Virginia’s high court approves removal of Confederate statues

FILE PHOTO: Police in riot gear deploy around the statue of Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee, ahead of the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

(Reuters) – Virginia’s highest court on Thursday ruled the city of Charlottesville can remove two Confederate statues, including one of General Robert E. Lee that was the focus of a deadly white nationalist rally in 2017.

In overturning a state Circuit Court decision, the state Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by citizens trying to stop the removal from city parks of the Lee statue and one honoring General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

The city’s planned removal of the Lee statue in 2017 prompted a rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis that turned deadly when a car driven into a crowd killed a counter-protester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Weeks later the Charlottesville city council unanimously ordered the Jackson statue to be removed from another park in the downtown historic district.

Nearly four years later, the high court handed down its decision as the nation focused on the Minneapolis criminal trial of a former white police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, a Black man.

Since Floyd died in police custody last year, protests against racism have gained momentum, including calls to remove statues honoring leaders of the pro-slavery Confederate side in the American Civil War.

The Jackson Statue was erected in Jackson Park in 1921 and the Lee Statue was erected in Lee Park in 1924, both on land donated by citizens.

In a 17-page ruling, the high court rejected arguments that removal of the statues would violate a law enacted by Virginia’s General Assembly in 1997.

The high court said the law “did not provide the authority for the City to erect the Statues, and it does not prohibit the City from disturbing or interfering with them.”

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against the city were the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., and The Monument Fund, Inc.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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