FERGUSON: City Council has failed Charlottesville

Charlottesville City Council bears significant responsibility for the violence and division that has come to Charlottesville in recent months

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Charlottesville City Council in session

Katja Cresanti | Cavalier Daily

Charlottesville’s City Council has damaged the city it is supposed to serve. It has consistently shown both poor judgement and a lack of foresight when responding to the recent white supremacist and white nationalist activity which has taken place in Charlottesville over the past several months, and is largely to blame for bringing such activity to Charlottesville. By causing courts to consider the legality of moving the Robert E. Lee statue, it brought unnecessary attention to Charlottesville, causing white nationalist and white supremacist groups to focus their attention here. Were it not for their incompetence, Charlottesville would not be the epicenter of white supremacist activity in America today. 

On Feb. 6, Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy and City Councilors Kristen Szakos and Rob Fenwick voted to relocate Lee statue from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park, with Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer and City Councilor Kathy Galvin voting against such action. Bellamy, Szakos and Fenwick acted in total disregard for Virginia law, which forbids war monuments from being disturbed. Such action was in vain — no matter how the Council voted, it would require a change to the Code of Virginia from the General Assembly to lawfully relocate the statue.

In response to the City Council’s vote, several plaintiffs — including the Virginia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — sued the city in March for attempting to disturb the statue. Additionally, white nationalist rallies broke out on May 13, July 8 and Aug. 11 and 12 in relation to the issue. 

On Sept. 5, the City Council unanimously voted to remove the statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson from Justice Park. Additionally, since the unrest, the City Council has repeatedly shrouded the Lee statue, drawing yet more unnecessary and unconstructive attention to the issue. Instead, the City Council should have examined what happened as a result of initially addressing the question of removing the statue. If Virginia’s citizens want the law regarding war memorials changed, they will vote for representatives in future elections who agree the statute should be revisited. Until that has been clearly established, the Council should act within its realm of authority and avoid tackling such contentious issues. 

The legality of removing the statue is currently under review. On Oct. 4, Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore ruled that Title 15.2 precludes the removal of monuments — including Confederate memorials — constructed before the law was enacted. Such a ruling allows the plaintiffs’ case against the City of Charlottesville to proceed. City officials argue that the statues of Confederate Generals Lee and Jackson have no association with the Civil War and by extension are not protected by Title 15.2. Judge Moore ruled that the plaintiffs must prove that the statutes constitute as war memorials to be protected. 

Hate will persist in our country and throughout the world no matter what action the Charlottesville City Council takes or does not take. Spencer and other white nationalists returned to Charlottesville on Oct. 7 to hold another rally, spurring further counter-protests. Those who belong to radical groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Antifa and others which brought violence and division to our city ultimately bear responsibility for their actions. However, the vast majority of those people are not from Charlottesville or even Virginia. The choices of the City Council brought these hateful individuals to Charlottesville and scarred our community.

While the memorialization of the Confederacy remains a contentious issue in Virginia and across the country, the City Council did not act in the best interest of Charlottesville by attempting to bypass the General Assembly in passing a resolution of questionable legality. Not only does it show general disregard for the rule of law, but it also resulted in a cascade of unintended consequences that Charlottesville was clearly not ready to handle. The violence that broke out during the Aug. 11 and 12 rallies was allowed to escalate to a point where the safety of the public could not be guaranteed. In continuing to draw attention to the statues, the Charlottesville City Council has shown they have learned nothing from the mistakes that lead up to the tragedies in August. 

None of the City Council members deserve to be entrusted with any amount of responsibility on a municipal level ever again. I call on all of them to resign in disgrace for their culpability in attracting hate to our home. They have shown a preference for expedient decision making over critical consideration of their actions and their ramifications. In order to ensure the safety and continued prosperity of our city, we must demand higher levels of competency, wisdom, foresight and leadership from our elected officials. 

Thomas Ferguson is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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