CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville Councilors Heather Hill and Lloyd Snook released a joint statement in their first public comments about Mayor Nikuyah Walker’s Facebook poem.
After the release of the six-paragraph statement, Hill spoke with NBC29 on a Zoom interview. The conversation started with a reflection of the message.
“I think first and foremost, you know, I as Heather Hill understand I can’t truly understand the present-day impact of our country’s history on Black Americans in this country,” she said.
Hill and Snook said in the statement that they “do not - because we cannot - share her pain” and that “no one can judge someone else’s pain.”
But Hill says she’s distressed about the language Walker used to convey her message.
“As elected officials, we have to think really carefully about the words that we choose and recognize that the impact that they may have, and in this case, whether it’s on victims of sexual assault or just a broader community given how it presents our community to the world.”
The poem made national headlines, but in Charlottesville, council business has continued. Thursday night the body held a budget hearing where the poem was only brought up once by a public commenter.
“I think if last night’s any indication I think there’s ability to pivot and stay focused on the work of the city,” Hill said.
That’s Hill and Snook’s goal: stay focused on the work - the work that they say is “what people should be seeing in the national headlines” and has made progress “toward a more equitable city.” Hill says it’s been hard for her to do that this week.
“If we can’t overcome this churn in the cycle of divisive language, I feel it’s really impending us doing the good work,” she said. “I mean, I’m exhausted.”
Moving forward, Hill says the next council meeting on April 5 is sure to be filled with different perspectives, and she says it’s important to be open to hearing all of them.
You can read the full statement from Hill and Snook below.
“On Wednesday, Mayor Nikuyah Walker posted a poem on multiple social media platforms that likened the City of Charlottesville to a rapist who then comforts and oppresses his rape victim. This post has received national attention.
As White individuals, we can only dimly understand the present-day impact of America’s history of slavery, lynching and sexualized violence toward Black people in general, and toward Black women in particular. We see daily the pressure on Mayor Walker, as the sole representative on our Council of a marginalized and historically oppressed group. We do not – because we cannot – share her pain; no one can judge someone else’s pain. And we are appalled at the threats, both direct and indirect, that Mayor Walker has received in response to her post.
But it can never be appropriate for our Mayor – as our leader and as our representative – to use terms of sexual violence to characterize the City of Charlottesville. The “rape” metaphor was salacious, but it was also jarring and hurtful to victims of sexual assault and rape, and deeply unfair in how it presents Charlottesville to the world. We should not gloss over our difficult history of race relations, but as elected officials, we must choose our words carefully.
We wish that our city was being seen for the many things our community has been accomplishing, especially since the alt-Right violence of 2017. Since 2017, Charlottesville has made historic commitments to affordable and deeply affordable housing, to the redevelopment of our public housing through resident-led planning, to grass roots initiatives for mortgage and rent relief to prevent evictions, and to a panoply of bold housing plans on par with much larger municipalities. We have started programs to train people for living wage jobs and to teach them how to start up independent businesses, even during a pandemic. We have launched a Police Civilian Review Board, fare-free public transit, and local food justice initiatives. We are working on a sweeping affordable housing plan, a rewrite of our Comprehensive Plan with an emphasis on racial equity, a new zoning plan that looks to begin to undo historic segregation patterns in single-family housing, and a climate action plan that will work for all of us.
These initiatives – and many more – are what people should be seeing in the national headlines about the City of Charlottesville. We remain committed to investing resources and repairing broken systems so that all in our community have the opportunity to thrive. We still face many challenges, but if we work together as leaders, and shoulder to shoulder with our citizens, we will continue to make progress toward a more equitable city.
Some of the progressive programs outlined above were begun before any of us joined City Council. Some of them have been started during our times on Council. When Charlottesville has made progress on these issues, it has been with support of people of all backgrounds. The funding for these initiatives has come from the tax dollars of people of all backgrounds. Our future success depends on the good will and the desire for unity of people of all backgrounds. This poem did not help build that unity.”