Pharrell Williams has pulled his popular Something in the Water festival in Virginia Beach after a police officer fatally shot his cousin there earlier this year.
City leaders had appealed to Williams to restore the festival in 2022, but Williams criticized officials’ “toxic energy” in a letter this week.
The Grammy-winning producer, who is originally from the coastal city in south-eastern Virginia, wrote: “When we did the festival, it was to ease racial tension, to unify the region, bring about economic development opportunities … I love my city, but for far too long it has been run by – and – with toxic energy.”
In March, a Virginia Beach police officer fatally shot Pharrell’s 25-year-old cousin Donovan Lynch, along with Deshayla Harris, 29, and injured eight others. The two officers who were present at the scene did not have their body cameras turned on.
Lynch’s father filed a $50m wrongful death lawsuit in June. In its response, the city said Lynch, who was Black, pointed a gun at the officer who shot him. The officer, who also is Black, “feared for his life and the lives of other officers and citizens in the vicinity”, the city said.
According to the city, the total economic impact of the festival in 2019 was $24.11m and was worth a lot more besides.
“As impressive as those figures are, they are just that – numbers. We have not lost sight of the intangible, unquantifiable impact the festival has had on the social fabric of our community,” wrote Patrick Duhaney, Virginia Beach city manager.
But Williams’s letter to city leaders stated: “I wish the same energy I’ve felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative’s life.”
The city’s appeal to Williams has been met with criticisms on social media.
“Let’s get this straight. His cousin was murdered. They do nothing about not only his cousin but to help make black residents feel safe and welcome, but he should ignore it and help the city be enriched with his festival. They are not even reasonable,” was one tweeted response among others.
Mayor Bobby Dyer appealed to Williams for a meeting to discuss the situation.