City Council hears updates for potential August demonstrations from local officials

Council passes two resolutions in preparation for the anniversary weekend of Unite the Right rally

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Charlottesville police chief RaShall Brackney addresses the City Council at the body's July 16 meeting. 

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

The Charlottesville City Council received brief presentations Monday from local officials regarding the region’s preparedness for potential demonstrations next month on the one-year anniversary weekend of the white nationalist Unite the Right rally.

After a community briefing last week regarding the region’s preparations for the anniversary weekend, Assistant City Manager Mike Murphy reiterated that — while no permits have been approved by the City for any events or demonstrations the weekend of Aug. 12 — plans for potential demonstrations next month will continue regardless. 

“No permit has been approved for any event in Emancipation Park,” Murphy said. “However, our plan assumes that there will be a large gathering of people and media, and the plan is not dependent on any particular permit or court ruling.” 

Currently, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler has filed a lawsuit against the City of Charlottesville for denying him a permit to hold an anniversary Unite the Right rally in Market Street Park — formerly Emancipation Park — and is also preparing for a rally in Washington, D.C. — or both — on Aug. 11 and 12. A federal court judge will consider an injunction July 24 to allow the rally to take place. 

Charlottesville police chief RaShall Brackney revealed more details regarding street closures and vehicle restrictions around the Downtown Mall area and near Market Street Park and Court Square park — formerly Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively. 

Brackney said law enforcement personnel would establish a secure, restricted access zone in downtown during the anniversary weekend with High Street and Water Street serving as the northern and southern boundaries of the area while Ninth Street and Ridge McIntire Road will serve as the eastern and western limits. This area includes both Market Street Park and Court Square Park. 

Brackney said both vehicular traffic and parking would be restricted within this area to minimize the risk of pedestrian and vehicle contact during any potential nearby demonstrations. Brackney also said law enforcement personnel will restrict the possession of certain items by individuals within the area as well. 

Later in the meeting, the Council amended an ordinance adopted this past February in a 4-1 vote which prohibits the holding, carrying or displaying of certain items at permitted special events and demonstrations in the city. 

Prohibited items are defined as  “a list of things primarily [that] could be dangerous if used as weapons or people would be bringing specifically to possibly cause harm to other people,” according to acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson. 

Robertson said it was her recommendation — along with Commonwealth's Attorney Joseph Platania and the unified command structure planning for next month — that the original ordinance be amended by Council to expand such restrictions to unpermitted events. 

“There could be events that take place that don't specifically have a permit,” Robertson said. “As written, this original provision would not allow police to set up secure areas or safety zones — which are areas which courts have upheld when necessary to protect the safety of people engaged in a demonstration.” 

The ordinance now prohibits items from a certain area as defined by law enforcement personnel as a security measure for or in connection with any event — such as the restricted access zone to be established downtown as described by Brackney. However, outside of such a predefined boundary as determined by police in preparation for any given demonstration or special event, the ordinance would not necessarily apply to unpermitted events. 

During the community matters portion of the meeting, Albemarle County resident Zoey Krylova was opposed to the notion of restricting access to the downtown area during the anniversary weekend, adding that the city market and businesses should remain open. 

“If we discourage our own community members from coming downtown, the Nazis have won,” she said. “This should be a time when local citizens take over the streets, own their downtown and show up in numbers, whether counter-protesting or patronizing their businesses.”

At the community briefing, Murphy said no decisions have been made by the city thus far to close the city market or any other public recreational facilities the weekend of Aug. 12 but added that such an action would be carried out by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department as it deemed necessary. 

In relation to the University's contribution to the planning process, Gloria Graham — U.Va.’s associate vice president of safety and security — said there has been a memorandum of understanding in existence between the city, county and University since 1994 regarding the joint management of a regional emergency operations center. 

Graham said the University has contributed “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to the center since last August to re-equip the facility with new communications technology and other significant upgrades. In an email to the Cavalier Daily, Graham said the total amount was Approximately $463,000. 

Graham added that the presence of UPD officers and ambassadors will increase on Grounds in the lead up to Aug. 12. 

“There will be an increased university police and security ambassador presence on grounds,” Graham said. “Our police officers’ schedules and regularly scheduled days off are being adjusted to provide this additional coverage. Through our Emergency Operations Center and Unified Command we will maintain direct communication with our local and state law enforcement colleagues in the event supplemental staffing resources are needed on Grounds.”

Capt. Craig Worsham of the Virginia State Police said — in response to public concerns raised at the community briefing last week regarding police inaction last year — that all law enforcement present during the weekend will be able to respond to any incidents of violence. 

“In the event that there is some sort of violent action, the officers down to the lowest level will understand that they can take action and make arrests, and we plan to do that in a very unified sort of way,” Worsham said. 

Worsham added that state troopers and police officers from the region will receive joint briefings in the week before Aug. 12 to ensure all law enforcement personnel receive the same instructions for officer conduct and understand their roles clearly. 

In response to concerns expressed at the community briefing regarding accountability, fire chief Andrew Baxter said the city manager is ultimately responsible for public safety in Charlottesville. Although Baxter was appointed by outgoing City Manager Maurice Jones as the local emergency coordinator earlier this year, Baxter’s role will be largely confined to facilitating emergency communication and coordination with the regional emergency operations center. 

Jones will finish his term with the city July 31 to assume the position of Town Manager of Chapel Hill, N.C. Jones’ contract with the city originally expired in December of this year but was not renewed by the City Council this past May. The Council is currently in the process of selecting an interim city manager who will serve for approximately six months. 

While the Council has yet to announce an interim city manager, Assistant City Manager Mike Murphy sat in for Jones at the community briefing last week and at Monday’s Council meeting. 

Later in the meeting, the Council unanimously passed a resolution temporarily delegating the authority of signing agreements with third parties or other localities to the City’s director of emergency management. The director of emergency management is typically the city manager or whoever is next in the line of succession for the position — such as an assistant city manager, the fire chief or police chief — if the city manager is unavailable for any reason.

Robertson said the purpose of the resolution — effective immediately until Aug. 20 —  was to allow the city’s director of emergency management to quickly sign agreements with property owners to stage law enforcement personnel or receive mutual aid from other localities for example. 

Typically, the Council would have to approve such an action, but the temporary resolution waives that requirement in preparation for the anniversary weekend. 

Robertson also said the resolution allows for the director of emergency management to sign a memorandum of understanding currently being finalized between the City and the VSP to publicly detail how the two entities will coordinate operations next month. Such a document was not utilized in preparation for the Unite the Right rally last year according to Robertson. 

The Council also incorporated language into the resolution requiring the director of emergency management to “immediately” inform councilors of any agreements the director enters into — a process Councilor Mike Signer said did not take place last August when he was mayor. 

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