Richmond, Virginia Mayor Levar Stoney on Wednesday ordered the immediate removal of all Confederate statues on city land, saying he was using his emergency powers to speed up the healing process for the former capital of the Confederacy amid weeks of protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
Work crews began removing a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson early Wednesday afternoon. Flatbed trucks and other equipment were also spotted at several other Confederate monuments along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue.
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Another famous statue on city land is that of General JEB Stuart. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had previously ordered the most prominent statue along the avenue, that of General Robert E Lee, which sits on state land. The removal has been stalled pending the resolution of a lawsuit from at least two people who oppose its removal.
Stoney said he was also moving quickly because protesters have already toppled several Confederate monuments elsewhere and he was concerned that people could be hurt trying to take down the gigantic statues.
“We have an urgent need to protect the public,” Stoney said in a statement.
Stoney’s move came on the day a new state law took effect granting control of the monuments to the city. The law outlines a removal process that would take at 60 days to unfold.
But during a City Council meeting Wednesday morning, Stoney baulked as the council scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to formally vote on a resolution calling for the immediate removal of the statues.
“Today, I have the ability to do this through my emergency powers,” Stoney said. “I think we need to act today.”
About an hour later, work crews were spotted near the Jackson statue.
Videos posted on Twitter showed workers being lifted in a crane to the top of the statue and attempting to attach something to it.
During Wednesday’s meeting, city councilors expressed support for removing the statues, but several councillors said the council needed to follow the proper legal process.
Interim City Attorney Haskell Brown said any claim that Stoney has the authority to remove the statues without following the state process would contradict legal advice he has previously given the council and city administration.
I just arrived at the Stonewall Jackson statue. Crews are currently in the process of removing it. The man in the cherry picker got a standing ovation from the crowd. pic.twitter.com/V2G6AZFvWR
— Goad Gatsby (@GoadGatsby) July 1, 2020
Stoney and several city councillors said they were concerned that the statues have become a public safety hazard during weeks of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In Portsmouth, Virginia one man was seriously injured as protesters tried to pull down a Confederate statue.
President Donald Trump has ordered the FBI and US Justice Department to investigate attempts by protesters to damage or remove Confederate statues under threat of 10-year prison sentences for anyone convicted.
The US Park Police in Washington, DC have posted photos seeking public help in identifying protesters who attempted to pull down a statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square park in front of the White House.