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Friday, December 3, 2021

Four years after United of the Right, Charlottesville is still trying to move on.

Charlottesville, Virginia. “On a recent Monday night, parts of the virtual meeting of the Charlottesville City Council looked more like angry exchanges of shouts and greetings than city affairs.

At the rally, which lasted several hours, some residents shouted by name to councilors about plans to reorganize the police. Others have condemned the proposed zoning change to build more affordable housing units. Council members again discussed the fate of the statue of Robert Lee, which was removed from public view in July.

“I’ll mute the sound,” Mayor Nikuya Walker snapped irritably from her home office after being rebuked by an advisor for interfering. “Come on, knock yourself out.”

Following the August 2017 ultra-right rally that turned Charlottesville into a national battleground over hate and extremism, many residents hoped the liberal campus would be an example of racial reconciliation. That did not happen.

Instead, the divisions of concern for Charlottesville have been highlighted over the past four weeks in a federal civil trial over who was responsible for the 2017 events. Nine plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for injuries sustained in the deadly clashes that erupted when some 600 white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Confederate supporters gathered to protest the proposed removal of Lee’s statue. Closing arguments are due to start on Thursday.

And even after four years of reconciliation efforts, many residents say some of the issues that were raised during the rally because of race and history still haunt the city. As the lawsuit plays out, what began in Charlottesville as the battle for the statue of Lee has helped fuel the passions and divisions that hide the problems of the present.

“It definitely continues to reflect,” said Timothy Heefee, a former US attorney for the Western District of Virginia who conducted an independent review of events and is the University of Virginia’s chief attorney.

“This revealed a lot of problems that have always been there but flared up in August 2017,” he said. “There are gaps in this community that have not been healed.”

City council meetings exploded for the first time immediately after the rally. Outraged residents demanded responses from the Charlottesville Police Department and City Hall about insufficient planning and intervention to prevent violence.

Some residents still experience significant anger and distrust of both the police and the Council due to their reactions.

Charlottesville killed six city managers and two police chiefs amid vicious attacks. Chief RaShall Brackney, the city’s first black female mayor, was fired in September. Sharp divisions within police and the city over what changes are needed to create a more open and accountable force led to her sacking. Miss Brackney sued, calling it unfair.

Violent debate has also erupted over a proposal to rewrite zoning laws to allow for higher population densities in areas bounded by single-family homes, highlighting racial tensions between some blacks and whites.

Opponents argue that the high-rise buildings will spoil Charlottesville’s green historical landscape. Supporters want affordable housing for low-paid workers who have been forced out of the city in recent years. Some of those who support the change blame wealthier white homeowners for resisting ending long-standing housing discrimination against blacks because it threatens their property values.

In a city of about 47,000 people, 70 percent are white, 18 percent are black, 7 percent are Asians, and 5 percent are Hispanics. The University of Virginia has approximately 20,000 students.

In the aftermath of the rally, a key disagreement arose among residents between those who accused outside agitators of fomenting unrest and undermining the city’s sense of harmony, and those who believed that this was a sign of the need for change.

House Morse, 29, who grew up in Charlottesville and just took a seat on the school council, called the city’s portrait, which appeared in 2017, exaggerated. “I think there is a misconception that we just have Clan members loitering around Charlottesville,” he said.

But others disagree. Bruce McKenney, 53, who works in the renewable energy industry, said that when it came to racial issues, the rally was like being grabbed by the shoulders and shaking him. “I think that if this event hadn’t happened, we would have had the same problems,” he said, “but I don’t think they would have been on the surface.”

During the trial over the past several weeks, viewers were kept out of the courtroom as a Covid precaution. Only a few demonstrators gathered outside. The live broadcast broadcast hateful rhetoric spewed by the defendants in an attempt to defend themselves using the First Amendment argument.

In an open letter from the Beth Israel Congregation, whose synagogue was targeted by far-right protesters shouting anti-Semitic slogans in the street in 2017, Rabbi Tom Gutertz warned that the trial would not end the case. “Everything will end when we, as the American people, understand how to combat these trends,” he wrote.

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Mayor Walker, whose term expires in December, said disappointment over the lack of change had weakened interest in the lawsuit. “The black community in Charlottesville has repeatedly stated that this is our norm since 2017, and please respond, but these requests have not been heard,” she said. (The mayor title goes to the person elected to this position by the five city councilors. The city manager, who is appointed by the city council, manages the city day in and day out.)

Last Spring Miss Walker tweeted a poem she wrote describing the city as a rapist without a moral compass. “Charlottesville is rooted in white supremacy and rooted in racism,” one line says.

“Talking about race is not gentle conversation – most people don’t want to get together,” she said in an interview.

The poem alarmed some fellow Democrats. “The mayor was the spokesman for this anger and acrimony,” said Frank Buck, a former Democrat mayor. “It would help to have a mayor who can bring people together.”

Conservatives have accused some Democratic politicians of keeping the city polarized. “People are making political hay off of that, and they don’t want to let it go,” said Mike Farruggio, a 27-year police veteran who made a failed attempt to get into the city council as a Republican in 2013.

The debate over fairness and equality in Charlottesville is rooted in history. In the city that claims to be the land of the Founding Fathers, the city hall’s façade is adorned with statues of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, all of the area’s residents.

A little higher, in Court Square, the statues of General Stonewall Jackson and a Confederate soldier were demolished. The once slave auction quarter stood among federal red-brick mansions. A piece of paper glued to a lamp post in the corner reads: “In memory of those who were bought and sold.”

“If you really start digging into the history of white supremacy in your community, it’s going to be controversial because it’s starting to move closer to home,” said Ceylan Schmidt, a university professor of religious studies and organizer of Black Lives Matter, which helped spearhead the removal of the monuments. Confederation. “The closer you get to the present, the louder the discussions become.”

The Confederate statues that helped fuel the battle were moved into safekeeping last summer, but their fate, like many others in Charlottesville, remains unsettled.

The City Hall has asked for proposals for two tall bronze equestrian statues of Generals Lee and Jackson. The Jefferson School’s African American Heritage Center, the only local organization among the six applicants, proposed to melt Lee’s statue into bronze ingots that would be turned into a work of art. The project remains at the proposal stage.

The rest of the proposals came from several museums, as well as from an art gallery in Los Angeles and from a Texas landowner who wants to purchase them for his ranch.

Andrea Douglas, executive director of the Jefferson School, characterized the differences in Charlottesville as more between the old guard and the new, rather than dividing the black and white communities.

“It’s mostly about those who think Charlottesville is good enough and those of us who know differently,” she said.

Heapy says the city has yet to make the changes recommended in its report, including increased public participation from Charlottesville police and the city council. He understands why people remain anxious.

“There are legitimate complaints about August 2017, about what the city did or didn’t do, and the problems that have arisen are real,” he said. “You can approach them not by shouting, but by listening. We don’t do that. ”

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