 32-year-old Heyer.
Charlottesville resident Joy Funston said, “The police cannot do anything to make up for last year.” She said she was frustrated with the largely hands-off approach police used against violence a year ago: “They will never get grace for that.”
Sandy Miller, another Charlottesville local who witnessed the car attack, stood in the same place she watched the deadly scene unfold and described her experience that day. While walking down a nearby street she watched crowds of counter protestors walking peacefully through Charlottesville’s downtown area.
“For five whole seconds it was the most beautiful thing in my life. Then I turned the corner and it was like a bomb dropped,” she said. Moments after rounding the corner, a man driving a black Dodge Charger rammed into a crowd of demonstrators mere feet from Sandy, injuring dozens and killing Heyer.
Andrew Little, an audio-visual technician who worked in downtown Charlottesville, came to the site to leave a message for Heyer. One year ago, Little had been trying to drive out of downtown Charlottesville with his brother when they were stopped at an intersection by a large crowd of counter protestors filling the street.
Seconds later, the car struck, and Little jumped from the truck to assist those who were injured. He rushed to Heyer’s body, attempting to help her. After other medical personnel made their way to her, he left.
That moment has stayed with him ever since, and after finishing his quiet memorial to the woman he tried to help, he spoke quietly of his hope that people would learn from what happened last year and do what they could to prevent further unnecessary violence.
Due in no small part to the heavy police presence in the downtown area, Charlottesville was peaceful during most of the day.
A few small gatherings of demonstrators marched through the downtown area, but for the most part, people came to mourn and remember.
Later in the afternoon a student-organised demonstration met at the rotunda on the University of Virginia’s campus — the scene of a torch-lit white-supremacist rally the night before violence broke out last year. Students spoke out against the police’s approach to the violence last year, as well as the way the University of Virginia handled the aftermath and treated students injured by the violence.
Students spoke out against the police’s approach to the violence last year, as well as the way the University of Virginia handled the aftermath and treated students injured by the violence.
Tensions rose when Virginia State Troopers in riot gear lined up near the protestors, but Wes Bellamy, a Charlottesville city councilor, stepped in and spoke with police and protest leaders to ensure no violence erupted.
After speeches from students and community members, the group marched out of UVA’s campus into Charlottesville, walking through neighbourhoods before ultimately turning back towards the downtown area.
Many of the demonstrators and Antifa left as the sky turned dark, saving their energy for Sunday, when many planned to travel to Washington, DC, to protest against another planned white-supremacist rally.
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