Governor, Richmond mayor aim to remove Confederate monuments
Northam expected to order imminent removal of Lee Monument
In the wake of protests in the city of Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney announced Wednesday afternoon that he and City Council member Mike Jones will put forward an ordinance July 1 to remove all Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue. The statuary, which has drawn large numbers of protesters — including some from other states — in recent years, was covered in spray-painted graffiti over the weekend during marches decrying police brutality and racism.
Also, according to news reports, Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce Thursday he will order the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument on the avenue, which is on state-owned land and is not governed by the city, unlike the other four Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.
The General Assembly passed a measure this year allowing localities to remove Confederate monuments as of July 1. The Robert E. Lee monument, however, is on state-owned land, so the General Assembly and the governor would have to take action on removing it. Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday he would work with the city’s mayor and council if they desire its removal.
A Confederate statue, owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Old Town Alexandria, was taken down Tuesday with little fanfare.
On Sunday, Richmond police officers shot off tear gas on a crowd of apparently peaceful protesters at Lee Monument without warning and before the city’s declared 8 p.m. curfew. Police Chief Will Smith and Stoney apologized for the action, and on Monday, the mayor met outside City Hall with protesters, some of whom called for both him and the police chief to resign, and for the officers responsible to be fired.
Other demands from protesters have included removing the monuments, which are a prominent piece of iconography in the capital city, which was the capital of the breakaway Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. After city-launched discussions in 2017 on what to do with the monuments of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee and Matthew Fontaine Maury, armed protesters from out of state showed up to “protect” the statues just weeks after the August 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. The Richmond protest was peaceful, with thousands of counter-protesters against the monuments outnumbering the pro-monument group. Smaller demonstrations took place at other times.
However, Richmond saw significant civil unrest over the past weekend, with a fire set at the United Daughters of the Confederacy building on nearby Arthur Ashe Boulevard and significant anti-police and anti-racism graffiti on the monuments. Nearby, in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the “Rumors of War” monument — a comment on the Stuart statue, depicting a modern-day black person with dreadlocks astride a horse — was unscathed. Artist Kehinde Wiley installed the monument in December.
“Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy,” Stoney said in his statement Wednesday. “It is filled with diversity and love for all — and we need to demonstrate that.”
The city’s 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, in place from Saturday to Wednesday, has ended and won’t be renewed, the mayor said.
Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin is pursuing an independent investigation into the Sunday tear-gas incident at the Lee monument. Disciplinary action will be taken by the city against any police officers who violated police department policy, the mayor said.
He also pledged to create a citizen review board for the police, and a crisis alert named for Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old teacher who was killed by a Richmond police officer while in mental distress in 2018. The officer was not charged, as the killing was deemed justified by former Richmond commonwealth’s attorney Mike Herring.
Protesters, including Peters’ family, have called for these measures since Peters was killed and said the mayor hasn’t listened to their suggestions. Stoney said he and the police department have “been in conversation with [Richmond Behavioral Health Authority] on the creation and implementation of this crisis alert system since 2019,” in the statement, but he plans to talk to Peters’ family in coming weeks.