RICHMOND, Va. -- Mayor Levar Stoney answered reporter questions after the American Civil War Museum groundbreaking Monday morning, about recent violence in Virginia and a possible upcoming rally in the city..
The groundbreaking was for a future 29,000-square-foot exhibit hall and preservation center which will be built into the hillside at the current Tredegar site.
The museum’s mission, not unlike Mayor Stoney’s call to add context to the Confederate monuments in Richmond, is to explore the Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians. Construction is expected to take approximately 18 months, with a tentative opening in December 2018 or January 2019.
Below is a Q&A with a gaggle of reporters afterward. The reporter questions are in bold, and the mayor's answers below.
Mayor asked about possible Sept. 16 rally and safety of Richmonders after what happened in Charlottesville.
We will be prepared for September 16. I know that ball is currently in the court of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Department of General services. They have a decision to make. I would make the request that in light of the events that happened in Charlottesville we take a deep look at whether or not this is something that should go forward on September 16. But nonetheless, Richmond will be prepared to protect all of its citizens against anything that may harm their safety we are ready to go and we will be prepared.
Reporter asks: do you want this rally to happen on September 16?
I don't think anyone wants any sort of rally that will continue to divide the community and spew hate and intolerance, that’s something that no mayor would want for their city. I think the actions that we saw this past week show what the potential could be from here and no one wants that intolerance in our community.
Are these weekend events making you rethink the path of the Monument Avenue commission at all?
The Monument Avenue commission remains the same -- that is to provide context and interpretation of the statues that currently stand on Monument Avenue. At the end of the day my focus will be on taking down the vestiges of Jim Crow wherever they may live. That means in public housing, public education --that's the focus of the city of Richmond and that's a focus of this administration.
Last night there was some violence. What is your message to those people? Are you working with police to rethink the strategy when it comes to protesters in Richmond?
We have a lot of experience in dealing with protests and demonstrations in the city of Richmond. We had a number last year and during the 2016 election. And we had a couple more this year as well. We will once again be very prepared, but also I would say that we have no tolerance for this sort of behavior that we saw last night, injuring of the media, injuring of or remarks in words that were sort of spewed at some of our police officers. At the end of the day they're there to do their job and that's to keep our community safe. And if you were coming into our city wanting to cause trouble and also bring violence, we have no tolerance for that.
Mark Robinson asks: A lot of folks came out Wednesday and called for the removal of the statues and for the commission to expand its charge. Why do you believe that adding context is still the right approach? Given that we've seen hate groups rally around the statues?
The mission has always been about ensuring that we tell the truth here in the city of Richmond. That we are the center of reconciliation, but also the center of truth. And currently, as I've always said… the way those statues stand currently they are shameful representation of the past that we all disagree with. For me, it's about telling the complete truth. And I don't think the removal of symbols does anything for telling the actual truth or change the state and culture of racism in this country today. At the end of the day those statues are offensive to me; very offensive to me. But you know what I'm going to focus my time on --destroying vestiges of Jim Crow where they live in our city – – public housing, public education, you name it.
Have you been in touch with Homeland Security? I know you've been touch with Richmond Police Department. But we know there were talks about some of those white nationalist groups coming down to Richmond.
Like I said Police Chief Durham and the police department, they are prepared. They have been having meetings since this weekend's incident in Charlottesville. We will be prepared for whatever may happen on September 16. But as I said the ball is currently in the Commonwealth Court. They will make a decision on whether or not this really will go forward.
I know there were some groups that want to rally at Arthur Ashe monument? Have you received permit requests?
Not that I recall. I wasn't aware of anything coming to my office yet. That remains to be seen.
Mayor asked about weapons at these protests.
We want to make sure that folks are legally carrying weapons of firearms. However, we are not going to tolerate the damaging of property or the harming of any of our people. So when I hear that a reporter was hit in the head with a pole last night, I will not tolerate that. We will lock you up. And I think the message to all those who may come from -- I don't know where -- you may be coming from across the country -- is that we're not going to tolerate that sort of behavior in the city of Richmond. We're just not going to.
Follow complete coverage of the chaos in Charlottesville, here.