According to a letter from Pharrell to the city’s leadership, the decision was made due to what he referred to as the “toxic energy” engulfing the city, citing the unsatisfactory response to the murder of his cousin, Donovon Lynch, at the hands of a Virginia Beach police officer in March 2021.
“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,” Williams wrote. “I love my city, but for far too long it has been run by — and with toxic energy. The toxic energy that changed the narrative several times around the homicide of my cousin, [Donovon] Lynch, a citizen of Virginia, is the same toxic energy that changed the narrative around the mass murder and senseless loss of life at Building Number 2.”
Williams’ declaration has caught the attention of Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney, who requested that the hitmaker and organizers behind the festival convene with city officials before finalizing their decision. However, Williams seemed unconcerned about any further discussions in his response to Duhaney. He reiterated his disinterest in any dialogue until he feels his opinions and suggestions regarding the sociopolitical atmosphere of the city have been valued and considered.
“Until the gatekeepers and the powers-that-be consider the citizens and the consumer base, and no longer view the idea of human rights for all as a controversial idea,” he said of the prospect of the festival’s return. “I don’t have any problems with the city, but I realize the city hasn’t valued my proposed solutions either.”
The multihyphenate—who launched the Something in the Water festival in 2019—has publicly mourned the death of Lynch, who was shot by a police officer responding to shots fired in the area. According to police, Lynch had brandished a gun before being shot, and that a firearm was later found at the scene.
Lynch’s family has disputed those claims, arguing that Lynch was legally licensed to carry a firearm and that he did not have an aggressive or violent reputation. Lynch’s father has also sued the officer who fired the fatal shot for $50 million, charging the Virginia Beach Police Department with failing to properly train its officers. The officer in question, who is currently on administrative leave, has disputed the lawsuit, claiming he had probable cause to discharge his firearm. The shooting, which has since been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, is currently being investigated independently by Virginia State Police.