Comments by the Public at Charlottesville City Council Meeting on July 17

Please note: 13 of 15 speakers addressed the July 8 and August 12 white supremacist city-sanctioned rallies.

Video of the July 17 Charlottesville City Council Meeting (public comments start at 35 mins).

SPEAKER 1

I believe in speaking from my own perspective and my own experience, which is as a Jew. But before I do that, it is important to me to recognize all of my brothers and sisters here, of every culture, of every gender, from every country in the world - I stand with you in solidarity for your struggle, and it will take all of us together to face this hate down by any means necessary. Thank you.

I was born in 1954, in the shadow of the Holocaust. The ashes were literally still smoldering. I had family members, friends, teachers, with serial numbers tattooed into their flesh. I’ve been called every name you can imagine and some you can’t. I have been spit on, insulted, tapped, threatened - even today, the hate tweets are coming (which means that I’m making some progress, so keep them coming.)

And now I’m 63 years old, and this is still going on, and I’ve had enough. I just can’t take it anymore. And I don’t think we should. I want to say just a few things about what is going on. The City Council did not create this problem, Mr. Bellamy did not create this problem, you just turned over a rock, and we have now seen what was underneath it. There is no place for it in this community.

Regarding the August 12th event, this is not an issue of free speech in my view. It is not an issue of hate speech. It is just hate - pure, naked, vile hate. And we have no obligation to put up with this, there are legal remedies and I know they are being pursued, but this should not stand. If we cannot revoke the permit, let’s find a filthy basement for them to exercise their freedom of speech.

And if nothing else, and I am very serious: there is no place for guns on August 12th. Thank you very much.

SPEAKER 2

I am speaking in reference to this forthcoming rally, which I would rather not see, and therefore I do request revoking this permit, which I believe actually is not in accordance with the standard operating procedures for special events permits, which says if there is a danger this should not go forth. This white supremacist alt white group is creating feelings of fear and I believe terror in many people, and I am one very concerned citizen.

When I was at the July 8th rally, I was there with the clergy, in the beautiful demonstration of unity and harmony, and then I was right up front there, and I saw the state police in the riot gear come out. I felt like I got socked in the stomach, literally. And I said whoa, I don’t feel safe here anymore, this is what I thought, this is from past experience and what I’ve seen in videos of various places.

So what I’m saying, I don’t believe there is a place for this militarization of weapons here in this city, this is not a place for that. We really do need the dialogue on race, and there is a lot of healing that must be done here. And I don’t feel it is in the interest of this city to include this rally on August 12th.

So there needs to be a safe space. We need to pull the permit.

SPEAKER 3

[Goes up to podium shaking an empty tear gas cannister. Shouts “mic check!” and audience responds in force: “mic check!” Hands the cannister to Bob Fenwick, sitting at the end of the table of City Councilors.]

You dropped something councilors [referring to the tear gas cannister]. You dropped it on me, and on a lot of us. I want you to pass that down the row please, I want you each to touch it, I want some accountability, I want you to imagine that thing hitting your flesh at high velocity, as it did for many of us.

A lot of abuses took place on Saturday. I have a handout [begins passing a stack of papers to members of City Council].

If you turn to incident 4 and 5: the streets were blocked off until 6, yet we were instructed to leave. When we went onto the sidewalk, we were told it was an unlawful assembly. Where were we to go? The streets, the sidewalks? There were contradictory directions given by the police. It was inconsistent.

Then, when demonstrators’ backs were to the police, the first tear gas canisters were released. Then this story emerged about protestors using pepper spray on police, I don’t know where that came from, you can see in the ACLU legal observer’s photo there that their backs are to the police, when the first tear gas canister was released.

Incidents 2 and 3: demonstrators were trampled, then the police kicked someone in the head 3 times, before moving on. A third person stepped in to assist that person and then was beaten by a baton, and then was arrested for failure to disperse, in the very act of trying to disperse and help two other people to disperse.

A klansman had a mask pulled over his face as he was leaving, and the police asked him to remove his mask, very politely they asked him to remove it, and he did. Yet when the demonstrators were covering our noses like so [lifts up front collar of shirt to cover mouth and nose], as I did myself, to protect ourselves from the tear gas, three of them were arrested for masking.

