R&K photo editor Cengiz Yar was in Charlottesville this weekend, documenting the anniversary of last year’s violent protests.
On the eve of the anniversary of the protests that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer (32)—who was killed when 21-year-old James Fields, Jr drove his car into a crowd of people counter-protesting the Unite the Right rally—Charlottesville was on lockdown. Street after street of the historic downtown was barricaded with police cars and metal fencing in an effort to limit and corral movement downtown. The only entrances to the city’s main pedestrian walking area were heavily monitored, TSA-styled pat downs where items ranging from umbrellas to knives were forbidden (I had to ditch a lighter). “They’re trying to make us quit smoking,” a heavily tattooed man said, laughing as he stood smoking outside a bar in inside the restricted zone. Beer, it seemed, was still alright.
The restrictions and police presence didn’t deter people from roaming the streets. Some families came to pay tribute to last year’s events. Standing at the site where Heather Hayder was killed, Deborah Poulin (47), wiped tears from her eyes as she looked over the chalk writing and flowers people had left on the brick and sidewalk. “We’ve lived here for 22 years, so last year was a pretty profound moment for us,” Poulin said, standing next to her daughter Emma (14). Poulin ran into Heyer’s mother earlier in the year who told her to take lots of selfies with her daughter. “She kind of helped me that day,” Poulin said painfully. “It’s just been a hard year.”
Later in the day, on the university grounds where last year white nationalists carried torches chanting “you will not replace us”, hundreds of protesters gathered. Carrying banners and chanting slogans, some people shouted for their right to protest the government, others chanted “black lives matter”, and some led a “fuck Trump” chant. As the peaceful protests began marching through campus, then quickly encountered a massive, heavily armored police force and turned back to walk through town. The violence of last year was nowhere to be seen and the message sent by protesters was simple: Nazis aren’t welcome in Charleston. Not this year at least.