Police in Charlottesville, Va., came under criticism for failing to keep apart warring white nationalists and counterprotesters who battled it out in the city streets Saturday, the Washington Post reports. Anger over how the police responded came from all directions and intensified after the death of a woman struck by a car that plowed into a group of counterprotesters. Experts said police appeared outnumbered, ill-prepared and inexperienced. “The worst part is that people got hurt, and the police stood by and didn’t do a g——- thing,” David Copper, 70, of Staunton, Va., said after a melee at a park went unchecked by police for several minutes. Fourteen people were injured in clashes, and 19 others were hurt in the car crash. Later, two Virginia State Police troopers died when their helicopter smashed into trees at the edge of town and burst into flames.
At Emancipation Park, police in riot gear surrounded the warring groups on three sides, although they seemed to watch as people beat each other with sticks and bludgeoned one another with shields. Many on both sides came dressed for battle, with helmets and chemical irritants. At one point, police appeared to retreat and then watch the beatings before eventually moving in to end the free-for-all, make arrests and tend to the injured. “The whole point is to have overwhelming force so that people don’t get the idea they can do these kinds of things and get away with it,” said Charles Ramsey, who headed both the Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia police departments. Demonstrators and counterdemonstrators “need to be in sight and sound of each other, but somebody has to be in between,” he said. “That’s usually the police.” Complicating the dynamics was the fact that several dozen groups of armed militias — men in full camouflage toting assault-style weapons — were in the middle of the crowds.