Charlottesville Leaders Ask Kessler to Move Unite the Right Rally
City leaders and police are bracing for the upcoming rally at Emancipation Park. They want the event to be moved to McIntire Park, but the organizer says no.
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.