Judge Blocks Removal of Confederate Statue that Sparked Charlottesville Protest

A judge in Virginia has blocked the city of Charlottesville’s from removing the statue of Robert E. Lee that sparked a white nationalist rally two years ago.

Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore ruled on September 13 that removing the statue would violate the state’s law that protects war memorials, the Daily Progress reported. Moore’s decision also extended to another monument of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson that city leaders wanted to remove.

The ruling ends a two-year lawsuit that was filed in March 2017 after the Charlottesville city council voted to remove the statue for promoting a racist and hateful message, according to the publication. The city’s plans to remove the statue also prompted the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, where a white supremacist drove his car into counterprotestors, killing one person. During his ruling, Moore said the Virginia law protecting war monuments and memorials was not intended to be discriminatory.

“I don’t think I can infer that a historical preservation statute was intended to be racist,” he said, according to USA Today. “Certainly, [racism] was on their minds, but we should not judge the current law by that intent.”

Moore ruled that no damages would be awarded to the plaintiffs, but said the city would have to pay their legal fees, the Daily Progress reported.

Last year, Moore wrote that the two statues can be viewed as both monuments to the war and as symbols of racism, but because the monuments depict Confederate military leaders, they are by definition war memorials and thus protected by Virginia state law.

“While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time,” the judge wrote.

“In either event, the statues to them under the undisputed facts of this case still are monuments and memorials to them, as veterans of the Civil War,” Moore continued.

In the lawsuit, the attorneys disagreed with Moore’s ruling and said that the statues were not protected by the law because the two generals are symbols of white supremacy.

“The statues were part of a regime of city-sanctioned segregation that denied African Americans equal access to government and public spaces,” attorneys for the city wrote in the lawsuit. The fact that certain Charlottesville residents are unaware of the statues’ history does not change that history or the messages the statues send.”

A few months after the lawsuit was filed, white nationalists held the Unite the Right rally to protest the statue's removal. The violent demonstration turned deadly when James Alex Fields, Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotestors on August 12, 2017, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

After the rally, black tarps were placed over the confederate statues of Lee and Jackson, but Moore ordered the city to remove the tarps in February 2018. In August, Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother filed a $12 million wrongful death lawsuit against Fields. Bro previously told the Daily Progress that she is suing Fields to send an anti-hate message.

“We want to show others that there are serious consequences for actions of hatred and violence,” Bro previously told the publication. “This lawsuit is a way to continue to extinguish hatred.”

Fields was convicted of first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit and run in December 2018. In March, the 22-year-old self-proclaimed Nazi pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 federal hate crime charges to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison for committing 29 counts of a federal hate crime charge in June.

"Anyone who commits a crime motivated by hatred for the race, color, religion, national origin, or other protected trait of any person should be on notice: the United States government will use its enormous power to bring perpetrators to justice, and we will continue to do so for as long as it takes to rid our nation of these vile and monstrous crimes," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement.

Bro is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages in the lawsuit.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.