RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The mayor of Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday ordered the immediate removal of all Confederate statues on city land, saying he was using his emergency powers to speed up the healing process for the former capital of the Confederacy amid weeks of protests over police brutality and racial injustice. Within hours, a towering statue of a Confederate general was hoisted from its base.
The decision came weeks after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the removal of the most prominent and imposing Confederate statue along Richmond's Monument Avenue, that of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which sits on state land. The removal of the Lee statue has been stalled pending the resolution of two lawsuits.
On city land along the avenue, work crews removed a statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson on Wednesday afternoon after spending several hours carefully attaching a harness to the massive figure and using power tools to remove the hooves of the statue's carved horse from the base. Flatbed trucks and other equipment were spotted at several other monuments as well. The city has roughly a dozen Confederate statues on municipal land, including one of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Mayor Levar Stoney said it will take several days to remove them.
“This is long overdue,” said Brent Holmes, a Black man who watched as crews took the Jackson statue down. He added: “One down, many more to go."
Stoney said he also was moving quickly because protesters have already toppled several Confederate monuments and he is concerned that people could be hurt trying to take down the gigantic statues.
“Failing to remove the statues now poses a severe, immediate and growing threat to public safety," he said, noting that hundreds of demonstrators have held protests in the city for 33 consecutive days.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, and protesters attempt to take down Confederate statues themselves, or confront others who are also doing so, the risk grows for serious illness, injury, or death,” Stoney said.
Stoney's move came on the day a new state law took effect granting control of the monuments to the city. The law outlines a removal process that would take at least 60 days to unfold.
But during a City Council meeting Wednesday morning, Stoney balked as the council scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to formally vote on a resolution calling for the immediate removal of the statues.
“Today, I have the ability to do this through my emergency powers,” Stoney said. “I think we need to act today.”
About an hour later, work crews were spotted near the Jackson statue.
Hundreds gathered to watch the crews work. Workers
Videos posted on Twitter showed workers being lifted in a crane to the top of the statue and attempting to attach something to it.
During Wednesday's meeting, city councilors expressed support for removing the statues, but several councilors said the council needed to follow the proper legal process.
Interim city attorney Haskell Brown said any claim that Stoney has the authority to remove the statues without following the state process would contradict legal advice he has previously given the council and administration.
Stoney and several city councilors said they were concerned that the statues have become a public safety hazard during weeks of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In Portsmouth last month, a man was seriously injured when protesters tried to pull down a Confederate statue.
This story has been edited to correct that the mayor has ordered all Confederate statues removed from city land, not all Confederate statues in the city.