[Passes more papers to the City Council] Another account here, a woman by the name of Heather Dorsey, after hugging a policeman actually [at the beginning of the rally], a policeman stepped on her shoe, when she turned around and asked him to step off, he flung her to the ground, you can see her wounds.

This has to stop, this militarization of the police. With militarization, the inevitable result is violence. To a hammer, everything’s a nail.

SPEAKER 4

Good evening. My name is Mary Bauer. I am the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center and a Charlottesville City resident.

Today, LAJC - along with the Rutherford Institute, the ACLU, and the National Lawyers Guild, sent a letter to all of you calling for an investigation into the police actions on July 8. In short, we urged you to use this time between now and August 12 to conduct a thorough, independent investigation of police response to the anti-Klan protests.

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 and carrying weapons typically reserved for war zones.

We ask the city to:

  1. acknowledge that the deliberate choice to use these warzone tactics-instead of planning for de-escalation-is inconsistent with Charlottesville’s values and good policing; and to

  2. conduct an independent investigation into law enforcement’s actions on July 8th

That inquiry should address at least the following questions:

  1. Why/Who requested the Virginia State Police? On what terms were they requested? What conversation was there about the show of force requested?

  2. Whose police officers were dressed in riot gear and why were those officers sent to the area?

  3. Who declared Saturday’s counter protest an “unlawful assembly,” and why? What factors about the counter protest warranted this declaration? (Our own analysis suggests there was no legal basis for that declaration.)

  4. Who ordered the deployment of tear gas and what was the reason for that decision?

We believe that a thorough, transparent inquiry would be good for our city. We call upon this council to create an advisory committee to work with the City Council and the police well before August 12th to ensure that the civil liberties of all participants are protected.

Longer term, we ask that the city Establish a permanent Civilian Review Board for the Charlottesville Police Department comprised of city residents, advocates, and other community members.

This event was a difficult one for our city, to be sure, but we hope that an honest evaluation of what went well and what did not will leave us in a better place on August 12 and beyond.

Thank you.

SPEAKER 5 (two speakers)

First speaker:

I’m here to talk to about what happened and I will be sharing my time, but first I want to make a short statement, that the police need de-escalation training. They were able to maintain control of the crowd throughout an emotionally-charged visit by the klan and then unexpectedly and quickly shifted gears, showing an aggressive and militarized response to the community. Both the people following orders and those giving orders need de-escalation training. I would like to introduce you to [name redacted], I am sharing my time with him.

Second speaker:

How y’all doing today, how y’all doing tonight. I was actually on the line when everything took place, when we chained up. There was no violence out there, our backs were turned to the cops. I was actually tear-gassed several times, I seen a bomb come under my foot, like still I wake up right now, I can hear tingling in my head, just like when the bomb hit the street. I’ve watched this on video games, but I was actually a part of it this time.

But other than that, I feel like the media, the dudes and the people doing these articles, they’re doing a lot of lying. I got a lot of videos, and I got a couple friends with me that got a lot of videos, and it shows that nobody was violent at all. No tear gas, any of that, somebody said they was pepper spraying a cop, I didn’t see any of that.

Police brutality, I think that they used a lot of force out there, like I said, I was hit with tear gas, I was hit with a shield, my hands was up the whole time [puts arms up to demonstrate], I got a video of me walking right back and forth past the cops, peaceful with my hands up the whole time. Never once did we act in any kind of bad way [puts arms down].

I just wanted to say that, just the after affects, I feel paranoid now, I gotta walk through Charlottesville like my life could be threatened, because you know, I made the front of the paper, I was there, I was front line. The city allowed the KKK to come here, to do their rally, their protest and I’m going to be one of the ones who is going to go out there to go against it, every time.

So the last I wanted to say: Kessler, you know I hope y’all ready for August 12th cause we ain’t running, we ain’t hiding, and we will be out there. So if August 12th is coming, the permit is allowed and they’re coming, we gonna be there also.

SPEAKER 6

There are dates and events that happen during people’s lives that they always remember where they were. The birth of a child or children, the Kennedy assassination, Martin Luther King’s assassination, the 9/11 attacks, etc. July 8, 2017 will be one of those days for every resident of Charlottesville.

