Update: In a press conference held Dec. 10, Chief of Police Dr. RaShall Brackney said that the Unitarian Universalists of Charlottesville Church's claims were not supported by evidence and cited the church's letter as an attack on CPD, calling on Rev. Dr. Linda Peebles and the church's board to resign. A follow-up news article is available here.
According to a news release from the Unitarian Universalists of Charlottesville Church on Rugby Road, several officers with the Charlottesville Police Department surrounded and questioned a Black man in his 60s while he was walking to a church event Oct. 7 in response to a 911 call from a University student. Up to five CPD vehicles allegedly arrived on scene, and CPD is currently conducting an internal affairs investigation into the officers’ response — which many are calling an act of “racial profiling.”
The police officers were concerned that the church member matched the description of a suspect responsible for a string of recent robberies in the area, per the news release. However, UUC board members wrote in a letter addressed to Charlottesville Chief of Police RaShall Brackney that “the suspect looked nothing like our church member, other than both men are Black.”
After the church member was ruled out as a suspect in the robberies, the letter says police officers insisted that he provide his Social Security number and identification and suggested that he find another way of walking to the church. UUC requested that CPD apologize to their community member, who serves as chair of the church’s grounds committee.
“He has faced discrimination for ‘walking while Black’ before, but this racial profiling and harassment must stop,” the letter reads. “Your police department owes our member an apology. He needs to feel safe in our church neighborhood.”
UUC released its letter Oct. 14 and CPD received the complaint Oct. 19, giving the department 45 days — until Dec. 3 — to complete the investigation. CPD public information officer Tyler Hawn said that because the investigation is ongoing, the department is unable to publicly comment at this time but will release information once the investigation is completed. Hawn said they expect the investigation to be complete within the next 10 to 15 days.
Rev. Dr. Linda Peebles, interim senior minister of the UUC, confirmed that the robbery suspect and their community member look nothing alike apart from their skin color, adding that there is also a large age difference.
During the church member's interaction with the police, Peebles said a white member of the UUC walked over to the officers to see what was occurring and told the police officers that he was a member of the UUC’s congregation, after which the officers left.
“The white woman and then a couple other of our leaders that were there that started hearing his story could not bear to hear this — that this person that they respect and admired was being harassed in that way,” Peebles said. “We think that everybody should have the right to be able to walk on the sidewalk without demanding the attention of five police cars.”
Peebles said that CPD responded to the letter promptly and issued an apology to the church member, but said that she hopes that the investigation will prompt the CPD to train police officers to respond more appropriately to calls.
Peebles also said that she would like students and University leadership to “work in harmony to protect the rights and the safety of all the residents of Charlottesville” with the CPD.
In addition to contacting the CPD, Peebles said that she also spoke with Dean of Students Allen Groves, who said that he would look into the matter.
“Our request for [Groves] was, just like with the police, that the leadership be conscious that this is an important issue,” Peebles said. “Students and residents and police need to be educated that just because a person is African American doesn’t mean that they have to have the police called on them.”
Both Defund Cville PD and UUC’s board condemned the officers’ and student’s alleged actions in respective letters.
In a letter to the editor, Defund Cville PD urged the community to stop calling the police and condemned both the officers who confronted the church member and the University student who contacted the police.
“This is a clear instance of racial profiling,” the Defund Cville PD letter to the editor reads. “There is no excuse for this type of harassment and endangerment. These officers must be held accountable for their actions, and we as a community must be accountable for the danger we enact when we call the police.”
The letter also calls for the immediate firing of the officers involved. As of Wednesday, the letter has been signed by 15 additional organizations from the University and Charlottesville community organization’s letter, including the Black Student Alliance, UndocUVA and Young Democratic Socialists of America at U.Va.
This article has been updated to remove the name of the man who was approached by the police.