Emotions ran high at the December 4 City Council meeting that began at 7pm when Councilor Kristin Szakos placed two paper plates piled with homemade cookies at the podium and ended at midnight.
Mayor Mike Signer opened the meeting, during which former federal prosecutor Tim Heaphy presented his $350,000 independent review of the summer’s white supremacist rallies, with a plea for civility.
But anyone who’s been following council meetings since August 12, knows that Signer would have needed a Christmas miracle for that wish to come true. And he didn’t get it.
Heaphy and the councilors were continually criticized, heckled and shouted over, but the first roar of laughter from the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd came when Heaphy announced that members of the Charlottesville Police Department told him and his Hunton & Williams legal team that they felt prepared for August 12 because they had worked the annual Wertland Street block party and dignitary visits, like when the Dalai Lama came to town in October 2012.
They hadn’t, however, coordinated with Virginia State Police, and most of them had never used riot gear or had relevant training, Heaphy said.
And though Heaphy detailed several instances of a lack of police intervention on August 12—and an apparent order for police not to act “unless someone’s getting killed”—the crowd erupted in caustic applause when he showed a still taken from a police body camera of an officer coming between a white supremacist and an anti-racist activist.
“Y’all fed us to those wolves,” interjected someone from the crowd when the attorney discussed police behavior.
As Heaphy wrapped up his presentation, which lasted an hour longer than scheduled, members of the crowd—some identifying with activist group SolidarityCville—began raising protest signs. The largest one read, “Blood on your hands,” with “Abolish the police” and “Resign Signer” also making an appearance.
Vice-mayor Wes Bellamy, whom some blame for summoning the neo-Nazis with his initial call in March 2016 to remove the General Robert E. Lee monument from then-Lee Park, began his comments with an apology.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “We let you all down. I think it’s important we acknowledge that.”
And trying to speed the meeting along, he said, “For $350,000, I got two questions: One, how do we stop the Nazis from coming back. And secondly, how do we protect our citizens?”
Heaphy replied he didn’t have the answers, and the crowd erupted again, asking the attorney what he was paid almost half a million dollars for. Heaphy reminded attendees several times that his job was to review what went right and wrong during the summer of hate.
About 40 members of the public spoke at the meeting, with Dave Ghamandi firing up the crowd as he roasted the police, Chief Al Thomas, City Manager Maurice Jones, Heaphy and Signer.
“You and Signer are two crony gangsters spit out by UVA law school,” he said to Heaphy, also calling him a “glorified ambulance chaser” who “profited off tragedy and death.” Ghamandi said Jones is afraid to fire Thomas because he’ll drag Jones down, too.
Councilor-elect Nikuyah Walker also took the podium to address centuries of racism, systemic oppression and public chatter that Jones and Thomas could be held accountable for the failure of the rallies and lose their jobs.
“There should not be rumors that the two people who are going to be asked to leave potentially are two black men,” she said. “That should be unacceptable.”
But perhaps tensions were at their highest boiling point at the conclusion of Heaphy’s presentation, when he said, “Things could have been worse.” Without missing a beat, someone in the crowd fired back, “How dare you?”