Northam asks protesters not to pull Confederate statues down as Va. works to remove them

A Richmond police officer stands by the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis after it was pulled off its pedestal on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., on June 10, 2020. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Though efforts are underway to remove Confederate monuments in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam asked that protesters allow the process to run its course instead of trying to pull the statues down themselves.

Demonstrators on Wednesday night pulled down a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, and several other statues were damaged or toppled in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Similar monuments around the U.S. and overseas in Europe have been knocked down and destroyed by protesters following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Speaking during a briefing Thursday, Northam said that because the statues are heavy, they represent a significant risk when they fall. A Portsmouth protester was seriously injured when a statue fell and struck him on the head.

“I know these statues are causing a lot of pain, but pulling them down is not worth risking someone’s life,” Northam said. “So, let the local governments take the responsibility of taking these statues safely.”

The governor ordered the removal of the prominent Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond last week. The statue, which is on state property, has yet to be moved after a judge on Monday blocked such action for at least 10 days.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney had also announced plans to seek the removal of the other Confederate monuments along the avenue, which are on city property. He said he would introduce an ordinance July 1 to have the statues removed.

The start of next month is when the new Virginia law goes into effect, which was signed earlier this year by Northam, that undoes an existing state law protecting Confederate monuments and instead lets local governments decide their fate.

Ahead of that law going into effect, the United Daughters of the Confederacy took down the Appomattox statue in Alexandria last week.

“We all came together to create a process to do that safely,” Northam said. “We need to let that happen because these statues are very large and they are very heavy.”

Northam said individual police departments would decide how they would pursue charges in the destruction of the statues. No arrests have been made so far.

In June 2019, after a blackface scandal threatened his political career, Northam created a commission to find and eliminate discriminatory laws that were still on the books in Virginia.

“We know that racism and discrimination were written into our laws, particularly during the Jim Crow era, with the intent of enforcing segregation and subjugation of black and brown Virginians,” Northam said. “And while many of those old laws have been overturned, in some cases, the language remains in the acts of assembly.”

Northam said a partial review of the acts revealed over 100 instances of discriminatory language.

The commission’s duties will be expanded to look at state laws that promote or perpetuate inequity in Virginia, Northam said. The commission is expected to report their findings and recommendations by Nov. 15.

Northam also said he supported the discussion of renaming Virginia military bases that are named for members of the Confederacy, though the decision to change the base names would have to come from the federal level, with the U.S. Department of Defense.

WTOP’s Rick Massimo and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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