Charlottesville Sings Out

Aug 10, 2018

Some residents in Charlottesville fear a repeat of last August’s mayhem that resulted in the deaths of counter-protester Heather Heyer and two police officers.  What can we expect this weekend?  WMRA’s Emily Richardson-Lorente has a preview.

The one thing that’s certain about what’s going to happen this coming weekend, is that no one is certain what’s going to happen this weekend.

ANDREW BAXTER: We are preparing for worst case scenarios, that’s our job.

That’s Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter speaking at a community briefing. Unlike last year, white supremacists have no permit to rally here this weekend. But police chief RaShall Brackney says: 

RASHALL BRACKNEY: Permit, no permit … we know somebody is coming to Charlottesville … and shame on us if we don’t plan for whoever might show under whatever name they come up here.

And so the city HAS planned — some say over-planned. The Governor has declared a state of emergency, just in case. More than 700 out-of-town police officers have arrived and are staying in dorms at UVA. And this time, according to Virginia State Police captain Craig Worsham, they don’t intend to stand down if they see trouble.

CRAIG WORSHAM: We’re going to be active and assertive. So expect interactions with the police … because we’re going to be out and about doing what we do … not a lot of standing around.

LISA WOOLFORK: When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor at UVA and Black Lives Matter organizer. Like many activists, she’s wary of a potentially overzealous police force.

WOOLFORK: My concern is that peaceful demonstrators like myself, community members like myself who just want to be out in public on August 11th and 12th are going to be criminalized.

BRIAN WHEELER, CITY SPOKESMAN: … skateboards, swords, knives, daggers …

That’s just part of a long list of items that will be prohibited on the downtown pedestrian mall this weekend. The mall will be open to foot traffic, but police will be funneling everyone through two checkpoints. Business owners on the downtown mall are concerned about access, but many still say they plan to open for business.

BRIAN WHEELER: And violations of these restrictions may result in criminal penalties.

MIKE RODI: We’re hoping people will come out. We certainly don’t want to encourage anyone to come out who doesn’t feel safe or comfortable.

Mike Rodi owns Rapture, a restaurant and night club on the mall. He kept Rapture opened last year and offered a safe space for protestors, journalists and police to set up and cool down. He’s got employees who WANT him to stay open again this year.

RODI: I have some pretty strong people working here, you know, there are some people of color who in particular think you know, this is my town, I grew up here, these people are coming from outside who wish me ill, I'm not going to stay home on their behalf.

JOAN FENTON: Nobody’s coming in because they’re thinking oh I’m going to make money this week.

Joan Fenton owns a clothing store and a gift shop on the mall and is the chair of the Downtown Business Association. She says many of the businesses are thinking the same thing:

JOAN FENTON: … that if we close, we're giving in to people that are trying to scare us and if we here and we're open we're saying, no, we stand with Charlottesville we stand with this community.

UVA students will be standing in their own way. At 7 p.m. on Saturday evening, a group called UVA Students United will hold a rally near the Rotunda. That’s where the first violence of the weekend occurred last year, as a small contingent of students & staff were surrounded at the Jefferson statue and beaten by a mob of white supremacists.

IBBY HAN: I was there last year, I watched them as they walked down the lawn with their tiki torches, the same lawn that I had just walked down for graduation a few months prior.

Ibby Han is helping coordinate the rally.

HAN: It’s not about simply reacting to whoever shows up on campus, it's about us being there in force to be proactive.

She says she’s not thinking about what there is to fear.

HAN: I’m thinking about how students and community will be together in that space and how we will replace the nazis who were there.

For those who don’t necessarily want to protest or be on the pedestrian mall this weekend, there are other ways to participate. Worship services, a workshop on nonviolent action, a forum hosted by the NAACP, and this:

(singing hallelujah)

JONATHAN SPIVEY: Knowing how people's emotional status was for the most part — all of us were — I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to come together through the beauty of music, to sing, just sing.

Music director Jonathan Spivey is leading rehearsals this week for a community concert called the Cville Sing Out.

SPIVEY: And the response has been overwhelming.

Originally, his group hoped to sign up 100 people to sing in the Ix Art Park this weekend. Now, they have nearly 400.

ELLY TUCKER: We want to celebrate Charlottesville.

Elly Tucker is helping coordinate the event. She says she gets that some people just want to stay home, hunker down, but …

TUCKER: We can't run and hide we can't go underground or they win, hate wins and we can't let hate win. Charlottesville is so much more than how the news depicts us.

(singing Hallelujah)

The Cville Sing Out is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday at the IX Art Park.