by Martha Boneta
It’s two miles or so down Monument Avenue from the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond to the Robert E. Lee Memorial.
The capitol houses the oldest legislative body in North America – the Virginia General Assembly, which dates to 1619 when the Virginia Company, the private firm that controlled the state, appointed a governor and Council of State to rule along with 22 elected burgesses.
The statute is the oldest standing along Monument Avenue. Only Lee and Arthur Ashe, the black tennis hero and Richmond native, remain from a summer of unrest that has brought down the statues of Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Matthew Fontaine Maury – all native Virginians who fought for the South in the Civil War, and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America.
Today, what once was declared one of the great streets in all of America is now defaced, defiled and defenestrated. The base of the Lee statue, a large, broad white structure that supports Lee atop his horse, is covered in the foulest of graffiti.
Those who spray-painted it – and there were many judging from the cacophony of colors and styles – had all the time in the world to deface the statue, knowing the state and city government did not have the will to step up and protect this public property. The result is a once-beautiful neighborhood now gripped in fear, stripped of its history, shorn of its tradition.
“This used to be a beautiful street with an abundance of history,” a commenter wrote on the travel site Trip Advisor. “It is now covered in graffiti and curse words that are inappropriate for families with children. It has also been the scene of some dangerous activity and should be avoided.”
It’s hard to say what is worse … that the broken window – or broken neighborhood in this case – theory has come to Richmond and is systematically robbing it of its history, or that the oldest elected body in the new world doesn’t seem to care. The founding of what became the General Assembly in 1619 marked the start of a tradition of government by the people formed to protect the people. A government that allows this wanton destruction does not meet that standard.
One can understand the frustration of some black Americans with the American justice system and can sympathize and empathize with those who work for a better country. But that’s not what is going on in Richmond.
Richmond’s protesters are mad at their police because Portland’s protesters got mad at their police because Seattle’s had gotten mad at their police earlier. Richmond’s protesters even copied many of the methods and slogans of their compatriots out west – from the strategic destruction of property to the late-night violence to the wording of their demands.
They destroyed $100,000 of property in one night of riots … the timing of which, two months almost to the day after the death of George Floyd, suggests the mayhem and destruction had little to do with Floyd or police reform and everything to do with chaos and destruction of property.
Its local government, controlled by Democrats, has cowered to the mob. The mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, and the governor of Virginia, Ralph ‘Coonman’ Northam, both Democrats, conspired to ignore procurement rules and unilaterally award a $1.8 million contract to remove the statue. It remains standing today only because preservationists went to court and got an injunction to prevent the removal. Stoney and Northam, of course, have no interest in defending the statue or the law, so the defacing and the unruly behavior along the avenue will not stop anytime soon.
We don’t have to accept this new normal with regard to cities. We don’t have to pretend these are lawful and legitimate protests – they’ve long since become violent, destructive riots.
We don’t have to pretend these riots in Portland and Seattle and Richmond cannot be stopped until Marxists reign over the country. The police cannot be told to stand down. Property and lives are at stake.
When a city allows this kind of wanton abuse of public property, it invites more of it. People cease to respect government and each other. An every-man-for-himself, survival of the fittest attitude emerges. Those early Virginians in Jamestown elected that first assembly to move us past every man for himself and to a path toward working together to promote community interests.
Also, Richmond is not just any city in the South and these aren’t just any statues of Confederates. Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy and the essential city to understanding the history of the Confederate States of America and how this insurrectionist movement came to fight a four-year-long war against the United States.
How did this happen? How did the South hang on that long with 1/4th the manpower and 1/10th the money and munitions? Who were these leaders, and why and how did they do what they did? Especially significant for today, how might we keep this division, this hostility of American against American, from happening again?
We could study the history, but we better move quickly because the rioters of Richmond don’t seem interested in preserving it, and neither the city government in Richmond nor the oldest elected lawmaking body in the new world seems to care.
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Martha Boneta is an American policy advisor, commentator, and farmer. Martha is President of Vote America First.