The day that the Ku Klux Klan came back to town.
The day that the citizens of Charlottesville were tear-gassed.

The malodorous stench of racism has again risen above the surface. Ground zero for this putrid smell originates under the statues of Stonewall Jackass and Little Bobby Lee. The bitter fact that these two bronze participation trophies has given rise to all of this hatred demonstrates the incredibly urgent need for them BOTH to come down now and leave OUR city. It is time now for you to rescind and revoke the permit for August 12th.

The acrid venom that now permeates our community is tied directly to those who revere the false narrative spewed from the Lost Cause. The facts that there are so very many speaking in voluminous tones of evilness, of violence, and of white supremacy should be sufficient to move the Council’s needle towards saying NO.

July 8th made manifest the willingness of the citizenry to unite against any form of wickedness, against any level of stupidity, against any and all that confuse the facts of us being forcefully brought here in chains and stocks as opposed to willingly jumping on the boat. Those who are now speaking in underlying tones of us going back to our country seemingly think that we were on a Carnival Cruise ship as opposed to a slave ship. Point of clarity, my ancestors were not up on deck sipping Mai Tais and playing shuffleboard. They were in the belly of the boat rowing and getting beaten.

It is a widely held notion that evilness and wickedness cannot be driven out by evilness and wickedness, that only peace can do that. We’ve seen the wreckage of communities throughout this country where militarization has been used to try to gather peace. Bodies are littered all over this world because of that. 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 hand, in consideration first.

Please rescind this pathetic and pitiful party that they want to have. If they are so insistent on having it, offer them Monticello, since, God bless Tommy, he was so kind to allow them to organize the first klan meeting there 96 years ago.

Thank you.

SPEAKER 7

First of all, I want to quote my teacher in this life, the Buddha, who said: that if you speak a little you’re blamed, if you speak a lot you’re blamed, if you speak not at all you’re blamed. Everybody feels blamed. Everybody in this room, I know all you all [waves hands at council members], no matter what you say, what you do, somebody blames you. And so, in that spirit, I don’t want anybody to feel blamed, but at the same time, the city does need to take responsibility for what happened on July 8th.

I went up there, I was raised Catholic, I’m of Jewish descent, I’m hitting on two cylinders for what the klan doesn’t like. So I was up there for me, but I was up there for everybody that the klan targets - black, Jewish, whatever, we’re all in the same boat here. But what I witnessed on Saturday was not defense of free speech. I saw a police state operation defending a terrorist group.

This is nothing about free speech. I know you’re a lawyer [gestures at Mayor Mike Signer], and you know as well as I do that law and morality have nothing to do with each other. This brainless defense of free speech is killing us. Freedom of speech, if your speech is being using to promote the idea that other human beings don’t deserve rights, it is not a form of speech that we have any obligation to defend and protect, at all, none.

And so it is incumbent on everybody of conscience, I don’t care what the law says, if the law says we have to defend the klan, we have to defend neo-nazis, we have to resist that law because that is an unjust law. That is not a law based on morality.

George Orwell said that the object of power is power, that’s all it is, and that’s all I witnessed on Saturday. I witnessed a bunch of cops out there, 200, with automated weapons, displaying a show of power to the citizenry. They were intimidating us, while protecting a terrorist group, that is what the Taliban does. We cannot be on the same side as the Taliban, or ISIS or Al Queda, using military force to defend terrorists. It is sending us down a road where there is no redemption.

I am actually appalled that anybody could defend the klan’s right to free speech, or neo-nazis right to free speech. It’s not like we misunderstood what they were saying. I mean they have been pretty freaking clear over the years what they’re about. What are we defending? We aren’t defending much of anything.

SPEAKERS 8 & 9 were the only two out of 15 that did not address the events of Saturday, July 8 during their comments.

SPEAKER 10

I’d like to add my own voice to those of so many others requesting that Mayor Signer, the City Council, the City Manager, or any other city official with the authority to do so rescind the permit for the “Unite the Right” rally scheduled for August 12th.

