The Charlottesville City Council decided early Tuesday morning to shroud the statues of two Confederate generals in black, capping a long and emotional public meeting that erupted into chaos more than once as residents expressed their anger over a white nationalist rally last weekend.
The vote to cover the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was unanimous, and was meant to recognize the city’s mourning after a violent demonstration that left one woman dead and scores more injured, according to Paige Rice, clerk of the council. Two police officers were also killed when their helicopter crashed.
In a period of public comment that stretched some four hours, residents faulted the City Council and Mayor Mike Signer (D) for the violence that broke out when neo-Nazis and white supremacists — ostensibly in town to rally against the removal of Lee’s statue — clashed with counterprotesters in the streets.
Residents said police were slow to respond to the escalating brawls, and that the city’s response allowed for the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer — who was killed when an Ohio man attending the rally allegedly drove his car into a crowd — and for the injuries of many more.
“Blood on your hands,” read a sign that two women held, standing on the City Council dais as Signer and council members left the room amid jeers and yelling.
Later, the elected officials returned and listened to criticism from one speaker after another.
“Why did the police stand back?” one man asked. He said that residents had warned city officials that there would be violence if the “Unite the Right” rally was allowed to take place. “For months, people have come here and you don’t listen.”
One woman said her daughter had been among those hit by the driver who plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters. “I had to watch her flying up on the hood and then pounding down on the sidewalk,” the woman said. “Instead of starting U-Va. this week as a fourth year, she will be in the hospital having surgery on her knee.”
Many speakers called for Signer’s resignation, especially after he declared the meeting canceled and left the room shortly before 9 p.m. He later returned as the meeting continued and took his seat at the dais.
In response to criticism of the police response to Saturday’s rally, he said: “The mayor in this city has no role with the police whatsoever.”
In addition to voting to shroud the two Confederate statues, the council also decided to direct the city manager to take an administrative step that would make it easier to eventually remove the Jackson statue.