A judge has ruled that Charlottesville can’t remove the two Confederate statues that stand downtown, saying Wednesday that doing so would be in violation of a Virginia historical preservation law.
On the first day of a three-day trial, Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore issued a permanent injunction that essentially demolished the defendants’ last argument and decided the outcome of the two-and-a-half-year case that followed City Council’s 2017 votes to remove the Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statues.
Moore sided with the interpretation of the plaintiffs— the Monument Fund, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and 11 individuals—about the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that it wouldn’t be legally sound to say the Virginia law that protects war monuments was created with racial prejudice—even if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that it was. He also cited the fact that the law was amended multiple times, explaining that the way it’s applied today doesn’t fall in line with racially discriminatory views.
“Statues do speak, if at all, about history…even history we don’t like,” Moore said.
Meanwhile, a shouting match erupted outside the courthouse between two men holding a Confederate flag and a man and a woman who arrived after with a flag bearing the antifa logo.
Charlottesville and Albemarle County police officers stood by watching as the individuals shouted profanity-laced insults across Park Street and cars drove by honking their support for either side. The two men holding the Confederate flag were Chris Wayne and Brian Lambert, who were convicted of trespassing and destruction of property after they attempted to remove the tarps from the Lee and Jackson statues multiple times before the judge ordered the covering removed in February 2018.
Over the next two days, Moore will hear arguments on the amount of damages to award to the plaintiffs, who say they were emotionally impacted by the statues being covered with black tarps for 188 days after the Unite the Right rally. City Council had voted to shroud the statues in response to the violence and the murder of Heather Heyer and death of two state police officers.
Eight of the plaintiffs testified, detailing their distress in instances when they passed by the covered monuments but were unable to see them. Jock Yellott, executive director of the Monument Fund, teared up when talking about how Lee’s memory has been “slandered” by City Council.
Each plaintiff is seeking $500 in damages, but most have signed documents say they’ll donate any money received to either the Monument Fund or the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The plaintiffs’ legal counsel is seeking $600,000 in attorneys’ fees as well.
Although the case won’t officially be decided until Friday, the plaintiffs are celebrating a victory as Charlottesville will not be moving the statues anytime in the foreseeable future.
“We have prevailed in the action against the city,” says Charles “Buddy” Weber, one of the plaintiffs. “I’m proud of our efforts here.”
His advice to those who want the monuments removed: Go to Richmond and lobby the General Assembly to change the state law that prohibits localities from removing Civil War memorials.