Nearly a year after the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally drew national headlines, Charlottesville, VA activists are still dealing with the fallout. The death of Heather Heyer at the vehicle of James Alex Fields, Jr. wasn’t the only incident of violence last summer, and activists are still preparing for trials of both white supremacists and local Black Lives Matter activists, struggling to institute proactive reforms, and bracing for the potential of another white supremacist rally in their town. I spoke with Molly, one of those local activists, on what’s happened and why the eyes of the nation should still be on Charlottesville.
On Friday, after Corey was convicted the judge sentenced him to 360 days active confinement with 340 suspended. That is a 20 day sentence that you actually have to serve. Typically, around here, you serve half of a misdemeanor sentence. You serve 10 days. He has the option of serving it on weekends. So, he could serve five consecutive weekends. Again, the prosecutor requested during sentencing that there be no active incarceration and the judge chose to sentence him to that anyways. Typically, if both the prosecutor and the defense agree on what the sentence should be, the judge just goes with that. He was choosing to send a message here.
We have heard a lot of that “both sides” narrative from both of the judges we hear from mostly are general district judge, Judge Downer, and our circuit court judge, Judge Moore. They both do a little bit of moralizing and sermonizing during sentencing and he said, you know, “bad behavior on both sides.” Like I said, I didn’t take a lot of detailed verbatim notes. It is the same speech every time. I have it written down maybe twenty times across six notebooks. “The whole day was very chaotic, very unfortunate. It cost the city its reputation. We went from a world class city to the city where this happened. This behavior is very serious. We have limited resources for keeping people incarcerated.”
And yet, you still chose to sentence Corey to active incarceration. And the fact that he chose that moment to say that, “What really was damaged here was our city’s reputation.” Not that this young man’s life was in danger. Not that someone died. Three people died. At least people in the upper thirties were treated in hospitals. But, “This city’s reputation was damaged and it is important to send a message.” This young man who defended himself against a known imperial wizard in the Ku Klux Klan was sentenced to serve jail time and 100 hours of community service and two years of good behavior and up to one year of active supervision by offender aid and restoration.
He already served this community. He serviced this community by protecting himself and protecting us on August 12th. So, Friday night, we gathered in Justice Park, that is the park with the Jackson statue by the Albemarle Courthouse, and we marched down the downtown mall chanting and just… It is surreal living in this town because there is such a disconnect. There are so many people for whom this is so real and so present and this is our whole life now. Then, there are people who, when we’re outside the courthouse chanting and holding signs. They come up and they say, “What is this about? What is happening?” We were marching down the downtown mall on Friday night and there was I think a wedding after-party at one of the fancier bars and there is a women in a wedding dress drinking champagne and forty of us marching down the mall chanting for Corey.
As we came back around on the other side of the mall on East Market Street by Emancipation Park, the place where the disorderly conduct allegedly occurred, we took the street. We were marching in the street and I have heard from activists around town that the police used to let us do that. They used to let us take the street because it was easier to just let us quickly move through the street like we were going to do and everyone can move on with their lives than it would be to arrest eight people, like they did on Friday. All eight people were served…they were getting summonses for traffic violations. They are not criminal charges. It is pretty unusual to take people to jail for a traffic violation.
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