Peaceful events, heavy security mark rally anniversary

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Charlottesville, Virginia, was marking the anniversary of last summer's white supremacist violence with marches, vigils and other community events that began unfolding peacefully Saturday amid a heavy police presence.

As many businesses in a popular downtown shopping district began to open Saturday, 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.

"It's nice that they're here to protect us," said Lara Mitchell, 66, a sales associate at a shop that sells artwork, jewelry, and other items. "It feels good that they're here in front of our store. Last year was a whole different story. It looked like a war zone last year compared to what it is today."

Saturday marked the anniversary of a nighttime march by torch-toting white supremacists through the University of Virginia's campus a day ahead of a larger rally in Charlottesville's downtown.

On Aug. 12, hundreds of white nationalists — including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members — descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the city's decision decided to remove a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park.

Violent fighting broke out between attendees and counterprotesters that day. Authorities eventually forced the crowd to disperse, but a car later barreled into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

PHOTOS: Take a look back at the rally

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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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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.

Among the remembrance events scheduled for Saturday was a "morning of reflection and renewal" at UVA that featured 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 supremacist marchers 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.

By midafternoon, the city said hundreds of people had passed through the downtown checkpoints and there had been two arrests, one on a trespassing charge and one on a disorderly conduct charge — both misdemeanors.

Gov. Ralph Northam and the city both declared states of emergency earlier in the week, citing the "potential impacts of events" 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.

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 last year stemmed from a passive response by law enforcement and poor preparation and coordination between state and city police.

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 others said Saturday they were comforted by the security measures.

Kyle Rodland, who took his young sons to get ice cream downtown, 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.

Events marking the anniversary were also expected Sunday in both Charlottesville and Washington, D.C., where Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of last summer's rally, has obtained a permit for a "white civil rights" rally.

Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, said in an interview with The Associated Press that she has been dreading the anniversary of her daughter's death for months.

Bro likened losing a child to standing in shallow water as waves roll continually in.

"You let the wave wash over, and you don't chase it. You let it go and you're OK until the next one comes," she said. "But today, I feel like high tide is in."

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