After shouting down the mayor and city council members, the citizens of Charlottesville, Virginia, gave more than four hours of heartfelt testimony about how city officials had failed in their response to the deadly “Unite the Right” rally during Monday’s city council meeting.
In response to residents, the city’s officials did agree to conduct a third-party review of the city’s planning and reaction to the rally. The council also voted unanimously to take the first administrative steps to remove a statue of the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson in the city. This was ironic, considering the fact that the council’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee earlier this year was what prompted nationalists to rally in the city in the first place.
Meeting for the first time since the rallies took place on Aug. 11 and 12, bringing hundreds of protesters to Charlottesville, city council members were confronted with furious residents who blamed police officers for not engaging during repeated scuffles which ultimately turned deadly when one woman, Heather Heyer, was killed after a man drove his car into a group of counter-protesters.
The moment the rally was mentioned at the meeting, several residents began loudly blaming city officials for allowing the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally to take place. Things got so heated that police officers forcibly removed three people, sparking the rest of the attendees (more than 100) at the meeting to angrily chant, “Shame,” and, “Shut it down!” The three were charged with disorderly conduct.
“I’m outraged!” Tracy Saxon, 41, stated at the meeting. “I watched my people get beat and murdered. They let Nazis in here have freedom of speech, and they protect them? And we can’t have freedom of speech?”
A banner with the words, “Blood on your hands!” was put up by two people as council members and the mayor left the room. The residents refused to calm down until the authorities promised to release the residents who had been taken away and let people have their say.
Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, the only African American on the council, was the sole member who remained. He negotiated with residents to restore order in exchange for scrapping the meeting’s regular agenda and giving each person one minute to speak.
Order was restored half-an-hour later, and for the next few hours, speaker after speaker told of their anguish over what the community had experienced. Several people wept and said they had been unable to sleep since witnessing violence against their neighbors.
“I’m not the same person I was that day,” said Paul Hurdle, who shook as he described the events.
Gail Weatherall, who said she had lived in Charlottesville for 35 years, called for a citizen-led review of the events and the city’s response.
Several speakers criticized the council members for not having heeded warnings to avoid the protest and promised to vote them out of office. But city officials claimed that they had tried to deny the rally a permit, but that a federal court had ruled in favor of the protest organizers.
“We tried really hard,” Mayor Mike Signer said. “A federal judge forced us to have that rally downtown.”
His excuse was met with jeers, and the shouting continued.
Signer took the brunt of the community’s ire, as many demanded his resignation.
Responding to residents’ concerns, Maurice Jones, the city manager, said Charlottesville would have a third party review the city’s response to the gathering. He urged residents to submit specific complaints of serious incidents to the police chief.
Afterward, the city council voted unanimously to drape the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in black to signify mourning.
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