I - as do many others - believe that this permit should be rescinded because the organizers of this action have made very clear their intention to incite and even commit acts of violence and sow racial hatred in our community. This alone should be cause for canceling the permit.

But city officials continue to defend the permit and by extension, the rally, under the guise of free speech. The problem is, most of our understanding about what freedom of speech means has become increasingly muddled - I’d suggest intentionally so - by reactionary voices focused not on providing more inclusive space for a diversity of voices in our society, but in reinforcing a system where the voices of those with greater social power - white folks, male-identified folks, straight folks, etc. - are able to maintain that power over those with less power.

Let me say it another way: we act as if giving people equal time is the same as creating equality, but in many cases, it simply allows folks with power to continue to act out that power, in ways that continue to hurt oppressed folks.

Acts of speech are exactly that - acts. When we treat all acts of speech as effectively neutral, we help normalize oppressive speech, and further oppressive acts.

And what are folks who have historically suffered and currently suffer forms of oppression expected to do? What do our city officials ask us to do? Ignore it.

We’re asked to ignore all the resources and assistance the city is providing to ensure that folks with values in direct conflict with the alleged progressive vision of this city - the self-styled “Capitol of the Resistance” – have state-sanctioned space to attack it.

We’re told that by allowing ourselves to be angered, to be upset by people who literally would celebrate our deaths and those of many of our loved ones and neighbors, we’re playing into their hands, letting them win, “taking the bait.”

People of color are continually expected to sacrifice their emotions, their hurt, their very humanity in the service of white comfort, which becomes abstracted out into the community at large under the label “public order.” We’re continually asked to police ourselves, when no such expectation is placed on white folks. Instead of being empowered to draw on righteous anger and indignation at injustice, we are told to be smaller, calmer, quieter - or just plain quiet.

This is the price we pay for inclusion in progressive visions of our communities defined through the lens of whiteness, the loss of the very parts of ourselves that could be most valuable in creating freer, more human communities. Any truly progressive city would reject placing such a burden on oppressed folks.

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 terrorism that folks of color simply have to live with, in the interests of the status quo.

SPEAKER 11

I am here this evening to make you aware that we need to go ahead and revoke this permit on August 12th. I was born and raised here in Charlottesville, I am a UVA graduate, I hold an MSW from VCU, and I love Charlottesville. I love that we have the African American festival, I love that we have the Jefferson City Center doing good community education around learning about African American history, instilling pride in the African American community.

I will say that we have been quiet for a long time as black people in Charlottesville. The residents, we have been silent for a very very long time, and July 8, upcoming August 12, these are opportunities that we have never taken advantage of before. We have never taken advantage of those opportunities as black, homegrown, Charlottesville residents, and we need to have the opportunity to speak. So I do support us showing up and saying something and being present, letting the alt right see our faces.

I also very much support revoking the permit in the first place. There is so much conversation that is happening around white supremacy, and breaking down institutions, rebuilding them so everyone is treated fairly, there is a lot of conversation happening around that. Often institutional racism, for me, looks like following the rules when it works out for the bad guy. And essentially, that is what happened on July 8.

You know, if people of color want to stand and talk about what is important to them, it’s very frequent and very easy to get shut down and intimidated, whereas this group comes and they can apply for this permit just like that, and have thousands of dollars be used to protect them. It’s baffling to me, I do agree the law and morality are not the same, and that all of us do need to take a look at ourselves individually regarding the choices that we make.

SPEAKER 12

As a veteran of two wars and former member of the US intelligence community whose job it was to study tactics for a living, I know escalation of force procedures. But perhaps more importantly, I know what it looks like when a hostile occupying force, with no ties to a particular community, spoiling for a fight. That’s what I saw on July 8th. The was no violence perpetrated that day except the hands of those in uniform. I watched a 60 year old woman shoved to the ground by police so hard that she slammed her head into the pavement. I watched members of the clergy and medics struggle through choking clouds of toxic gas to help those who were being threatened, intimidated, and brutalized by an out-of control police contingent that had descended into mob psychology. I watched an Albemarle County sheriff’s officer assault a man who was on the ground with his hands behind his back, kicking him in the face multiple times. I watched police capriciously administer the so-called “law,” allowing armed, violent white terrorists from the KKK to overstay their permit by more than 30 minutes, then having the audacity to declare the crowd of peaceful protestors an “unlawful assembly” within minutes of escorting these violent white terrorists out of town. I watched police politely ask one of these armed white terrorists to remove his mask, no harm, no foul, right? But then I saw protestors being arrested for covering their faces to protect themselves from police chemical weapons.

