Three arrested as councilors vote to shroud Confederate statues at meeting overwhelmed by anger
Three Charlottesville residents are facing misdemeanor charges after Monday evening’s raucous City Council meeting that was taken over by those demanding answers for the city’s handling of the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally.
Donna Gasapo Gray, 43, was charged with disorderly conduct. Two others, Mark Heisey, 30, and Sara Michel Tansey, 29, were chared with obstruction of justice.
The council agreed to continue the meeting following the arrests, but cancelled the planned agenda. The meeting then turned into a town-hall style meeting that ended after 1 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Updated, 1:11 a.m.
The Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously early Tuesday morning to cover the city’s statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in black fabric, which will represent the city’s mourning of Heather Heyer.
Heyer was killed earlier this month in what many have described as white nationalist terrorism. At least 30 others were injured in the attack.
Some time after the Aug. 12 white nationalist Unite the Right rally was shut down by authorities due to violence between ralliers and counter-protesters, a 20-year-old man from Ohio who came to attend the rally allegedly drove his car into a crowd of Downtown Mall pedestrians on Fourth Street.
The council voted on other resolutions after a tumultuous council meeting Monday evening. Activists and residents took over the meeting to express their anger and frustration about how the city and police officials handled the rally.
In addition to seeking the removal of the city’s Lee statue, councilors voted to direct the Board of Architectural Review to make a decision on removing the nearby Jackson statue.
It was a total takeover.
People in the crowd said three were arrested. They called for Mayor Mike Signer’s removal. His eyes welled as people told the City Council how they experienced the vicious car attack that slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters crossing the Downtown Mall.
A woman said her daughter was supposed to start her fourth year at the University of Virginia this week. She won’t be attending the first day of class because of her injuries, the mother said.
Another man said he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said he can still see the bodies that went flying after the car struck the crowd several hours after the Unite the Right rally was shut down because of rampant street-fighting outside Emancipation Park, the location where white nationalists and white supremacists gathered on Aug. 12 for their Unite the Right rally.
Within 30 minutes of starting its meeting, the entire City Council, the city attorney, the city manager and council clerk all retreated into a backroom. Two women stood on top of the dais with a banner: “Blood on your hands.”
City Council candidate and community activist Nikuyah Walker asked: “Why did you think you can walk in here and do a business-as-usual meeting after what happened on the 12th?”
Mayor Mike Signer and Councilor Kathy Galvin are now supporting the removal of Charlottesville’s statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, but the change did not spare them from criticism Monday.
Last week, Signer asked for the state General Assembly to hold an emergency session to consider amending the state’s law regarding statues. A lawsuit citing that law is preventing the city from removing the statue as planned because of a court injunction.
A spokesperson for Gov. Terry McAuliffe intimated last week that a special session was unlikely.
Photos and video of the attack on Deandre Harris, an instructional assistant with the city schools, remain viral on social media.
Galvin held a news conference Monday to announce her change of mind, and she called for the removal of the statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, too.
“It is time for the Jackson and Lee statues to be relocated to a battlefield park or a museum where they will neither be reviled or revered,” she said, adding that she’d prefer the statues there so they can be “preserved and explained” more fully.
She said the state legislature would need to play a role in their removal.
“We’ve been told that if we take them down tonight, we’re going to be personally sued,” Councilor Wes Bellamy said Monday night. “We will personally be held liable and charged with a class-six felony.”
Councilor Kristin Szakos encouraged the protesters to challenge the state’s legislators.
“You can’t just show up to City Council meetings,” Szakos told the protesters. “You have to go to the state legislature. Virginia has laws that restrict what we can do.”
Signer and Galvin’s change of heart, however, failed to placate those who accosted their local elected officials almost immediately at the start of the meeting.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony said there was not enough evidence to convict Jason Kessler of disorderly conduct stemming from the May 14 vigil.
It then became an urban-populist coup.
“Someone needs to be held accountable,” said Don Gathers, the former chairman of the blue ribbon commission that recommended relocating the Lee statue.
“Something is going to happen … by any means necessary,” he added. “People are tired and they’re fed up … it’s going down, for real.”
Social justice activist Emily Gorcenski said many protesters had tried to warn the city that violence would come to the city if the rally was permitted.
Aside from the well-documented clashes that took place on Market Street and in Emancipation Park, protesters Monday said the Unite the Right ralliers went to majority African-American communities south of the downtown area to harass residents there.
Gorcenski said activists and counter-protesters took it upon themselves to defend the community.
“Charlottesville isn’t the capital of the resistance,” Gorcenski said, excoriating Signer’s declaration of resistance against President Donald Trump earlier this year.
Charlottesville now, she said, “is the capital of the [anti-fascists].”
Signer read a resolution at the start of the meeting to commemorate the three lives lost, but not before someone in the crowd accused him of being responsible for the loss of life.
The protesters criticized the council for allegedly allowing the rally happen. Signer defended himself and the council, explaining that the council attempted previously to move the rally to McIntire Park.
The crowd also took aim at police officers for not intervening more in the melees that took place on Aug. 12.
“We tried really hard. A federal judge forced us to have the rally downtown,” Signer said.
Responding to the allegations that he ordered police to not protect people counter-protesting in the street, Signer said the mayor has no real police power.
Signer’s attempts to calm the crowd repeatedly failed. He tried to cut the meeting short, but that didn’t work either.
Bellamy attempted to regain control and coordinate a town-hall style meeting, giving the floor to everyone gathered. The councilors appeared visibly rattled as they came out to the crowd at 8 p.m. It continued past 11 p.m., and dozens of people made their frustration and anger known.
“The reason my two daughters and I were out there protesting and putting our bodies in our lines is because we knew that so many others could not,” said the woman who told the crowd that her daughter wouldn’t be able to attend classes at UVa later this week.
“It’s not about the statues,” she said. “We were out there because our community is hurting. … what I want to see is meaningful changes in our community.”
After the violent street-fighting compelled local and state officials to end the rally prematurely before noon Aug. 12, James A. Fields Jr. allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters with intent to kill about two hours later.
James Alex Fields Jr. is accused of killing Heather Heyer and injuring 30 others when he rammed his car into a crowd of protesters on Aug. 12.
Local paralegal Heather Heyer was killed. At least 30 were hospitalized because of their injuries.
Two state police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, died several hours later when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed in Albemarle County.
Fields is facing second-degree murder and other charges.
Previously, 19 injuries resulting from the attack that followed the white nationalist Unite the Right rally had been reported by the University of Virginia Medical Center.
The protesters Monday said they expect there are many more injuries and criminal assaults that have not been reported.
“There were hundreds of people that were hurt,” said housing activist Joy Johnson. “Way more than 19 people got hurt,” she added, citing the number that city officials previously reported were injured in the car attack.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the Sentara Martha Jefferson hospital said they treated 11 people who were injured in the car attack. A spokesperson for the UVa Medical Center said they treated 19.
“I’m still pissed,” Johnson said. “I’m still angry.”