Monday, September 11, 2017

Charlottesville Post August 12

Several times on this blog, I have voiced my frustration with the disparity between Charlottesville's much-touted public image as a charming, friendly college town and the ugly reality for its residents who aren't rich, white, and well connected. The terrorist attack here on August 12th shredded our glowing public profile and as Charlottesville City Council hires a PR firm to fix our image, city residents of all backgrounds grapple with the serious issues in our community and try to find a way to fix them. And as city residents have spoken out at city council and town hall meetings, the depths to which the local government betrayed us becomes more evident.

At the very first city council meeting, a few days after August 12, mayor Mike Signer started the meeting by threatening anyone who got out of order with arrest. (I wasn't there in person, but was watching the live feed.) Then the audience was forced to sit through an interminable period of business as usual, while council members read irrelevant proclamations and took plenty of time to voice their own thoughts. The audience was remarkably patient, I thought, because even at home, I was jumping in my seat, especially when a council member made a dig at the crowd, surmising that there wasn't room in the chamber for one of HER invited guests because of the large audience that evening.  In the face of this breathtaking insensitivity, a few audience members began to speak out of turn. Mayor Mike Signor ordered them dragged out of the room by police and arrested. This mayor is a liberal democrat who enjoys preening for the media and fatuously declared Charlottesville the "Capital of the Resistance" back in January.

It's going to take a lot more than platitudes to fix this town.

After the arrests, the meeting dissolved into chaos, the councilors fled the chambers, and a group of protestors rushed the desk with a huge banner inscribed with BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS. Eventually, Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy returned to the room and upended the usual meeting procedure and said that anyone who wanted to speak could do so, for one minute each, and the remaining four councilors trickled back into the room, although Signor fled again when one speaker seemed angrier than the others. And the people spoke. They spoke at this meeting, and at the town hall a week later, and at the next city council meeting. The outpouring of stories and experiences of betrayal is horrifying.  Here's some of what came out of these meetings:

  • White supremacist groups posted widely on social media about their plans for violence on August 12th. Citizens warned both UVA and local government but nothing effective was done. There was a very late attempt to have the rally moved to a different park, but it was defeated in federal court.
  • White supremacist groups posted about planned targeted violence in African-American housing projects in Charlottesville. Residents asked for help and were ignored.
  • An event was scheduled for the same day intended to give free school supplies to low income children. White supremacists posted on social media, their intent to raid this event and stab the children. Residents asked for help and were ignored.
  • A group of people were trapped in a church on the night of Friday, August 11, surrounded by torch-bearing terrorists.
  • Members of the Jewish synagogue had asked for protection, but were trapped inside on August 12, while nazis marched outside their door. They eventually fled from a side entrance, carrying the Torah with them.
  • UVA police did absolutely nothing when a small group of counter-protesters were completely surrounded by torch-bearing nazis who threw fuel on them and tried to light them on fire and burn them alive. (Pictured above.)
  • City of Charlottesville and state police witnessed beatings, pepper-sprayings, and even a man firing a gun into the crowd and did nothing. (In contrast, peaceful counter-protesters after the KKK rally were mercilessly teargassed simply for being in the street, which was closed to traffic.)
  • The white nationalist terrorists arrived three hours before the time of their permit and police did nothing to stop them.
  • A man who moved here from another state and thought it was great until it dawned on him that you never see people of color except in service roles.
  • Multiple accounts of harassment in neighborhoods by roving terrorists.
  • Multiple accounts of people describing how they were abused at the rally.
  • Multiple accounts of people begging the police to help them and being ignored.
  • Multiple accounts of street medics offering aid when police wouldn't.
  • After the terrorist attack in which a car was driven across a pedestrianized area, straight into the crowd, killing one woman and injuring many more, an armored vehicle drove to the crowd, blocking access for emergency vehicles and pointing guns at the victims of the attack.
  • A woman described chasing nazis out of her neighborhood in the days after the attack.
  • A woman tearfully described how her daughter's legs were crushed by the terrorist's car and how her daughter wasn't included in the final injury count because only people taken to UVA hospital were counted. Her multiple requests to include those taken to the community hospital in the total injured were ignored.
  • General racial and social inequity in Charlottesville, such as lack of affordable housing, targeted harassment of POC by police via "stop and frisk" practices, unfair racial bias in removing children from their homes and putting them into foster care, city recently imposing steep parking fees on hourly workers in the city, despite vociferous opposition from residents.
  • The terrorists have pledged to return and continue the violence.
  • August 12 was not a rally, it was an invasion by a hostile army, intent on doing harm. Please take a minute to imagine how you would feel if your town were to be overrun by a large group of armed, violent, hostile people, with a proclaimed intent of doing harm to local residents, who ran amuck for an evening and the entire next day while police stood by and did not try to stop them.
One of many public threats of violence prior to August 12th