I also know what ad-hoc, after-the-fact justifications for violence look like, because frankly, I used to write them for the military.

When so-called “leaders” so quickly and unquestioningly coalesce around these justifications for unwarranted police violence, justifications that are so obviously false that it strains credulity to imagine that any thinking person could actually believe them, we are left with only a few possible conclusions: either those “leaders” are guilty of collusion in these acts of violent repression, or they are they lack the power or will to do anything about them, or they are simply incompetent. But the fundamental problem is, no matter which of these may be true, it is the citizens of Charlottesville that suffer.

All of this forces me to ask, who were the police protecting that day? And who are you, council members and Mr. City Manager, protecting now? And who will you choose to protect on August 12th, when we do this all over again? You don’t get to grandstand about being the capital of the resistance while licking the boots of those who are actively trying to crush that resistance. The world is changing, with or without you, and this city is rising up, with clenched fists of all colors raised in resistance against those systems which seek to keep us divided from one another. We are saying no. We are saying enough is enough. And you have a choice to make: you can stand shoulder to shoulder with us or you can continue to enable, empower, and embolden those who violently seek our silence and acquiescence.

Revoke the permit. Demilitarize the police. Drop the charges.

SPEAKER 13

The organizers of August 12th’s “Unite the Right” rally and local white nationalists want you to believe that their rally is about freedom of speech. They will argue that rescinding the permit for the 12th is a blow against free speech, the first amendment, and against the ideals that this country, supposedly, stands for. They would have you believe that speech of any kind, even hate speech, should not only be protected by the first amendment, but given a platform, and unequivocal protection by police, government, the city manager, and the City Council.

We saw this protection in full effect on July 8. This city not only granted a permit to the white supremacist terrorists of the KKK, but then formed a human shield of law enforcement, defending and protecting their racist rhetoric long past the end of their issued permit, and then, turning violent, deploying chemical weapons and arrests at random on a grieving community who were in turn expressing our right to freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech means nothing without the freedom to assemble, and this city’s decision to protect hate speech and racism while physically assaulting peaceful protesters there to represent and protect our community from the very same, shows that your fealty to freedom of speech is nothing more than an empty promise.

The KKK came to Charlottesville because they not only expected, but knew, that the police force and the city government would do nothing to stop that. They came counting on a 100-foot radius between them and whoever would confront them, and you delivered exactly that. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and protecting freedom of speech does not mean elevating hatred to a coddled and privileged position above other citizens, in the form of reserved parking, an extension in permitting, permits to private use of a public park, and a cadre of police with military grade weaponry to snuff out any opposition to their views.

Furthermore some speech is violence. Not rhetorically, but in the very real and very long term effects it has on the mental health of the citizens of this community, particularly black people and people of color. To believe that the organizers of the August 12th rally want to air their views and be part of a “robust debate on the state of America,” is not only naive, but dangerous. Organizers of the August 12th rally have a long record of physical violence, intimidation, stalking, and terror campaigns against Charlottesville and communities nationwide.

If Charlottesville truly wants to call itself the “Capital of the Resistance,” it has to begin by resisting the false narrative these white supremacists want you to buy into. Will you stand up for the ideals you claim to hold, or will you hide behind political centrism. You have to act now and rescind the permit for August 12th, or be written in history as the puppets whose inaction welcomed white supremacy.

SPEAKER 14 (two speakers)

Speaker 1:

Hi, I live here. Drop the charges, rescind the permit. I watched an elder in our community get gassed, and by her own tax dollars.

Speaker 2:

Seventeen-hundred days. Seventeen-hundred days since Sage Smith was last seen. Where is Sage Smith, number one. Say her name! [audience echoes: say her name!]

