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‘Take’em down now:’ Residents have their voices heard on Confederate statues

RICHMOND, Va. -- It's the heart of a national debate that is now an issue before Richmond City Council members. On Monday night, Councilman Michael Jones introduced legislation asking lawmakers for permission to remove Confederate statues on one of the most historic avenues in the country.

While no action was taken on the resolution, it didn't stop more than a hundred people from packing council's chambers with yellow signs that read "Take 'em down now."

A half a dozen others spoke passionately on the issue, including Lynetta Thompson, a past president of the local branch of the NAACP.

Lynetta Thompson

"The time is now to address the ills of yesterday and tear down the racist symbols of white supremacy and bigotry," Thompson said.

In an interview, city resident Stacy Lovelace argued the statues represent an oppressive time in U.S. and Virginia history.

"These men weren't heroes," Lovelace said. "They betrayed our nation. They weren't fighting for our homeland, they were fighting for slavery."

While a majority attending Monday night's meeting were in favor of removing the statues, some in attendance voiced their opinion that city leaders should focus attention on more pressing issues, including education, rising crime statistics, and widespread poverty.

Richmond resident Raymond Baugham spoke about the need for reconciliation while still honoring confederate soldiers.

"Our acceptance of diversity means more than tolerance and acceptance of different religions, races and gender," Baugham said. "Diversity also means accepting our right to disagree."

"I'm sorry, but if everybody took something down that offended them, then we wouldn't have any monuments or anything to look back on as far as our history," said one city resident.

Jones proposed the removal resolution after Mayor Levar Stoney asked the newly formed Monument Avenue Commission to consider the future of the Confederate memorials.

Michael Jones

The mayor previously supported adding context to the statues, but changed his mind after violence erupted in Charlottesville last month.

His decision also comes on the heels of several other city council leaders making resolutions to remove confederate statues and symbols across the country.

A lawsuit is currently challenging the Charlottesville City Council's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park.

The lawsuit argues that statues are protected under a 1997 amendment to a state law that prohibits the removal of war memorials. The case will likely be appealed to a higher court.

Jones says he wanted to propose the resolution to clear up any confusion as to the rights of city leaders, while the commission considers recommendations.

The Virginia House of Delegates may hold the power to make such decisions.