A judge in Charlottesville, Virginia has ruled the controversial statues to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Stonewall Jackson must stay.
More than two years after the Feb. 2017 vote by the Charlottesville City Council to remove the statue of Lee, which prompted a lawsuit against the city and was the impetus for what eventually became a deadly white nationalist rally, Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore ruled the memorials can’t be touched.
“Even though the city wants to remove the statues, the judge said it can’t,” said reporter Hawes Spencer, who was in the courtroom during Wednesday’s first day of the civil trial.
Virginia law bans the removal or movement of war memorials erected in a locality.
“The judge’s opinion was not about the propriety or the goodness of having the statues in the downtown area,” Spencer said. “The judge’s opinion was simply about the fact that Virginia law makes it illegal to move them or encroach upon them.”
Spencer said the judge said the statute preserving war memorials has been amended numerous times over the years, “and that the iteration of it now existing is more about historical preservation than anything else.”
In its defense, the city had argued preventing the removal of the statues violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment by sending a racist message to people of color.
The judge’s ruling “really took the rug out from under the city,” said Spencer.
Spencer said Moore explained his decision: “He said whatever the original intent of the memorial, and we can’t really get into the heads of those who put these monuments to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson up, today they exist as war memorials, and they are protected under Virginia law.”
Plaintiff Virginia Amiss, now 94, recounted walking past the statues on her way to school, and said she was “horrified” by the council vote to remove them.
Another plaintiff, Jock Yellott, got emotional during his testimony.
“I’m tearing up because it infuriates me that people would slander General Lee,” said Yellott.
Thursday’s proceedings will focus on damages, Spencer said. Each of the plaintiffs is seeking $500 in compensatory damages.
“The plaintiffs are going to try to show that people who couldn’t see the statues when they were shrouded in black tarps were harmed,” said Spencer.
Additionally, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are asking for more than $600,000 in fees.