Charlottesville has taken the first steps toward limiting the type of weaponry that its police department uses, although several residents think the measure isn’t enough.
The City Council approved a resolution to prohibit the Charlottesville Police Department from acquiring weapons from the military and taking military or “warrior” training during its virtual meeting on Monday.
Calls to defund police departments and cut down on the use of military weapons have been widespread in the two months since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.
According to a staff report, the department doesn’t acquire weapons from the military or take such training.
However, the resolution was narrowly tailored toward purchases directly from the military, which several commenters thought didn’t address over policing.
“Military weapons come from other places, not just the federal government,” said Kate Fraleigh.
Several speakers asked the council to remove the item from its consent agenda and approve a broader policy, but the council unanimously approved it.
Planning Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said that the police department should do an inventory of its weaponry and report to the council why each weapon is needed and how it is or has been used.
Councilor Sena Magill said that the resolution was tailored to a petition presented to the city and was “intended to be a beginning.”
“Just because it’s not pulled tonight, doesn’t mean we’re not going to work on this,” she said.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the resolution was presented before the council had time to consider something stronger and before the community had time to weigh in on the proposal. She said that the council or activists can sometimes rush items because if something isn’t approved quickly, residents think the city isn’t doing anything.
“You have people rushing to do this very surface level to appease people and, based on the comments today, it doesn’t work,” she said. “We are not trying to half-ass anything.”
Councilor Michael Payne said that he considered pulling the resolution from the consent agenda, but the meeting already had 13 other discussion items.
“I don’t know if that conversation would have been constructive and got us anywhere tonight,” he said, but added that the city will continue working on the issue. “What was passed tonight in the consent agenda was not ‘oh we passed that and we’re done with it.’”
Several other items related to policing were on the council’s agenda, but discussions occurred after press time on Monday. The council is scheduled to hold a virtual listening session on policing in the city from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 4.
As part of its consent agenda, the council also established Juneteenth as a city holiday. Juneteenth commemorates when the moment when the last group of slaves to hear news of 1863 Emancipation Proclamation got word of the document.
The final slaves learned of the proclamation on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, and immediately took to the streets to celebrate, starting the tradition.
Last year, Charlottesville officials made Liberation and Freedom Day a city holiday to replace Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. The celebration hearkens back to March 3, 1865, when Union troops under Gen. Philip Sheridan arrived in the area. Sheridan occupied the city until March 6 and, during that time, many slaves used the occupation to free themselves.
The council also approved a resolution supporting a proposal by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to declare racism a public health crisis. The council was also set to discuss other priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session on policing, but those items were not covered by press time.
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