Counter-protesters criticize police handling of rally

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Police shut down the Unite the Right rally before it ever officially began, but some counter-protesters blame the violence and general mayhem in and around Emancipation Park on a poor performance by police.

"What I don't really understand is why the police haven't separated us yet," said a counter-protester who identified himself by the nickname, King George.

Police declared an unlawful assembly around 11:35 a.m., well before the rally's scheduled noon start. They cleared Emancipation Park and surrounding streets after protesters and counter-protesters threw water bottles and other items and released chemicals into the crowds. Fifteen people were injured at Emancipation Park, and one was arrested.

Another counter-protester agreed the police response at the Unite the Right rally was different than at any of the other rallies he's attended in other states in the past several years.

"The police actually allowed us to square off against each other," said Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. "There were fights and the police were standing a block away the entire time. It's almost as if they wanted us to fight each other."

But Virginia State Police Spokesperson Corinne Geller defended police efforts and said that while police set up dividers to allow the two sides to remain separate, police do not tell people where they have to stand at a protest.

"That's part of the privilege of having the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly," said Geller, noting police had hoped the rally would not escalate into violence that forced the cancellation of the rally.

"The protesters on both sides left us with no choice," she said.

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