Number two: everybody knows me as the callout queen. It is taking everything in me not to call you out, Mr. Mike Signer. Today, I will do something different. I will give my account of being brutalized by the police. I have to start off by saying that this instance is reality for black residents, and it is only my white privilege that is the reason why I did not get arrested on Saturday.

After the klan had left, people made their way to an alley where a charter bus, supposedly for the klan, was waiting for members to get on. There were military grad humvees and state police in military gear carrying what looked like assault rifles. The police threatened to arrest us if we did not disperse, so the majority of us walked up the alley, away from the bus. As we were walking out of the alley, one woman was randomly grabbed and swiftly cuffed, a black woman. A number of us had a visceral reaction to what was an unnecessary arrest, so we started yelling at the officers to let her go.

The officers were starting to lead her down a ramp connected to the domestic and juvenille court, so some folks decided to take actions to prevent the officers from taking her away. I joined the action but I was quickly picked off by an officer. I was pulled up by an officer and thrown to the ground back first. I was then accosted by an officer to get up and was helped by someone. I was then thrust into the fray and watched as officers assaulted and tried to arrest my comrades.

My friends stood their ground and police were getting increasingly upset, completely escalated, and an officer pulled out what looked like an assault rifle and pointed it at one of our comrade’s head. The crowd reacted strongly to that, pushing my comrade toward the police officer. The police grabbed me and in an attempt to remove me from the situation, threw me to the ground on my knees.

I was luckily picked up by a fellow comrade, but immediately proceeded to have a panic attack. Medics pulled me out and laid me on the ground, took my BP and pulse, which were at extremely high levels. They attended to me for a couple minutes and warned that they had to move because the police were planning to violently disperse us. We COULD NOT move because the medics were concerned about my BP, and within seconds -

[At this point, the speaker was interrupted by Mayor Signer, who insisted they stop because their time was up. The speaker insisted on continuing, and the mayor called two officers to remove the speaker. Audience protested and the mayor decided to allow the speaker an extra minute.]

LISTEN: I am a victim of domestic violence. I was in a relationship for two years and now I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Every day since then I wake up with nightmares in which my ex and an officer are planning to kill me.

Look at me Mike Signer. You let this happen. Chief Thomas let this happen. You did this. You did this to our community. But guess what. We are stronger than you. We are stronger than the institutions that you protect because we are the community. I will never stop saying Sage Smith’s name, I will never stop until she is found. And I will never stop saying that black lives matter, because my community protects me and I protect them.

It is a shame, what you let happen on Saturday.

SPEAKER 15

[Hands a stack of papers to pass along the row of City Council members.]

With due respect to the short staff of the City Council, I understand that there is a lot of work to do, so we have done that for you. Threats of violence from the organizers and people affiliated with the organizers have been rampant, and section 3.4.5 B of the city special event regulations grant grounds to revoke a permit if there is a clear and present threat to public safety.

So what I would like to do, is read to you some of these threats, which have been obtained from both public and private communications, all with consent. These threats include threats against the City Council, including each of its members, specifically against Mr. Bellamy - they think you’re drunk on power, by the way. And these threats include incitements, not just against people from the left, but also on each other from the right.

In one quote, somebody says, “The point of all this is to lure Mr. Bellamy to the park and get him to do something stupid so we can get him removed.” Now I trust that you have the better part of discretion, so we won’t worry about that. But later in this conversation, in speaking about Richard Spencer, the headliner of this event, this individual affiliated with the individual organizing the event, says “I hate it, and I’d love to turn flank and beat the **** out of him after we finish with the leftists.”

In another post, this individual says, “I can assure you, there will be beatings at the August event.” In advertising the event, they are “calling for all able-bodied men and women ready to fight.” On the Daily Stormer, which is a neo-Nazi site, they are advertising this event gleefully. In this, there is a post where they say that an individual by the name of Kyle Chapman, who goes by Based Stickman online, will be attending the event, and they say, “It should be noted that he is going, and his group is pretty prone to starting violence.” I censored the swear there. Daily Stormer also suggests that they need military members to crack the skulls of black people.

Mr. Kessler stood in front of the police department with a private security force. That security force is a violent biker gang that prides themselves on their ability to break the law and commit violence.

We must revoke the permit.