As calls for law enforcement accountability increase nationwide after the killing of George Floyd, Charlottesville officials filled out the last seat on the Police Civilian Review Board.
Meanwhile, the city’s police chief commended activists for peaceful demonstrations locally over the weekend.
The City Council unanimously appointed Phillip Seay to the board during its virtual meeting on Monday.
Seay will serve as a nonvoting member with policing experience and fills the last vacancy on the panel. He was the only applicant for the position. Seven voting members were appointed in February.
The council approved the ordinance and bylaws for the police oversight panel in November, although some community members remained frustrated with the final proposal. During Monday’s meeting, several speakers called for a return to the bylaws presented by an initial panel.
Seay ran unsuccessfully in 2013 for the Jack Jouett District seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, which covers the area northwest of the city. He was defeated by current Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
During a campaign forum at the time, Seay advocated for increased resources for the county police department.
“I’m not going to say it needs more funding, but it needs adequate funding,” he said. “All this other stuff that we want to do, if we aren’t safe, it isn’t going to happen. … We have to be safe and feel safe.”
According to his application, Seay has lived in the city for 10 months. He has a bachelor’s degree in government and economics, masters in sports psychology and an education specialist degree in administration, all from the University of Virginia.
Seay worked as a deputy in the Appomattox County Sheriff’s Office for six years and was a juvenile probation counselor for about two years in the 24th District Court Services Unit in Lynchburg.
He was executive director of the First Tee of Charlottesville, a golf program for children, for more than 11 years and has been a teacher and coach.
“These experiences have provided me with a deep understanding of attitudes, practices, and concerns of City individuals, groups and government both past and present,” he wrote in his application.
It’s unclear when the board will hold its first meeting. An initial meeting was scheduled for March, but the coronavirus pandemic caused the city to cancel all meetings.
On Tuesday, during the city’s Cville360 broadcast, Councilor Lloyd Snook said the board could begin virtual meetings.
During Tuesday’s broadcast, Snook and Police Chief RaShall Brackney commended local activists for their demonstrations related to the killing of Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer is facing murder and manslaughter charges.
Demonstrations throughout the country have turned confrontational since Friday, with police using tear gas and implementing curfews, including in Virginia. President Donald Trump has deployed the military in Washington, D.C., to enforce a curfew and is threatening to send troops throughout the country to quell the unrest.
Snook said he is “deeply concerned” that Trump is using the unrest for political benefit.
On Saturday, hundreds marched in Charlottesville in solidarity with the calls for justice across the country. The demonstration was peaceful, with no arrests or violence.
Snook commended activists who kept track of participants and kept the protest from escalating. He said that one man tried to start a chant that Snook thought would escalate, but no one joined in.
“I was really gratified to see over the weekend when Charlottesville had a demonstration … they were protesting peacefully,” Snook said. “As long as Charlottesville residents as a whole feel that ownership of the town and city, we will be in good hands.”
Snook also applauded the city’s police department, saying it was “well prepared” and police “were allowing everything to go as peaceful demonstrations should go.”
Brackney, who is African American, said she continues to struggle with her role in law enforcement and the connection to those who are targeted by police violence.
“It has always been a challenge as I try to balance my black identity with the things I fight for in terms of police reform,” she said.
Brackney said that African Americans have tried to peacefully protest injustice, only to have little change.
“There’s this call to do this peacefully, but when that space was there it fell on deaf ears,” she said. “We complained when Colin Kaepernick kneeled to protest police brutality.”
Brackney was referring to Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who began kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality in 2016. His actions spread throughout the league, but he was widely criticized for his protest.
Brackney supported the demonstrations occurring throughout the country, invoking the names of several black men who have been killed by police, such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
“These are not protests. These are not riots,” she said. “These are pain that is being expressed in civil discourse. This is what we’re supposed to do.”