Charlottesville citizens vent, criticize leaders at community recovery town hall

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In the days leading up to Sunday’s town hall meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia, city leaders tried to play the blame game, hoping to direct fault away from themselves for the events of Aug. 12, when protesters clashed at a white nationalist rally. But for many people, it only provided more fuel to push for resignations.

In fact, several people called for the resignations of Mayor Mike Signer, members of the city council and the police chief as city leaders sat through the 3 1/2-hour meeting.

“From the mayor’s tone-deaf Facebook dump, from the leaked city council memo, to the lawyered-up response … I’m going to ask the chief, the city manager, the mayor: Is this the best you can do?” asked Jim Baker, who lives in Charlottesville. “If this is the best you can do, negotiate your packages, move to the next town … and move on. You are failing us.”

Sunday’s meeting quickly drifted beyond the focus of Aug. 12 and, in many cases, turned into an airing of grievances for a litany of problems facing the city. And while several people expressed distrust with how the city government — and the police force in particular — was operating that day, few people said much about the decision to hire former US Attorney Tim Heaphy to investigate the city’s handling.

“There is going to be an independent investigation. That will be done well,” said Baker. “We have faith in that we will get answers that are good. But we deserve answers now about why our citizens were brutalized, why all of these accounts are either lies, or there’s truth.”

Heaphy’s review is expected to take at least three months.

Other activists who came to the meeting with a long list of demands seemed less inclined to put the investigation into the hands of someone else.

One speaker, Dave, said the people cannot trust any internal reviews as to what happened but cannot “rely on an outsider to conduct that review either.”

“Citizen control, citizen review of police is the only thing we can count on. We heard from city hall they’re now going to review the body cameras of the officers from Aug. 11 and Aug. 12th,” said Dave. “We need a citizen review board because what’s going to happen when that video, the body camera video, was either never recorded or was deleted, as we’ve seen in other cities?”

Mayor Signer refused to comment beyond saying he was at the meeting “to listen” and Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas took a similar stance.

Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy said he wasn’t going to throw anyone who was there under the bus.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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