ACLU of Virginia denies Gov. McAuliffe’s accusations of blame for Saturday’s violence

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, ACLU and Gov. Terry McAuliffe

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — The ACLU of Virginia is responding to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s statements, made on a radio show, that the ACLU of Virginia bears some responsibility for the violence that happened Saturday in Charlottesville.

On NPR’s Morning Edition Monday, McAuliffe said that the ACLU of Virginia sued on the event organizer’s behalf to allow the rally to be held downtown instead of in a park on the edge of town which would have been more easily secured.

“That rally should not have been in the middle of downtown,” McAuliffe said.

The ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastanaga said that the group was “horrified by the violence” while saying that the organization does not support violence or Nazism, but that they do support the right of all to gather in protest.

“We support the Constitution and laws of the United States … But let’s be clear: our lawsuit challenging the city to act constitutionally did not cause violence, nor did it in any way address the question whether demonstrators could carry sticks or other weapons at the events,” Gastanaga said.

Gastanaga said the City of Charlottesville failed to adhere to the U.S. Constitution and ensure people’s safety at the protest, and despite having ample time to prepare, they were unable to justify their decision to revoke the protesters permit to rally downtown in court.

“If the judge in our case had been presented with any credible evidence or testimony by the city of an imminent threat of harm (other than a list of internet entries) or evidence that the change in permit would, in fact, result in no demonstration in downtown Charlottesville, I have confidence that he would have denied the injunction.”

Gastanaga said that the city argued the decision to revoke the permit was based on unmanageable numbers of people, yet the city did not revoke permits for the larger group of counter-protesters, before saying that ultimately it was police’s responsibility to protect everyone involved.

“It is the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure safety of both protesters and counter-protesters. The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence,” Gastanaga said. “I was there and brought concerns directly to the secretary of public safety and the head of the Virginia State Police about the way that the barricades in the park limiting access by the arriving demonstrators and the lack of any physical separation of the protesters and the counter-protesters on the street were contributing to the potential of violence. They did not respond.”

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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