United StatesVirginia

Judge temporarily blocks Lee statue removal as other monuments taken down statewide

A large group of protesters gather around the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue near downtown Richmond, Va., on Tuesday June 2, 2020. The crowd protesting police brutality chanted, “Tear it down.”

(The Center Square) – A Virginia judge has imposed a 90-day injunction blocking the removal of a large statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond as other monuments have been removed or are in the process of being removed statewide.

The new injunction went into effect immediately Monday after the judge dissolved a separate injunction blocking the statue’s removal. The new injunction was issued on behalf of Richmond property owners who are suing the state to halt the removal.

Their lawsuit argues the statue’s removal could cause them to lose their Historic Landmark designation, which would cause them to lose favorable tax treatment and have a reduction in property value.

The order, issued by Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant, blocks Virginia from removing, altering or dismantling the statue in any way while the case is being litigated.

In a tweet, Gov. Ralph Northam expressed his intent to take down the statue.

“Make no mistake, the Lee monument will come down,” Northam tweeted. “And Virginia will be better for it.”

The Lee statue has been vandalized during protests against police brutality, which erupted after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in police custody in Minneapolis. Opponents of the Confederate monuments claim they represent a racist past, but supporters argue they represent Southern heritage and identity and do not promote racism or slavery.

Northam, who faced his own scandal and accusations of racism last year, ordered the removal of the Lee statue, which is owned by the state. He also signed legislation that passed the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that allows local governments to remove Confederate statues, which previously required state authorization. He urged local governments to remove these statues.

The Appomattox statue in Alexandria, the Norfolk Confederate monument in Norfolk and several Confederate monuments in Richmond already have been removed. Other local governments are considering measures to remove statues, and some statues have been illegally torn down by protesters, the latter of which has been criticized by Northam.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has issued guidelines for localities that choose to remove monuments, urging them to be removed without being dismantled, when possible, and put into a secure storage in which safekeeping measures are applied.

Randall Jones, the public information officer for the department, told The Center Square the department does not have a position on whether monuments should be removed, but its primary focus is to preserve the statues and ensure good stewardship. He urged localities to work with the department if they plan to remove statues.

In some cases, the legality of removal and the subsequent stewardship rights are unclear, Jones said. Some statues are owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy, but the ownership of some monuments is not clear, he said.

Northam’s office did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Daughters of the Confederacy.

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