Mayor says Lee statue must go as debate
over U.S. slave past rages
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[August 19, 2017]
By Brandon Shulleeta
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - The mayor of
Charlottesville called on Friday for a special session of Virginia's
legislature to let localities decide the fate of Confederate monuments
like the statue at the center of a far-right rally last week that turned
Mayor Mike Signer issued his appeal amid an increasingly contentious
debate over what to do with memorials to Confederate figures, who fought
for the preservation of slavery during the U.S. Civil War, that are seen
by opponents as offensive.
In what has become the biggest domestic crisis of his presidency, Donald
Trump has been sharply criticized, including by fellow Republicans, for
blaming Charlottesville's violence not only on the white nationalist
rally organizers, but also the anti-racism activists who opposed them.
"Whether they go to museums, cemeteries, or other willing institutions,
it is clear that they no longer can be celebrated in shared civic
areas," Signer said in a statement, referring to the statues. "We can,
and we must, respond by denying the Nazis and the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) and
the so-called alt-right the twisted totem they seek."
A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed and several people were
injured when a man crashed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters at
last Saturday's rally.
A 20-year-old Ohio man has been charged with her murder. On Friday, he
was handed five new felony counts of malicious wounding, with the
charges related to serious injuries inflicted on people hit by the
vehicle, Charlottesville police said.
Some attendees at the rally were heavily armed, and Signer said in his
statement he was also calling for legislation that would let localities
ban open or concealed carry of weapons at some public events. And he
said he wanted to find a way to memorialize Heyer's name and legacy.
Heyer's mother told a memorial service on Thursday that her daughter's
killers tried to silence her. "Well guess what? You just magnified her,"
Susan Bro told the service.
Signer said that memorial was a profound turning point for him, and that
it made him realize the significance of the city's statue of Confederate
General Robert E. Lee had changed.
"Its historical meaning now, and forevermore, will be a magnet for
terrorism," the mayor said in his statement.
RALLYING POINTS FOR RACISTS
Also on Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive
order temporarily banning protests at the Lee Monument in downtown
Richmond while new regulations governing demonstrations are put in
place, the governor's office said.
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The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee sits at the center
of the park formerly dedicated to him, the site of recent violent
demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2017.
In many places, Confederate monuments have become rallying points
for white nationalists. Efforts to remove many such statues have
been stepped up since the Charlottesville rally, which was called by
far-right groups to protest against plans to remove the Lee statue.
In Maryland on Friday, authorities took down a statue of a 19th
century chief justice, Roger Taney, who wrote an infamous 1857
ruling known as the Dred Scott decision that reaffirmed slavery and
said black people could not be U.S. citizens.
Trump on Thursday decried the removal of such monuments, drawing
stinging rebukes from fellow Republicans in a controversy that
inflamed racial tensions nationwide.
The mother of Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, said in a
television interview on Friday that after Trump's comments, "I'm not
talking to the president now."
"You can't wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying, 'I'm
sorry.' I'm not forgiving him for that," Susan Bro told ABC's "Good
There are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy in public
spaces across the United States, with 700 of those being monuments
and statues, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
The large majority of these were erected long after the Civil War
ended in 1865, according to the center, with many going up early in
the 20th century amid a backlash among segregationists against the
civil rights movement.
More than half a dozen have been taken down since Saturday.
(Reporting by Brandon Shulleeta in Richmond, Virginia; Additional
reporting by Barry Yeoman in Durham, North Carolina, Gina Cherelus
in New York, Susan Heavey and Ian Simpson in Washington, Brendan
O'Brien in Milwaukee and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by
Jonathan Allen; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Frances Kerry and
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