Norfolk mayor: City will ‘immediately’ remove Confederate statue; demonstrators spray-paint monument


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander said Thursday evening the city’s Confederate statue will be removed within the next 24 hours.

The announcement came just one day after a protester in Portsmouth was seriously injured by a falling Confederate soldier statue Wednesday night.

“Our prayers are with the City of Portsmouth,” Alexander said.

It will take several weeks to dismantle the monument, but the 16-foot statue of “Johnny Reb” will come down within 24 hours of the Alexander’s announcement, weather-permitting.

“As soon as it’s physically possible, it’ll happen,” City Manager Chip Filer said. “The events in Portsmouth certainly caused us to expedite the timetable.”

The 1,500-pound statue will be moved to Elmwood Cemetery.

“The decision to immediately remove the statue was made in the interest of public safety due to recent events at the local and national level. The Mayor expressed grave concerns that the statue’s continued presence could lead to injury or violence and therefore must be immediately removed,” the city wrote in a news release following the announcement.

City spokeswoman Lori Crouch said cranes would be moved in overnight at some point with removal potentially starting Friday morning.

Roads were open Thursday evening, but will be closed off once the heavy equipment arrives.

Under the new state law for removing or altering monuments, which goes into effect July 1, the city will hold a public hearing July 7 on the “ultimate disposition of the statue” and will “observe the required thirty-day period to receive further comment on these matters prior to rendering a final decision.”

“I think public safety prevails and trumps waiting 30 more days until the law comes in effect,” Alexander said.

Monument spray-painted

A few hours after Alexander’s announcement, a small group of protesters spray-painted the monument. Protesters we spoke to said they tagged the monument to send a message to Portsmouth City Council that the monument there should be swiftly removed as well.

Others said the removal represents a clean slate.

“It means like a fresh start, man. I mean, my son will never see this. He will never know what this is or what reason it’s up for,” said Tyshon Madison.

Another man said the monument’s removal has been a long time coming.

“This is the revolution. We been waiting on this. My ancestors have been waiting on this,” said Sean Vaught. “We can be proud. We can be free, and that — that’s going to come down.”

The Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sent a letter to Mayor Alexander expressing their support for the monument’s removal.

“I write to express on behalf of the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans that we do not oppose moving the monument from its current location to Elmwood Cemetery provided it to be placed in an appropriate aesthetic and historical setting,” said John T. Neville, commander of Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Asking for safety

Late Wednesday night, just a couple hours after protesters toppled parts of a Confederate monument in Portsmouth, the Norfolk mayor released a statement asking for peaceful protests and safety.

Mayor Kenny Alexander said thousands have participated in peaceful protests in Norfolk and the city hoped “that this very important dialogue will continue.”

Here is Alexander’s Wednesday statement in full:

“Across the country people are demonstrating in remembrance of lives lost to police violence and hate crimes. Thousands have participated in the peaceful protests in the City of Norfolk and we hope that this very important dialogue will continue. But it is extremely important that we all stay safe.

While we welcome peaceful demonstrations at the monument at Commercial Place, we want everyone to understand that the size of the monument, it stands at 80 feet, does not lend itself to safe removal without the use of a truck mounted construction crane. Out of an abundance of caution, anyone who attempts to scale the monument will be removed in the interest of their own safety.

City Council has been unequivocal in expressing its desire to remove the monument. In August 2017, Norfolk City Council unanimously passed a resolution to remove the monument as soon as permitted by state law. During the 2020 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, legislation was adopted, HB1537, that cleared legal hurdles that prevented us from moving forward. This law is effective July 1. On June 2, after our City Attorney presented steps that we must follow for its removal, City Council voted to schedule the required public hearing on July 7 for discussion of removal. It is our intent to remove the statue by August 7, the earliest possible date allowed by law.

Tonight, an individual was seriously injured in an attempt to remove a statue in Portsmouth. We are praying for his full recovery and hope that this incident will not be repeated in other localities. Again, in the interests of everyone’s safety, we strongly urge your cooperation in this matter”

Information on the history of the monument can be found on the Norfolk Public Library’s website.

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