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A University of Virginia working group convened after white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Va., in August has released an assessment on the university’s response and what it could have done better. It points to policies the university can pro-actively ennact, and laws that could have been enforced by university police.

Although the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally that left one woman dead occurred off-campus, white supremacists who were gathered for the protest marched through UVA's campus the night before, torches in hand, chanting “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.” According to a timeline compiled by the working group, campus police arrested one person during the nighttime incident and declared it an unlawful assembly before breaking it up.

The assessment addresses concerns regarding “why university leadership did not respond to the situation earlier and more aggressively.” The assessment and the timeline point to a misunderstanding of the gravity of the situation by university leadership and police beforehand:

University officials’ frame of mind was shaped by a decades-long history of non-violent protests on Grounds that led them to approach the march with the assumption that it was constitutionally protected and should be accommodated with minimal police intrusion. On a number of levels—intelligence evaluation, policy backdrop, and police response—this mindset led the University to make judgments that were misaligned to the context and left [the university police department] insufficiently equipped to respond. As a result, UPD understood its role as being available to monitor for potential violent disorder by anyone present, amassing backup in the event of such disorder, and intervening only in response to such disorder. 

The report found that the university could have prepared better and sought out more information and intelligence about the gatherings beforehand, and the police department should have tried to verify and integrate the information it received about the on-campus march into prior intelligence.

“UPD over-relied on the information the organizers provided [the day of the on-campus march], which turned out to be deliberately misleading and ultimately inaccurate,” the report reads.

The report also found there were laws and policies the police could have enforced during the march, but didn’t, due to their relative obscurity. University police should have had authority to cancel the march based on the use of torches -- per a campus “open-flame” policy -- but the police were “not sufficiently aware of its authority to enforce this policy.” There is also a Virginia state law that outlaws “with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons, [burning] an object on a highway or other public place in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.” According to the report, the law has been rarely enforced since it was enacted in 2002, which is why the university police did not recognize it as an opportunity to act more quickly and forcefully to quell the protesters.

One of the policy suggestion was the adoption of Constitutionally-permissible registration requirements for using the campus for marches or demonstrations, which would have allowed the university to not only be more aware of the march, but allow the police to respond to any infractions of the policy. Lacking such a policy left the university "vunerable to an unannounced, nighttime march of approximately 300 white supremacists intent upon intimidation," according to the report.

“I want to be very clear: What happened on Aug. 11 on our Grounds, while unprecedented, was unacceptable,” UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said in an email sharing the report with students. “But we will not let it define us. It takes time to heal as a community and we must do so together. This Working Group report is an important step.  Going forward, we must recommit ourselves to our core values and further enhance our inclusive, diverse learning and living environment."