Closures and restrictions around the Downtown Mall, among the security measures initiated for the anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally, came later than expected Friday evening.
Originally planned to shut off vehicle access and limit pedestrian access to the mall at 6 p.m., with two controlled entrances on Water Street, the mall was not fully closed off to pedestrians Friday night.
Corrine Geller, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said the controlled access points on Water Street will begin to be used Saturday morning.
“We’re not trying to restrict pedestrian access [now], just vehicular,” she said.
Market Street Park, which contains the city’s monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, a focal point of last year’s rally, was surrounded by three layers of barricades and closed entirely to the public and will remain so through the entire weekend.
Prior to fencing off the park, a Virginia State Police helicopter circled the mall, a sound that city resident Claire Smith described as “eerie.”
“It reminds me of last year,” she said. “It doesn’t really make me feel safe.”
The promised police presence downtown arrived about 6:30 p.m. when between 40 to 50 state troopers arrived via bus. Dressed in riot gear, they congregated in Market Street Park before heading to the Central Branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, next to the park.
A bevy of tow trucks hooked up with parked vehicles on Market Street, followed by gates being put in place to prevent pedestrian access to the street.
Despite the increasing police presence, downtown remained active. While fewer businesses were open than normal Friday night, those that were open were busy. Many offered discounts.
The plethora of police officers didn’t harm the spirit of activists, either.
Approximately three dozen activists from Occupy ICE held a candlelight vigil in front of the federal courthouse to draw attention to children detained in border immigration facilities.
A representative from the group, who identified herself as Falon, said many of the members came to Charlottesville last year to protest and returned this year in solidarity.
“We want to keep the momentum of our movement going,” she said.
This weekend’s police presence was authorized by Gov. Ralph Northam’s state of emergency declared Wednesday, allowing an estimated 700 state police personnel to Charlottesville to supplement local police departments.
A heavy police and security presence also was reported at the University of Virginia near the Lawn and other areas of the school.
UVa officials also shut down public access to the Lawn and other public gathering places in a last-minute decision by President Jim Ryan.
Ryan also announced that access to a student-organized rally Saturday evening will be restricted to one entrance point and that metal detectors will be used to check for possible weapons.
The university also announced restrictions on items that may be brought to the rally, similar to restrictions put in place for the Downtown Mall throughout the weekend.