In fewer than 48 hours after City Council unanimously passed a resolution to cover statues of generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the black tarps went up over the monuments this afternoon to commemorate the city’s mourning over the deaths following a hate-filled rally August 12.
The draping went up without public notice from the city, with the bucket trucks in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, signaling the swathing of the Confederate monuments.
Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, who in the same park a year and a half ago called for the removal of the statues, initially was silent as Lee was swaddled in black plastic. “I’ve learned it’s best.” he says, when pressed for comment.
After the city turned the lights out on Stonewall Jackson in Justice Park, he told reporters that shrouding the statues isn’t a be all, end all, but a step in the right direction of eventually removing them and placing them in a museum with historical context. And other localities that have recently toppled their Confederate statues used similar language to Charlottesville’s in their order, but didn’t face a lawsuit.
Musician/activist Jamie Dyer says, “Symbolically, it’s a good start,” but he’d still like to see the statues gone.
“What’s going to change?” asked Roshi Hill, who filmed the Lee shrouding with her black cell phone. “It’s a statue. It’s been here forever and to take it down changes nothing.”
Instead, she suggests City Council stop granting permits for the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups to assemble in the town’s parks. She also supports renaming Emancipation Park after Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old activist who died during the August 12 Unite the Right rally.
“She lost her life over this statue,” Hill says.
Before alt-right and neo-Nazi groups dubbed Charlottesville their battleground, the African American woman says she knew she could smile at anyone she crossed and they’d smile back. Now, she says minorities have to stop and think before interacting with white people. And when one is walking behind her, she says she stops to let him pass in front of her.
“I don’t like having to feel uneasy,” Hill says. “Do they still love us?”
Others were dismayed by the draping. Brian Lambert was walking by when he saw the cherry pickers. “It’s disappointing,” he says. “It’s just disappointing.”
He nodded toward Bellamy. “To see that man gloating,” he says. “It’s sickening.”
There have been threats that the black plastic shroud will be removed, and Lambert thinks that’s likely to happen before Friday. “This will not stand,” he says. “This tarp will be taken down. It’s illegal.”
Says Lambert, “If people are offended, there’s plenty of free therapy available.”
A lawsuit filed against the city for ordering the removal of the statues will be heard again in court September 1, and Lambert thinks the violent rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis will affect the judge. “I think they would have been successful with the lawsuit except for recent events,” he says.
Local attorney Lewis Martin says he believes, according to Virginia code, covering the statues could also be illegal.
“It shall be unlawful to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials,” the code says. Adds Martin, “Clearly, if you cover it up so people can’t see it, it’s interfering.”—Samantha Baars and Lisa Provence