I was in Buffalo for the town hall meeting, but I emailed all the council members about the three men who tried to kill me on Monday, August 14th. I suggested that 911 dispatchers be trained to recognize terrorism when calls like mine come in. The only councilor who responded was Wes Bellamy, who asked if I was OK.

  1. Charlottesville City Council rolled over onto their backs for the white supremacist terrorists in precisely the same way they have always rolled over onto their backs for developers who won't build affordable housing and who trample on residents' rights on a daily basis.
  2. Living in a white supremacist town like Charlottesville is degrading for EVERYONE, not just the oppressed. 
  3. In the current climate, if you are an active opponent of white supremacy you're treated as an enemy of the state - as has now been demonstrated multiple times here in Charlottesville.
  4. There is no going "back to normal" for Charlottesville. We must exorcise the deep-seated racism and classism in this community.
  5. Up until recently, Charlottesville was very much a "that would never happen here" kind of place. Well, it happened here. And it could happen again anywhere. DON'T let white supremacy get a toehold in your community.
Jon and I are starting to get involved in Nikuyah Walker's campaign for city council. She's an independent candidate, who announced she was running long before the A12 events, but she has really emerged as a leader since. I'm tired of city councilors who run on a liberal platform and then screw residents the minute they're elected. The first city council meeting can be viewed here, at the Charlottesville Daily Progress' facebook page. The town hall can be viewed here. I can't find a link to the third meeting, but it was recorded live. (I realize no one is going to spend nine hours watching these, but I'm linking as validation for what I've described.)


  1. You left out the part about the 'leaked memos' and the city council behaving like a bunch of middle school mean girls.
    And the part about the last council meeting, where vice mayor Bellamy was rude to a gentleman who spoke that he didn't agree with and then went on a social media tangent about it, further dividing our city. I for one am tired of being labeled racist because I don't necessary hold the same views as someone else who just so happens to have a different skin color than mine. Sometimes you can disagree with someone on issues and it's not because of what they look like, it's because you have a different approach. We need to be able to listen to each other or none of this is going to get fixed. Having leaders who refuse to listen is a problem.

    1. You are so right, Becky. I think everyone on city council needs to go. They brought this shit storm down and now they want everyone to shut up about it (while they duck out of the room during meetings). And any official who says they're tired of compromising shouldn't be in office.

      I cannot believe how passive the police were on August 12 and I still don't understand who ordered that approach and why.

    2. I know! I was going to get into that, but the post was getting long. I was also disgusted by how Mike Signer and Kathy Galvin each had to call separate press conferences for themselves to make unsubstantial self-promoting announcements. And how police listened to nazis lies about violent counter protesters.

  2. Gosh, this sounds SO exhausting and frustrating and sad. I am sorry to read this. I'm also heartened by other people, like you, stepping forward to demand accountability and change. It's such a chore to do that, but important work. It's easy to hunker down and ignore these things, especially when they don't affect you directly.

  3. Thanks for you tireless and ambitious reporting!