Charlottesville Preparing to Handle Anniversary of August 12th Weekend
New details are emerging about Charlottesville City Hall's plan to deal with whatever may unfold around Emancipation Park on the anniversary of Jason Kessler’s Unite the Right rally.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - New details are emerging about Charlottesville City Hall's plan to deal with whatever may unfold around Emancipation Park on the anniversary of Jason Eric Kessler’s Unite the Right rally.
The city has been preparing since March for the one year anniversary of the August 12th rally. Supporters, some of whom have ties to white supremacy, had gathered in Emancipation Park to protest the possible removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The area around the park saw violent clashes between those supporters and counter protesters, with some showing support for activist groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa.
"As a person who was certainly on the outside looking in last year, I just felt like we were really lacking in communication between both the city as an organization and the broader community, and obviously that creates a lot of anxiety," Charlottesville City Councilor Heather Hill said.
Officials expect many people will show up this year to honor those injured or killed, to heal, or to demonstrate in some way. The city is not releasing crowd estimates at this time.
"This time around we've learned some lesson, and I think the people involved are constantly talking about things that we want to do differently," said city spokesperson Brian Wheeler.
Details are still being planned for the weekend of August 10-12, but folks should expect authorities to close off more roads, restrict pedestrian access, as well as parking and general recreation.
The Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) has been training with Virginia State Police in crowd-management scenarios. A task force had concluded that some officers did not understand how to handle situations during incidents last year, and that there were communication issues. An independent review came to a similar conclusion.
Law enforcement officers will likely establish a perimeter around downtown Charlottesville starting Friday, August 10. Inside that perimeter will be multiple security checkpoints. Drivers should plan for vehicular access to most of the surrounding area of the Downtown Mall to be restricted for that entire weekend.
The city says having new leaders at the table - including CPD Chief RaShall Brackney, and two new members to City Council - means new ideas. However, City Manager Maurice Jones will be gone by the end of July. He had faced criticism for his role in handling Kessler's rally.
"This is not ideal timing for us to be shifting leadership, at the same time we have a number of resources within both city staff and the other organizations that have stepped up," said Hill.
"This time around we have one unified, flexible plan," Wheeler said.
Downtown businesses, which were dramatically impacted by last summer's events, are concerned about how a typically busy August weekend will play out for them.
"Each business is going to have to determine on their own, ‘do we stay open? Do we have a special event? What do we do that weekend? I would hope it could be business as usual," said Phil Sparks, Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
At this point, several groups or individuals have applied, but no one has been granted a permit to hold an event in Emancipation Park on August 12.
Kessler’s application for an anniversary rally on August 11th and 12th was denied. He is currently fighting that decision in federal court, claiming the city is denying his First and 14th Amendment rights. A hearing on a preliminary injunction is scheduled for July 24, while a five-day jury trial is set to begin sometime in April of 2019.
Kessler still wants to hold an event somewhere in Charlottesville that weekend, and is also planning to hold event in Washington, D.C. at the same time. The National Park Service approved his application, but has not yet decided if Kessler can hold a two-day event in Lafayette Park.
Several Charlottesville groups are preparing for events to promote unity and positivity on August 12th. The Cville Sing Out is planned to take place at the Ix Art Park. Meanwhile, the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP plans to hold a forum at Zion Union Baptist Church. A schedule of events can be found at the #ResilientCville site.