The city of Charlottesville is stepping up safety measures this weekend as it prepares to mark the 1-year anniversary of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally.
Fearing explosive tensions like those seen last year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency for the city and extra officers are patrolling the streets.
“What you can expect to see and what you expect to engage is a very significant law enforcement presence in our community and that presence is here as a support to our citizens,” Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney told NBC affiliate WVIR.
Sunday will be one year to the date since Heather Heyer, an activist demonstrating against white supremacist protesters, was killed when James Alex Fields Jr., a suspected neo-Nazi sympathizer, plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters with his car. Two Virginia State Patrol officers were also killed in a helicopter crash that weekend as they were performing crowd-control operations in the area.
Officers set up a secure perimeter in downtown Charlottesville Friday night, closing streets and enacting parking restrictions. While authorities are monitoring bits of intelligence throughout the city, law enforcement agencies are urging the public to do one simple thing: If you see something, say something.
“I would urge the citizens of Charlottesville and anybody else who is going to be visiting her is to continue to be vigilant,” Colonel Gary Settle with the Virginia State Police told WVIR. “You can help deter some of these acts that might take place.”
The city of Charlottesville turned down numerous permit requests for multiple rallies this weekend, including one for the “Unite the Right 2.” According to the Associated Press, the rally’s organizer, Jason Kessler, a white nationalist popular among the alt-right, will instead hold the rally in Washington, D.C. on Sunday. Kessler recently dropped a lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville after they denied his request for another event permit.
The Associated Press reports Kessler is expecting 400 demonstrators at the rally in D.C., but turnout could be much lower after several white nationalist leaders disavowed the rally, blaming Kessler for bad press following last year’s events.