Stoney Removes Stonewall Jackson Statue Citing Public Safety
Editor's note: This breaking story has been updated.
As a statue to Stonewall Jackson was lifted off its pedestal on Monument Ave., church bells began ringing and rain poured down on a crowd of hundreds that appeared shortly after crews began working Wednesday afternoon.
The first Confederate monument to be removed by the city of Richmond, Virginia came after a tense special city council meeting earlier that day. Mayor Levar Stoney convened the meeting to ask city council members to vote to remove the statues, citing public safety after weeks of protests and an escalating police response that led to the dismissal of Richmond Police Chief Will Smith.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge [and] the protesters attempt to take down Confederate statues themselves or confront others who are doing so, the risk grows for serious illness, injury, or even death,” Stoney said.
Previously, the public safety factor was invoked to justify a heavy-handed police response, with city, state, and county police working together to keep protesters and activists away from the Confederate monuments. Despite regular police presence, four statues have been torn down, including the city-owned statue to Jefferson Davis at the intersection of Monument Ave. and Davis St.
During the special council meeting, interim City Attorney Haskell Brown said the city needs to engage in the process outlined by the state legislature earlier this year, which passed a new law allowing localities to remove Confederate monuments. That law went into effect today.
Although city council members agreed to hold a vote the following day, the mayor went ahead with his plan. Hundreds turned out to watch the surprise removal, even as storm clouds rolled in.
One resident, music teacher Beth Almore, came to play the cello. She told VPM that the statues were "psychological terror," and said their removal was symbolic but important.
Council member Stephanie Lynch spoke to VPM's Roberto Roldan as crews removed the statue to Jackson. Lynch acknowledged the removal of the statues is symbolic, but said it's a start.
"Richmond is no longer the capital of redlining. It's no longer going to be the capital of evictions. It's no longer going to be the capital of incarceration," Lynch said. "We have so many systems and institutions we need to continue to work on to dismantle racial oppression in our communities, and this is - I think - a start to that."
*Roberto Roldan contributed to this report.