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Updated: Charlottesville Leaders Ask Kessler to Move Unite the Right Rally

Posted: Updated: Aug 07, 2017 04:37 PM
Charlottesville leaders holding a press conference on the upcoming Unite the Right Rally Charlottesville leaders holding a press conference on the upcoming Unite the Right Rally
Jason Kessler Jason Kessler
Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones taking part in a news conference Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones taking part in a news conference
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

City leaders and police officers are bracing for the controversial rally set for Saturday at Emancipation Park.

Officials held a press conference Monday, Aug. 7, to discuss the upcoming "Unite the Right" rally. The press conference began around 3:40 p.m., and wrapped up before 4 p.m. Officials did not take any questions from the press.

Authorities have been trying to negotiate with self-described white-activist Jason Kessler to move his rally to a different location.

Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones said during the press conference that Kessler can have his event, but that it must be held in McIntire Park. The city wants to move the rally for safety and logistical reasons, but Kessler is so far refusing to make the change.

"They don't have a legal right to deny us our ability to express support for the monument, in front of the monument as the permit said, " Kessler said.

"The city has serious concerns about ensuring the safety of the expected demonstrators in the park, expected counter demonstrators in the public, and to protect against public and private property damage among other concerns," said Jones.

"Government has no more central role than protecting life and property. Given the sheer numbers projected, the city manager is right to conclude that this event is incompatible with the dense and urban location of emancipation park which is right next to our Downtown Mall, Mayor Mike Signer said.

"I expect Mr. Kessler to cooperate with us by holding his event at the approved venue. Having a demonstration at McIntire Park is safer because the park is large enough to accommodate the size of the anticipated crowd," Chief Al Thomas of Charlottesville police said.

Kessler has said that he expects hundreds of people to rally in support of the statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee at the park. The rally is scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, and is to include speakers and leaders of the alt-right movement.

Earlier this year, Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to rename Lee Park. It was later decided by City Council to have the new name be Emancipation Park. A majority of councilors also voted in favor of removing the Lee statue.

"We will be there in Lee [sic] Park on August 12th no matter what," he said.

Police believe the total attendance will be in the thousands, but that includes protesters and onlookers.

"Having the demonstration at McIntire Park is safer because the park is large enough to accommodate the size of the anticipated crowd.  It also avoids a situation by which overflow crowds spill into the streets as would likely occur at Emancipation Park," said Thomas.

"Their grounds that the numbers are more than they expect are very specious as far as what they say our numbers will be. They had a meeting with me this morning where they had a lot of false statistics," Kessler said.

Kessler claims he will sue the city for demanding the move.

"They don't have a legal right to deny us our ability to express support for the monument, in front of the monument as the permit said," Kessler said. "We are going to challenge this in court., we are going to sue the city of Charlottesville."

NBC29 legal analyst Lloyd Snook says the city cannot regulate the content of a demonstration but can regulate time and place.

"For example you can tell somebody at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 , here is your designated free speech zone, say whatever you're going to say, but its going to be there ... there is some power to say that the government can say where its going to happen," Snook said.

Kessler could sue the city, but he would have to do it quickly.

"Obviously its going to be pretty tough to get a lawsuit filed and everything and heard before Saturday," Snook said.

The Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville released a statement following the press conference, praising Jones' announcement:

This decision protects the safety of the community as well as downtown properties due to the anticipated increase in the size of the crowd.

It is unclear at this time how the Charlottesville Police Department will stop people from rallying at Emancipation Park Saturday.

A city spokesperson said planning details are forthcoming.

Full Statement from the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville:

“The Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville (DBAC) wishes to commend Charlottesville City Manager, Maurice Jones, for his wise decision to relocate the rally scheduled for August 12th from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park. This decision protects the safety of the community as well as downtown properties due to the anticipated increase in the size of the crowd. The size of the McIntire Park location provides more adequate parking and space for individuals attending the rally.” Susan Payne, spokesperson for DBAC.

Statement from Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer:

We on City Council wholeheartedly support the City Manager's decision to move the "Unite the Right" event to McIntire Park because of the ballooning size of the event's attendance.

Government has no more central duty than protecting life and property. Given the sheer numbers predicted, the City Manager is right to conclude that this event is incompatible with the dense and urban location of Emancipation Park, right next to our Downtown Mall. However, at McIntire Park, the voices of all can be heard in a way that's consistent with our duty to the public.

We are thankful for the hard work of our Police Chief and our Police Department in preparing for this event. They are appreciated. Chief Thomas, you are appreciated. We are also grateful to the Governor and the Commonwealth of Virginia for their support.

Just as the "Unite the Right" participants have the right to air their views, so do those who want to protest against those views. Democracy can be noisy, and it can be messy. But by ensuring we protect both public safety and the Constitution through the City Manager's decision, I firmly believe that we will emerge from the weekend of August 12 a stronger community than ever.

 Statement from City of Charlottesville:

We would like to work cooperatively with Mr. Kessler to give him an opportunity to hold his demonstration in McIntire Park. However, if people show up at Emancipation Park, the City will take actions deemed necessary to keep the community safe while honoring everyone's freedom of speech and assembly.  CPD will continue to assess and plan for these possibilities as necessary.

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