On tree-lined Monument Avenue in Richmond’s Fan District, the statue dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee is continuing to be marked with scrutiny after protests involving Civil War-era monuments and statues nationwide have revived calls to remove the stone-clad icons from public land. The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Virginia branch is now asking Governor Ralph Northam (D) to move the statue following a public hearing last Wednesday.
In an interview after his blackface scandal, Governor Northam even told The Washington Post he is willing to take a harder line on Confederate statues as he continues his racial “reconciliation tour.”
After 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the events of which were posted on news stations across the country when a protester connected with white nationalists drove through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) put in place emergency regulations around other state-owned Confederate monuments in Virginia.
Under Executive Order 67, any group larger than 10 must seek a permit to gather on the grass around Lee Monument, which sits in a large traffic circle where North Allen Avenue meets Monument Avenue, just a few miles west of downtown Richmond. Moreover, the regulations close the statue’s grounds at night, bans signs or posters, and limits events to two hours, with carrying firearms prohibited.
Although the green space around the statue is owned by the Commonwealth, the sidewalk is owned by the City of Richmond. Therefore, protesters and others can still gather on the city sidewalk since that is a public space.
Nevertheless, the state regulations were to remain in place until Virginia’s Department of General Services (DGS) approves and implements new emergency protocols. Instead, DGS is now considering making McAuliffe’s regulations constituted under the executive order permanent.
DGS held a meeting Wednesday at the Virginia War Memorial Carillon in Byrd Park in Richmond. Officials with the ACLU stated that Governor Northam can solve the problem by using his executive powers to remove the statue from Monument Avenue since it is on state property.
“If the Lee Monument were not located where it is now, then there would be no need for these onerous and potentially unconstitutional regulations,” Bill Farrar, the Director of Strategic Communications for the ACLU of Virginia said of the proposed permanent regulations, WAVY reports.
Currently, municipalities cannot disturb or interfere with war monuments or memorials. Though, legislation that was patroned by Delegate David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) in this year’s legislative session would have handed control of monuments over to localities.
H.B. 2377 would have allowed a locality to “remove or provide for the upkeep, maintenance, or contextualization of any such monument or memorial located in its public space, regardless of when erected.” The bill included any and all statues or monuments from any American war, even from before the U.S. was founded.
Toscano’s bill, however, was left in a House subcommittee.
Regardless, DGS is now finished with its public comment period, which ended last Friday, March 8. After the regulations are reviewed and finalized, there will be another 30-day period where people can submit their thoughts to the state agency before the current regulations expire in May.