Heavy security as Charlottesville anniversary weekend opens

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Police blocked off streets and mobilized hundreds of officers for the anniversary of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The security measures alarmed activists but reassured others who said they have painful memories of last year's chaos.

Local and state authorities framed the weekend's heightened security as a necessary precaution.

Late Saturday morning, when many businesses in a popular downtown shopping district were beginning to open, law enforcement officers outnumbered visitors. Concrete barriers and metal fences had been erected, and police were searching bags at two checkpoints where people could enter or leave.

Nearby, dozens of officers carrying helmets and with gas masks strapped to their belts stood watch in the park where hundreds of white nationalists gathered last summer at a rally planned in part to protest the city's plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. The event descended into violence, with clashes erupting between attendees and counterprotesters.

Some community activists were concerned that this year's heavy police presence could be a counterproductive overreaction.

An independent investigation of the rally violence, led by a former federal prosecutor, found the chaos stemmed from a passive response by law enforcement and poor preparation and coordination between state and city police.

RELATED: Take a look back at the rally

43 PHOTOS
Charlottesville violence erupts as protesters and counterprotesters clash
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Charlottesville violence erupts as protesters and counterprotesters clash
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist kicks back a smoke bomb thrown by counter protestors during clashes at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist tries to strike a counter protestor with a White Nationalist flag during clashes at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People receive first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A vehicle plowed into a crowd of people Saturday at a Virginia rally where violence erupted between white nationalist demonstrators and counter-protesters, witnesses said, causing an unclear number of injuries. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: Police, medical personnel, and other protestors attend to the injured people after a car rammed into a crowd of anti-White Supremacy protestors in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A woman who was injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally is helped in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts?
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Rescue workers transport a victim who was injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A woman is received first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
People receive first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A woman is received first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist helps a friend after he was punched in the face during clashes with counter protestors at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A counter protestor strikes a White Nationalist with a baton during clashes at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: White Supremacists and counter protestors clash at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man is seen with an injury during a clash between members of white nationalist protesters against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia State Police move in as members of white nationalist protesters clash against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People struggle with a Confederate flag as a crowd of white nationalists are met by a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: White Supremacists rush forward with shields and sticks during clashes with counter protestors at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A white supremacists stands behind militia members after he scuffled with a counter demonstrator in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacists stands with militia members after he scuffled with a counter demonstrator in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacists stands behind militia members after he scuffled with a counter demonstrator in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 12: White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' take refuge in an alleyway after being hit with pepper spray after the 'Unite the Right' rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-facist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Lee Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Members of white nationalists are met by a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Members of white nationalists clash against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacists carries the Confederate flag as he arrives for a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia State Troopers stand under a statue of Robert E. Lee before a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacist holds a flag during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A member of a white supremacists militia stands near a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia State Police officer aims during clash protests in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: White Supremacists and counter protestors clash at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist with a White Nationalist flag during clashes with counter protestors at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
First responders stand by a car that was struck when a car drove through a group of counter protesters at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide
Rescue workers transport a victim who was injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A man who was hit with pepper spray reacts during a clash between a crowd of white supremacist protesters against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide
White supremacists clash with counter protesters during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacist militia member stands in front of clergy counter protesting during rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A counter protest yells at white supremacists during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A Virginia State Trooper stands guard at the crime scene where a vehicle plowed into a crowd of counter protesters and two other vehicles (rear) near the "Unite the Right" rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
White supremacists stand behind their shields at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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Lisa Woolfork, a University of Virginia professor and Black Lives Matter Charlottesville organizer, said police are mounting a "huge, overwhelming show of force to compensate for last year's inaction."

"Last year, I was afraid of the Nazis. This year, I'm afraid of the police," Woolfork said. "This is not making anyone that I know feel safe."

But some business owners and downtown visitors said Saturday they were comforted by the security measures.

"It's nice that they're here to protect us," said Lara Mitchell, 66, a sales associate at Ten Thousand Villages, a shop that sells artwork, jewelry, and other items.

Kyle Rodland, 35, took his young sons to get ice cream downtown late Saturday morning.

Rodland said he felt much safer than last year, when he left town with his family and stayed with his parents after seeing people armed with long rifles walking around outside his home.

Saturday marked the anniversary of a march by torch-toting white supremacists a day ahead of the larger event in downtown. The group paraded through the University of Virginia's campus, shouting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.

On Saturday morning, the university hosted a "morning of reflection and renewal," with musical performances, a poetry reading and an address from University President James Ryan.

Ryan recalled how a group of students and community members faced off against the white supremacists near a statue of Thomas Jefferson on campus, calling it a "remarkable moment of courage and bravery."

Later Saturday evening, students and activists planned to hold a "Rally for Justice" on campus.

Other events were also planned throughout the weekend, including on Sunday, the anniversary of the violence that erupted on the streets of Charlottesville.

After authorities had forced the clashing crowds of of white supremacists and counterprotesters to disperse, a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

James Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, is charged in state court with murder in Heyer's killing and also faces separate hate crime charges in federal court.

RELATED: Protesters mourn Heyer's killing

12 PHOTOS
Charlottesville rally victim Heather Heyer's memorial
See Gallery
Charlottesville rally victim Heather Heyer's memorial
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro passes a picture of her daughter after speaking at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 16: People embrace at the spot where Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others injured when a car slammed into a crowd of people protesting against a white supremacist rally, August 16, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville will held a memorial service for Heyer Wednesday, four days after she was killed when a participant in a white nationalist, neo-Nazi rally allegedly drove his car into the crowd of people demonstrating against the 'alt-right' gathering. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro is embraced by Heyer coworker/supervisor Alfred Wilson at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Mourners attend a memorial service inside the Paramount Theater for car attack victim Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's cousin Diana Ratcliff fights back tears as she speaks at a memorial service for Heyer inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro is embraced by Heyer coworker/supervisor Alfred Wilson at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro passes a picture of her daughter after speaking at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's father Mark Heyer arrives for her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
People line up to attend the memorial service for Heather Heyer, who was killed at in a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe waits to make a statement after the memorial service for Heather Heyer, who was killed when a suspected white nationalist crashed his car into anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro receives a standing ovation during her remarks at a memorial service for her daughter at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro takes the stage to speak at a memorial service for her daughter at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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The day's death toll rose to three when a state police helicopter that had been monitoring the event and assisting with the governor's motorcade crashed, killing two troopers.

Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of last summer's rally, sued the city of Charlottesville after it refused to issue him a permit for another event this weekend. However, Kessler dropped his lawsuit last week and vowed to forge ahead with plans for a "white civil rights" rally Sunday in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam and the city both declared states of emergency, citing the "potential impacts of events" in Charlottesville during the anniversary weekend. The state's declaration allocates $2 million in state funds and authorizes the Virginia National Guard to assist in security efforts.

The city closed downtown streets and public parks and restricted access to a downtown "security area," where visitors were prohibited from wearing masks or carrying certain items, including skateboards, catapults, glass bottles, bats and knives.

Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle said more than 700 state police will be activated during the weekend.

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