Judge to weigh arguments on fate of Richmond’s Lee statue

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A judge in Richmond is expected to hear arguments over whether to extend a temporary prohibition on the removal of a prominent, historic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E …

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A judge in Richmond is expected to hear arguments over whether to extend a temporary prohibition on the removal of a prominent, historic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E

RICHMOND, Va. — A judge planned to hear arguments Thursday morning over whether to extend a temporary prohibition on the removal of a statue to rebel Gen. Robert E. Lee that towers over a major avenue in the former capital of the Confederacy.

A Richmond judge on June 8 issued a 10-day injunction barring Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration from taking down the bronze equestrian statue of the Confederate hero. At issue is whether Circuit Court Judge Bradley B. Cavedo will extend or make permanent his injunction.

The Democratic governor recently ordered the statue’s removal, citing the pain gripping the nation over the videotaped killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

Floyd’s death has sparked global protests that participants have vowed to turn into a sustained movement focused on addressing racial injustice and police brutality. It also spurred intense re-examination of statues and monuments of historical figures around the world.

The 12-ton Lee statue is about 21 feet (6.4 meters) tall and sits on a pedestal nearly twice that high in the grassy center of a large traffic circle on Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential thoroughfare in Richmond. Now cloaked in graffiti, that and other nearby monuments have become a rallying point of more than two weeks of protests and occasional clashes with police.

The statue was unveiled before a massive crowd in May 1890, at a time when the Civil War and Reconstruction were long over, and Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise.

Judge Cavedo wrote that it was in the public interest to await the resolution of a lawsuit filed by a Virginia man described as a descendant of signatories to a 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and ground they sit on to the state. The lawsuit argues the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” them.

The plaintiff, William C. Gregory, later filed a motion seeking a permanent or extended injunction.

Attorney General Mark Herring opposes the move and has also filed court papers arguing that the case should be dismissed. Herring argued in a brief filed Tuesday that the deed does not prevent the governor from removing the statue and does not entitle Gregory to injunctive relief.

“The only question is whether a single plaintiff may call upon the equitable powers of this Court and use 130-year-old documents and inapplicable doctrines of property law to countermand the Governor’s decision. He cannot,” Herring’s brief said.

It was not immediately clear if the judge would rule from the bench or at a later time.

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, a National Historic Landmark district. Monuments along the avenue have been tagged with messages that say “End police brutality” and “Stop white supremacy.”

Recently, protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the former capital of the Confederacy.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney last week announced plans to seek the removal of the other Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, which also include statues of Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Those statues sit on city land, unlike the Lee statue, which is on state property.

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