State and local officials call for removing Confederate statues

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/AP) — State and local officials are calling for the removal of Confederate statues in Virginia.

Among those who spoke out in favor of removing Confederate statues in the wake of this weekend’s deadly violence in Charlottesville were Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

In a statement, Mayor Stoney on Wednesday called for the Monument Avenue Commission to examine the possibility of removing and/or relocating some of the city’s Confederate monuments.

In light of the recent violence that erupted in Charlottesville over the weekend, leaving three people dead, Governor Terry McAuliffe is calling for similar action to be taken statewide.

““As we attempt to heal and learn from the tragic events in Charlottesville, I encourage Virginia’s localities and the General Assembly – which are vested with the legal authority –  to take down these monuments and relocate them to museums or more appropriate settings,” Gov. McAuliffe said in a release.

Back in June, Mayor Stoney created the Monument Avenue Comission to “redefine the false narrative of the Confederate statues that line” Monument Avenue.

During a press conference, Stoney explained that the intent of the commission is not to remove the monuments but to “tell the complete story of Monument Avenue” by placing placards nearby giving the context and history of the time in which they were built. Stoney also suggested adding new monuments to the roadway representing prominent figures of color.

On Wednesday, however, the mayor asked the commission to possibly take things a step further.

“Let me be clear: we will not tolerate allowing these statues and their history to be used as a pretext for hate and violence, or to allow our city to be threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazi thugs,” Stoney said in a statement, which is posted below. “We will protect our city and keep our residents safe.”

When I spoke about the monuments earlier this summer, it was from an optimism that we can take the power away from these statues by telling their true story, for the first time.

As I said in June, it is my belief that, as they currently stand without explanation, the confederate statues on Monument Avenue are a default endorsement of a shameful period in our national and city history that do not reflect the values of inclusiveness, equality and diversity we celebrate in today’s Richmond.

I wish they had never been built.

Still, I believed that as a first step, there was a need to set the historical record straight. That is why I asked the Monument Avenue Commission to solicit public input and to suggest a complete and truthful narrative of these statues, who built them and why they were erected.

When it comes to these complicated questions that involve history, slavery, Jim Crow and war, we all must have the humility to admit that our answers are inherently inadequate. These are challenges so fundamental to the history of our country, commonwealth, and city that reducing them to the question of whether or not a monument should remain is, by definition, an oversimplification.

But context is important in both historical, and present day, perspectives. While we had hoped to use this process to educate Virginians about the history behind these monuments, the events of the last week may have fundamentally changed our ability to do so by revealing their power to serve as a rallying point for division and intolerance and violence.

These monuments should be part of our dark past and not of our bright future. I personally believe they are offensive and need to be removed. But I believe more in the importance of dialogue and transparency by pursuing a responsible process to consider the full weight of this decision.

Effective immediately, the Monument Avenue Commission will include an examination of the removal and/or relocation of some or all of the confederate statues.

Continuing this process will provide an opportunity for the public to be heard and the full weight of this decision to be considered in a proper forum where we can have a constructive and civil dialogue.

Let me be clear: we will not tolerate allowing these statues and their history to be used as a pretext for hate and violence, or to allow our city to be threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazi thugs. We will protect our city and keep our residents safe.

As I said a few weeks ago, our conversation about these Monuments is important. But what is more important to our future is focusing on building higher-quality schools, alternatives to our current public housing that provide dignity and safety for all, and policies to provide opportunities for all Richmonders to succeed.

The Virginia Flaggers also released a statement in response to Stoney’s announcement Wednesday, saying they are ‘deeply disturbed’ by the mayor’s ‘attempt to shamelessly capitalize on the tragedy in Charlottesville.’

The Virginia Flaggers are deeply disturbed that Richmond’s Mayor has chosen to attempt to shamelessly capitalize on the tragedy in Charlottesville by suddenly changing course and directing the Monument Avenue Commission to pursue the removal of the monuments on Richmond’s majestic Monument Avenue as a viable option.  Instead of seeking to work with and represent all of his constituents, he has chosen to escalate tensions and encourage lawlessness, such as was witnessed by the violent anarchist Antifa march in Richmond Monday night, and which will certainly be amplified with his announcement.

Mayor Stoney is fully aware that discussion of the removal of ANY veteran’s monument in the Commonwealth is a waste of time as it is a violation of state law and any attempt to do so will cost the city millions in legal fees and damages, while creating division and disunity among her residents.  The citizens of the Commonwealth overwhelmingly oppose removal of memorials and the thousands of direct descendants of Confederate veterans are not going to sit by quietly and allow our history and heritage to be dismantled to appease a few extremists.

We call on the Mayor to do the right thing for the community, and what citizens suggested over and over in the public meeting just last week (and which he would have heard had he attended) …leave the existing monuments alone and pursue the development and construction of new monuments in other areas of the city.”

McAuliffe says he’s changing his mind on the need to remove Confederate statues in the wake of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. He released a statement Wednesday saying monuments of Confederate leaders have become “flashpoints for hatred, division and violence.”

McAuliffe is encouraging local governments and General Assembly to take down those monuments and put them in museums.

“The discussion regarding whether to relocate Confederate statues is an important and legitimate conversation that should take place in each community that contains one. Monuments should serve as unifiers, to inspire us collectively and to venerate our greatest citizens. Unfortunately, the recent events in Charlottesville demonstrate that monuments celebrating the leadership of the Confederacy have become flashpoints for hatred, division and violence.

“As we attempt to heal and learn from the tragic events in Charlottesville, I encourage Virginia’s localities and the General Assembly – which are vested with the legal authority –  to take down these monuments and relocate them to museums or more appropriate settings. I hope we can all now agree that these symbols are a barrier to progress, inclusion and equality in Virginia and, while the decision may not be mine to make, I believe the path forward is clear.”

McAuliffe had previously said he did not think the monuments needed to be removed. He joins a growing number of elected officials who have called for Confederate monuments to be removed following the violent events in Charlottesville, where white supremacists rallied against the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Attorney General Mark Herring said he agreed with McAuliffe.

I agree with Gov. McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Northam that this is the time for each community to engage in an inclusive conversation on the future of its Confederate statues and monuments. In my opinion, these statues should be relocated to museums or removed. Gov. McAuliffe said it well: these symbols are a barrier to progress, inclusion, and equality in Virginia.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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