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'Careful planning' started to pull down Lee statue 'as soon as possible,' Virginia officials say

Posted at 1:03 PM, Jun 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 13:12:49-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's Department of General Services (DGS) is working to carry out Gov. Ralph Northam's order to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s Monument Avenue “as soon as possible.”

DGS Director of Communications Dena Potter said the governor directed the agency Thursday to remove the state-owned statue.

"DGS is taking steps to carry out this order as soon as possible," Potter said. "The size, scale and location of the monument will require careful planning, which is currently underway, to ensure it is completed safely and effectively.”

The statue, which sits on state property, will be moved to storage while his administration works “with the community to determine its future," Northam said during a Thursday morning news briefing.

Northam made the decision after days of angry protests in Richmond and across the country over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck while he pleaded for air.

Governor: 'It was wrong then and it’s wrong now'

Northam said now is the time to deal with symbols that honor the cause of division in the commonwealth, which is home to more Confederate commemorations than any other state.

“It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. So, we’re taking it down,” Northam said. "“I know some will protest. Some will say Lee was an honorable man. I know many people will be angry, but my friends, I believe in a Virginia that studies its past in an honest way," said Northam. "I believe that when we learn more, we can do more. When we take that honest look at our past we must do more than talk about the future. We must take action.”

The governor said it is time to acknowledge the reality of institutional racism, even if you can’t see it.

“The legacy of racism also continues as part of a system that touches every person and every aspect of our lives, whether we know it or not. But hearts are in different places, and not everyone can see it—or they don’t want to see it,” said Northam.

The announcement by the governor, comes shortly after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced he, along with 9th District Councilmember Mike Jones, would introduce an ordinance on July 1 to remove the remaining Confederate monuments along the street. July 1 is when legislation passed by the General Assembly this year goes into effect that gives localities control over Confederate monuments.

The dual efforts to remove the statues are due to the fact that the Lee statue sits on state land, whereas the other monuments are on city land.

In a speech Tuesday, Stoney said it’s time to put an end to racial oppression in the City of Richmond.

“Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy,” said the mayor. “It's time to replace the racist symbols of oppression and inequality, symbols that have literally dominated our landscape with symbols that represent in some of the best in all of us, and all of our people wants that reflect the diverse, inclusive and equitable city. We are today and we continue to strive to be. It's time to heal ladies and gentlemen.”

“We have two pandemics in this country. COVID-19 and racism,” said Stoney. “One is six months old, the other 400 years old. And as the events of the last months, in the last two weeks, have made painfully clear. Both are lethal, especially for black and brown people.”

The mayor said the removal of the Lee statue is a chance to write a new chapter with a story of diversity and love in the City of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia.