In response to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the SPLC has released a new training video to help law enforcement agencies prevent violence while protecting the rights of both speakers and protesters when hate groups stage rallies in their town.
The video is narrated by James Cavanaugh, a former special agent in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
“The right to free speech and to express one’s views is a constitutional freedom on which this country was founded,” Cavanaugh says. “The right to protest the views of others is an equally important freedom. And it’s up to you as law enforcement officers to protect your community and its citizens as they exercise these rights. You may be tasked with upholding the free speech rights of hate group members.”
Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said the violence in Charlottesville and other cities illustrated the need to equip police with tips and tactics for protecting protesters and counterprotesters alike. The video includes lessons learned in Charlottesville, where local agencies were criticized for not intervening in assaults they witnessed.
“Charlottesville showed that hate group rallies can quickly turn violent if city leaders and law enforcement authorities don’t plan carefully for everything that might happen,” Beirich said. “Fortunately police can prevent violence, and communities can do their part to respect free speech.”
The rally in Charlottesville was not the only hate event to become violent in recent years. In Sacramento, for instance, seven people were stabbed at a neo-Nazi event outside the state Capitol in June 2016. More than 400 people had arrived to protest the event held by racist skinheads. Hate group events have also been held in New Orleans, Boston, Berkeley and numerous other cities in recent months.
The video was released alongside a detailed event response checklist. The checklist includes tips about the research police should do ahead of an event; how to communicate clearly with representatives of the groups that will be present; and how and where to erect buffer zones and entry checkpoints. It also suggests how to follow up the event with thorough debriefing and a review of photos and videos from the event.
The SPLC has produced six previous training videos for law enforcement. They can be viewed here.