Charlottesville residents filled the City Council meeting Monday night to voice their concerns about how the city handled the recent Ku Klux Klan rally and to discuss the upcoming Unite the Right rally in Emancipation Park. Residents filled the chambers, with some people having to stand in the back of the room.
Many attendants were clad in Black Lives Matter shirts, and many held signs that read “Revoke the permit,” referring to their wish for the city to revoke the permit for the August 12 rally.
Mayor Mike Signer began the meeting by praising counter-protesters at the July 8 KKK rally.
“I was so proud to read the headlines showing that the counter-protesters had outnumbered the pitiful KKK by a factor of 200,” Signer said. “No matter what you chose to do on July 8, the important thing is we spoke with one voice in sending a clear message that we reject racism and intolerance in this community.”
He also said some community members were displeased with how the city handled the rally.
“As you might expect, we've heard a huge amount of feedback related to July 8 and to events to come,” Signer said. “Hundreds of people have praised the city's response...There have been many complaints as well. Many relate to the handling of the counter-protesters after the Klan left the city.”
Signer also discussed some of the requests the citizens had made to him and the City Council since the rally.
“We have received hundreds of emails from ACLU members,” Signer said. “They request that City Council supervise our police force in particular ways. We have received hundreds of emails requesting that we revoke a permit … for an August 12 alt-right rally ... still others have requested that City Council drop the charges for those who were arrested on July 8.”
He received applause from the audience after he mentioned dropping the charges.
According to Signer, he as the mayor and City Council have little power in these matters. He said the police report to the city manager, and the council cannot drop charges because that is a power of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Signer also said in regards to the Aug. 12 rally, he values the right of free speech but recognizes the logistical challenges of having a rally at Emancipation Park.
“On Aug, 12, as a scholar of the Constitution and as an attorney I am passionately devoted to the First Amendment and as a city councilor, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution,” Signer said. “Protecting the freedom of speech should be a sacrosanct obligation for this city; however, I have grave obligations about logistical aspects of this event which has the potential to draw much larger attendance than the earlier one.”
Signer said he would like for the city to look into finding a location for the rally to take place that would alleviate some of the logistical challenges of having the rally downtown, such as the car and pedestrian traffic.
Many community members objected to the rally planned for August 12. Residents demanded the city revoke the permit for the rally.
“Regarding the August 12 event, this is not an issue of free speech in my opinion,” Jeffrey Sands, one of the speakers, said. “It’s not an issue of hate speech. It’s just hate. It’s just pure, naked, vile hate … We have no obligation to put up with this … But this should not stand.”
The rally is expected to draw hundreds of people to the city, but some opponents of the rally said they wanted the permit revoked in the interest of public safety.
“I ask that the city rescind the permit and reject the white supremacist foundation of this entire discussion that there is such a thing as an acceptable amount of racist terror that folks of color simply have to live with in the interest of the status quo,” Marc Mazique said to the council.
May residents also had issue with how the city handled the July 8 KKK rally. Some citizens said they objected to the large militarized police presence.
Religious Studies Prof. Jalane Schmidt spoke at the meeting and listed several acts that she and others objected to by police. These included a counter-protester who was kicked in the head by an officer and the arrests of three counter-protestors for wearing masks as they had their shirts over their face to protect themselves from the tear gas police released.
“This has to stop,” Schmidt said. “This militarization ... the inevitable result is violence. To a hammer, everything's a nail.”
Schmidt also brought with her one of the three tear gas canisters that police released on the crowd at the event to show to city councilors.
“I ask and implore and urge you that you please demilitarize the police, take care of the citizens of our city, take our needs and our desires and our safety … in consideration first,” Don Gathers, former chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces, said to the council.
Mary Bauer, the executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, spoke at the meeting and requested the city investigate how the police handled the July 8 event.
“We appreciate that these are difficult issues, but we have profound concerns about the militarized law enforcement presence on July 8, with police dressed in riot gear driving armored vehicles, carrying weapons typically reserved for war zones,” Bauer said. “We ask the city to acknowledge that this choice to use these kinds of tactics instead of planning for de-escalation is inconsistent with Charlottesville values and good policing.”
There was time available for 15 community members to speak at the beginning of the meeting, but there was a waiting list of 56 others who wanted time to speak.