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Richmond mayor demands ‘emergency’ removal of all Confederate statues on city land ahead of key council vote, citing ‘safety’

Richmond mayor demands ‘emergency’ removal of all Confederate statues on city land ahead of key council vote, citing ‘safety’
The mayor of Richmond, Virginia has ordered the removal of all Confederate statues on city land on an “emergency” basis, citing an “urgent need to protect the public” as his rationale for skipping a required council vote.

Levar Stoney wasted no time after a new state law granting control of Richmond’s Confederate monuments to the city took effect on Wednesday, ordering the “immediate removal” of the monuments in a televised statement.

Failure to remove the statues now poses a severe, immediate and growing threat to public safety,” Stoney proclaimed. He added that over a month of protests and “gathering in large numbers” to attempt to take down the monuments themselves puts people at risk for Covid-19 transmission – as well as statue-related accidents, like the one that nearly killed a protester in Portsmouth last month.

Within an hour, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was being taken from his pedestal on the city’s Monument Avenue, to be transported to parts unknown – “temporary storage,” according to the mayor’s office. Flatbed trucks and removal equipment were also seen near other Confederate statues lining the city’s historic thoroughfare.

While Richmond’s City Council was supposed to vote on removing the monuments on Wednesday morning, the vote was delayed until Thursday, a move Stoney apparently found unacceptable. “Today, I have the ability to do this through my emergency powers,” he told the assembled councilors. 

The legal process to remove a statue, passed by Virginia’s first Democratic government in decades, is supposed to take 60 days, but Stoney and several other city councilors expressed concern the monuments could hurt someone if they weren’t removed immediately. The statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue was toppled by protesters last month, though Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s effort to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee four blocks away was halted by a judge’s injunction.

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Northam, who granted Stoney’s initial request to declare a state of emergency when the protests began in June, extended that measure by a month on Monday without fanfare. Despite the revived fervor for toppling Confederate statues and “outing” public figures’ racist pasts, Northam’s own dalliances with blackface – immortalized in his high school yearbook – have gone largely unremarked upon.

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