After years of back and forth and ongoing fiery debate from progressives and conservatives, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Charlottesville, Virginia can finally take down the controversial and offensive statues that served as the center of the deadly white nationalist rally in 2017.
Melissa Alonso and Scottie Andrew of CNN have reported that the two Confederate statues of generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson are now legally cleared to be removed from city grounds.
“Efforts to remove both statues preceded the Unite the Right Rally in 2017, when thousands of white nationalists descended upon Charlottesville and killed a counter-protester,” Alonso and Andrew reported. “Two months after the rally, a circuit court ruled against removing the statues from public spaces, saying that they were protected by a state statute that barred the removal of ‘memorials and monuments to past wars.”
On April 1, the Virginia Supreme Court decided to overturn the circuit court decision. In the verdict, Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn said that the Lee and Stonewall monuments “were erected long before there was a statute which both authorized a city’s erection of a war memorial or monument and regulated the disturbance of or interference with that war memorial or monument.”
The court opinion goes on to state that both monuments were erected in the 1920s and that the state law protecting monuments was enacted in 1997, was not retroactive, and “[does] not apply to statues erected by independent cities prior to 1997.”
According to Alonso and Andrew, it was the city’s original desire to remove the statues that led to the Charlottesville rally.
“In February 2017, the Charlottesville City Council moved to redesignate parks named for Lee and Jackson and remove their statues from city grounds,” they reported. “But the decision drew the ire of Virginians with Confederate roots as well as White nationalist groups, who demonstrated in Charlottesville against their removal.”
“Their protests culminated in the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in August 2017, when thousands of members of far-right groups, many bearing Confederate and Nazi symbols, descended on the Virginia city and violently clashed with counter-protesters.”
As the protest escalated, one white supremacist got into his car and plowed it into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Numerous other injuries to bystanders and innocent members of the Charlottesville community were reported over the course of the weekend.
Following the deadly events in Charlottesville, then-President Donald Trump infamously attempted to defend the Charlottesville white supremacists in a speech that would follow him for the rest of his presidency, saying, “you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
In a statement following the verdict, Charlottesville’s city manager, Chip Boyles, called the verdict a “win” for the city.
“I and my administration will work diligently to plan the next steps, in coordination with City Council,” 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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