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Mayor asks commission to consider removal of Confederate statues

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced Wednesday that he has changed the course of his Monument Avenue Commission and now wants to them to consider removal or relocation of the Confederate statues on the city's iconic street.

The move came nearly five hours after Democratic candidate for Governor Ralph Northam, who Stoney supports, sent out a press release saying that he supports removing Confederate statues and putting them in a museum.

Three hours later, his opponent, Republican Ed Gillespie, released a statement saying he believes the statues should stay but be placed in historical context.

Stoney's decision comes days after a group of white nationalists protested the upcoming removal of Charlottesville's statue of Robert E. Lee, where a 32-year-old woman was killed and numerous citizens wounded.

“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,” Stoney wrote.

He cited the events of last week in his press release about his decision as revealing the monuments' power as a "rallying point for division and intolerance and violence."

Just over an hour later, Stoney's friend and mentor, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said he encourages localities to take down their confederate monuments and put them in museums because they've become "flashpoints for hatred, division, and violence."

Richmond-native, Ray Loney, said the Governor and the Mayor made the right decision.

"With all due respect, I think it's time we think forward and progressive, we don't want to be known as the cradle of the confederacy, we want to be known as Richmond Virginia the capital of Virginia," Loney said.

But Travis Toombs, whose ancestors served under General Lee during the Civil War, opposes any effort to add context or remove the statues.

"That rally in Charlottesville had nothing to do with these Confederate heroes," Toombs said.

He called the Governor and Mayor's words "knee jerk reactions" and said he hopes they won't lead to the removal of the statues on Monument Avenue.

"Once people take a step back and remember that on Friday these monuments represented Confederate heros, and the day after the rally in Charlottesville they represented Confederate heroes," Toombs said.

Toombs supports adding additional monuments to the city honoring others, and said he would support adding a statue of Richard Poplar to Monument Avenue.

Poplar was a black Confederate soldier who is buried at Blanford Cemetery in Petersburg.

Mayor Levar Stoney's statement below:

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.

Virginia Flaggers Response

The Virginia Flaggers released a statement Wednesday evening saying they are deep disturbed by the mayor’s decision.

“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.”