UVA releases preliminary report on violent torch rally

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The University of Virginia released a preliminary report on the violent “Unite the Right” torch rally in Charlottesville last month.

According to the report, assembled by the Deans Working Group, the University Police Department (UPD) did not respond as quickly as they should have, based on past history of non-violent protests on university grounds.

UVA President Teresa Sullivan asked the group to critique the university’s handling on the August 11 torch rally to suggest specific improvements to University policies.

During the rally, more than 100 white nationalists, neo-Confederates, and alt-right activists marched with Tiki torches through the university’s campus. Things turned violent after physical fights between marches and protesters erupted.

The group noted that the preliminary report is meant to be critical and focuses on improving the University’s ability to respond in the future. The report does not include what the University police did right in preparing for and responding to the rally.

Read the full report below:

The report said that the UPD did not seek enough intelligence ahead of the rally and did not effectively verify all the information it did receive.

The Deans Working Group also found that the university needs to improve application of existing protocols for responding to demonstrations. In this case, they noted that the rally was unlike previous demonstrations because the large group of protesters were carrying torches and acting in an intimidating and violent manner.

The university laid out future steps they will take for demonstrations moving forward:

Key Policy Actions

1) Classify the Academical Village as a facility and explore similar classification for other spaces across Grounds.

The University’s “Regulation of Weapons, Fireworks, and Explosives” policy prohibits members of the general public and visitors to Grounds from possessing, storing, or using any weapon in any University facility or while attending sporting, entertainment, or educational activities. Designating the Academical Village as a facility, consistent with its multi-purpose use as a residential, academic, and administrative space, would extend the same regulations to the Lawn. Members of the University community are already prohibited from possessing, storing, or using any weapon on University property.

2) Strengthen the University’s “Open Burn and Open Flame” policy and intensify its enforcement.

The University’s “Open Burn and Open Flame” policy could have been invoked in response to the events of August 11, but it was neither widely known nor consistently enforced. The University is now strengthening the policy by ensuring open flame approvals are communicated by the Office of Environmental Health and Safety to UPD and by adding a provision that expressly designates UPD as being “lawfully in charge of University property for purposes of forbidding entry upon or within, or prohibiting remaining upon or within University property while possessing [flames],” which empowers UPD officers to charge those in violation of the policy with trespassing.

The Board of Visitors should enact this policy as a regulation. The only other policy with this designation is the University’s “Regulation of Weapons, Fireworks, and Explosives” policy.

3) Consider whether the University should adopt time, place, and manner regulations to govern First Amendment activities on University common spaces consistent with the University’s commitment to a pluralistic, open community.

As noted, the University historically has not required permits or enforced other regulations regarding protests and demonstrations on the Lawn or in other common spaces outside of specific circumstances (e.g., Final Exercises). While the events of August 11 underscore the necessity and urgency of safeguarding the University community, the University remains committed to the values of open dialogue and to the protections of the First Amendment. In light of the August 11 events, the University is considering whether it should adopt constitutionally permissible time, place, and manner regulations, and related approval processes, that would simultaneously facilitate free speech and protect the University community from harm. Any such policy would be made in consultation with the University community and would need to ensure the continued ability of students, faculty, and staff to engage in robust expression on Grounds.