The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled Thursday that Charlottesville can remove a statue of Robert E. Lee and a statue of Stonewall Jackson from its parks. In February 2017, the city chose to remove the Lee statue, triggering a lawsuit. Then, in the wake of the violent Unite the Right rally, the city reaffirmed its decision to remove the Lee statue and decided to remove the Jackson statue as well, according to court documents.
The plaintiffs who sued argued that the city was violating a 1997 law against removing or covering war statues and monuments, an argument supported by a January 2020 circuit court ruling. However, the Supreme Court said that since the statues weren’t erected under the authority of the 1997 statute, they aren’t governed by that law, and the city will not be responsible for $365,680 of the plaintiff’s cost. Both the Lee and the Jackson statues were erected in the 1920s.
“We find that the circuit court erred in concluding that Code § 15.2-1812, and its prohibitions regarding disturbing or interfering with war monuments and memorials, applied to the Statues and regulated the City’s removal and covering of the Statues,” the decision states.
“The Virginia Supreme Court accepted the argument that the monument protection law did not apply to any monuments erected before it was amended to apply to cities, in 1997. They rejected our argument that the law was meant to apply to, and prohibit, acts of desecration occurring after 1997,” says an update by plaintiff The Monument Fund, Inc.
“The team in the City Attorney’s office did an amazing job; this court decision will positively impact so many lives,” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said in a press release. “I want to express gratitude to Zyahna Bryant, Dr. Wes Bellamy, and Kristin Szakos for igniting the sparks that started this local mini-revolution. We are forever indebted to the community for their steadfastness and perseverance over the past five years. For all of us, who were on the right side of history, Bravo!”
“I and my administration will work diligently to plan the next steps, in coordination with City Council,” City Manager Chip Boyles said. “We also look forward to engaging our community in the redesign of these park spaces in a way that promotes healing and that tells a more complete history of Charlottesville.”
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