Charlottesville officials are coalescing around the city’s response to unsanctioned events while fending off accusations from activists about personal vendettas.
Several activists spoke during last week’s City Council meeting about the response to events after Rosia Parker was informed earlier in the day that her permit for a Sunday march had been denied.
Parker submitted the request in conjunction with City of Promise and Mary Coleman in July.
Parker had been planning a march from the plaque recognizing a slave auction block downtown through the former Vinegar Hill area to Washington Park.
“This permit [application] has been in since July,” she said. “If they were going to deny it, they could have denied it well before today.”
City spokesman Brian Wheeler said the permit was denied because event permits haven’t been issued since the declaration of a local emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Parker’s event was one of only two to request a permit since March 12, Wheeler said. The other event did not require a permit and permits for all other events that were planned after March 12 have been withdrawn or canceled.
Parker requested a permit to ensure she could work with the city to avoid any sort of tension or altercations.
“The reason I put the permit in was to protect my Black community, to keep my people from being harmed from arrests or any type of danger,” she said. “I was not going to let that happen to my people.”
Police Chief RaShall Brackney said she brought up Parker’s event at several command team meetings because Parker had requested a permit and the city needed to address it. The permit was not addressed until a meeting last Monday.
Events that aren’t sanctioned by the city can pose a safety risk, Brackney said.
“When you have these planned events that are not sanctioned and you’re shutting down streets, there’s traffic issues associated with that,” she said. “There’s also ambulance, fire, safety issues.”
Parker said the denial is personal because, she says, Brackney and Mayor Nikuyah Walker don’t like her and activists Tanesha Hudson and Katrina Turner. Parker and Turner were on the initial Police Civilian Review Board and the two, along with Hudson, have been critical of the mayor and police chief.
“We’re the most vocal, and it’s personal. It’s very personal down in that City Council,” Parker said. “Where they’re wrong, we’re asking them for accountability … It’s not just one particular thing. It’s multiple particular things, and it’s getting more personal and more personal.”
When asked how to repair the relationship between the activists and the city, particularly Walker and Brackney, Parker said, “Getting them out of their seat.”
Parker noted that she was one of three applicants for an open seat on the permanent Police Civilian Review Board and was passed over. The council appointed Bellamy Brown after naming and then rescinding the placement of a city employee.
Prior to an event Parker had planned for late August, City Manager Tarron Richardson issued a statement saying that the city has supported the community’s right to “peaceably assemble,” but that “obstructing city streets and using parks without the proper permits will no longer be allowed.”
The statement said that organizers of previous events would be fined, but at the time not all had received a penalty.
During Monday’s council meeting, Turner said no other events elicited a statement from the city.
“I ask you again, why were Ms. Parker and myself the only ones threatened with arrest, criminal charges and a $500 fine?” she said. “Why pinpoint our march?”
Turner and Parker said they voted for Walker in 2017, but no longer support her. During the council meeting, Turner said people want to challenge Walker, but “they are scared to speak up against you.” She said, “you are not who we expected you to be.”
“You are supposed to be the mayor of our city but you have shown your true colors. The citizens of Charlottesville thought you could be trusted, but you are no better than the rest of the council,” Turner said. “You claim no one white or Black has a right to question you. If you think you are above being questioned, you need not be on that dais.”
Parker, Turner and activist Zyahna Bryant pointed out that protests were allowed to occur for months during the beginning of the pandemic. Parker and Bryant pointed out that more than 50 people are in the parks throughout the day just visiting so the city should not cite the coronavirus regulations.
“They’re not doing this to everybody because look at all the protests that have been taking place all this summer and all of that has been through COVID,” Parker said. “If they really were worried about COVID, no protests and no marches should have taken place.”
Bryant, who was fined for the Black Joy Fest, said the city doesn’t even “have your facts together” because her citation lists the event as taking place in Washington Park but it happened elsewhere. She also said large birthday parties have been occurring without fines at the park, as well, showing more inconsistency.
Walker said anyone afraid to challenge her is just afraid to be challenged in response.
“If there are people who are concerned about what they say to me, I think that mainly that’s been because I’ve been willing to challenge and not just take what people are demanding based just on the fact that people are demanding it,” she said. “Because I ask questions, as I would of anybody, that is considered a challenge.”
Walker said that because some activists “want to be able to share a narrative that you are all not open to listening” and “almost everything you just said was incorrect.”
No elected officials told the city manager to target Parker’s march, Walker said.
“I did not tell Dr. Richardson or anyone else in the city to target you or Rosia or your march,” she said. “That is false information. That decision did not come from me.”
Councilor Heather Hill said the council has been trying to ensure the city is consistent with its response to marches.
Parker disagreed, referring to a Daily Progress article about emails among city officials that showed a disconnect on enforcement.
“Even as a City Council, y’all are arguing with yourselves about how to fine these people,” Parker said.
Richardson, whose last day is Wednesday, and Brackney suggested that the council review the ordinance and come back to the public to clearly convey its intentions around events.
“This cannot continue where we we’re sending conflicting messages and having these kind of public safety issues,” the police chief said.
Brackney said the disconnect comes from the special event regulations and the city’s coronavirus ordinance. She said the city isn’t being clear under which ordinance they are enforcing fines and telling people not to hold large events.
The police department has been operating under the stance that the events should be regulated under the permitting requirements, not the coronavirus ordinance.
“We have submitted and been consistent that every one of these rallies or marches that took place from Juneteenth forward, not accounting for spontaneous events or marches in response to a newsworthy events with the death of George Floyd, should have been treated exactly the same if they took over streets or obstructed them,” Brackney said.
Parker said it’s not fair for the city to draw a line and say all protests before a certain point were allowed and all afterward are not.
“How are you going to say anything is going to be the last spontaneous event or march when it’s every day that Black people are being harmed?” she said.
Walker agreed that the city needs to ensure that either all event organizers get fined for not receiving a permit or no one gets fined.
“We shouldn’t have people thinking that they’ve been singled out in some way,” she said.
Walker commended activists for being safe in the events so far and trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
She said she doesn’t “appreciate” being cited as the leading force for the fines and said her concern always has been about safety.
“I just want you all here in a year from now to protest, march, yell at us, whatever you need to do to be active participants,” she said. “I want you alive to do that.”