NOTE: Black Lives Matter 757 is scheduled to have a protest beginning at 7:57 p.m. at the Confederate monument in Portsmouth Wednesday.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth’s Confederate monument was covered in spray paint Wednesday afternoon, hours after two Portsmouth NAACP leaders, including chapter president James Boyd, were arrested in handcuffs during a protest.
Boyd was about to go live on-air with WAVY’s Andy Fox just before noon, when he and Portsmouth NAACP Vice President Louie Gibbs were taken into custody for trespassing. Police initially wouldn’t say why the two men were arrested.
The two had been outside for hours at the monument, which sits on Court Street right in the middle of downtown. The group had the blessing of Police Chief Angela Greene to be on the property inside of its gates, per NAACP member Onyx Hicks, as long as there was no permanent damage to the structure. The property is not considered to be city-owned.
But around 11:50 a.m. police asked the two men to leave. Boyd and Gibbs refused and said they asked to speak with a supervisor, but were denied. They were then handcuffed and taken away.
When Boyd and Gibbs were arrested, supporters in the crowd started to chant support for them, “How dare you. How dare you. This man was doing nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing wrong.”
Gibbs was arrested, and we asked the police officer why was he being arrested. The officer had no comment.
BELOW: Portsmouth Police arrest two NAACP leaders for alleged trespassing
“They put us in handcuffs and took us downtown, took us to the jail,” Boyd said after being released about an hour later. WAVY’s Andy Fox caught up with Boyd and Gibbs afterward, finding them coming across the street from the jail.
“It was a very scary situation, it was a very tense situation that we did not expect to happen … we have been working well with the police officers with all of our protests, specifically Police Chief Greene,” Hicks said. “She was out here earlier in the morning, she was out here last night, so she has been working very closely with us.”
“So to them show up in this capacity when we were advised multiple times by leadership that it was OK to be inside the monument as long as we did not do anything to permanently deface the monument. They were aware that we were covering the monument, they were actually out here last night when we covered all four statues.”
Hicks says the police “unnecessarily escalated a situation that was peaceful.”
“They again underlie the tensions that happen between the police and Portsmouth citizens all the time. So they again show why the black community is often fearful when police come into play.”
Around 2:30 p.m., hours after the arrests of Boyd and Gibbs, mostly white protesters jumped the fence and spray painted the monument with “BLM (Black Lives Matter),” “Stop KKK,” “Remove the Stain,” and “George Floyd,” with black protesters later joining them.
Police stayed at a distance, with Boyd and Gibbs back out at the monument.
“We were peaceful. It goes to show when you are peaceful, you are still met with some type of resistance in this country,” Boyd told us. “This is not an anti-white movement. It is a real anti-racism moment, and we all stand together against racism.”
Tuesday night, covering the monuments
Protesters, including the Portsmouth NAACP, first gathered at the 127-year-old statue Tuesday night after a City Council meeting discussing the monument’s possible removal, where they covered the monument with sheets and plastic bags.
The group spent hours demanding change and chanting “remove the stain,” which references the painful history for African Americans regarding slavery, segregation and police brutality.
At one point, Police Chief Angela Greene was out talking with the group.
Early Wednesday morning, Jon Francis, a Portsmouth native stopped by to see the covered monument.
“It’s a statement. It’s saying change is coming, we will rise again and again … change is coming. It’s a beautiful movement. That is a beautiful sight.”
Francis said he would like to see the statue removed “as soon as possible.”
“All of my life I’ve been looking at that statue, not know what it meant. Now many years later, I found out what it meant and I just don’t understand why this nation still glorifies that [section of the] past. Instead of moving on, we have a constant reminder of what caused this movement today.”
The coverings remained until around 6 a.m., when Julian White, who is white, carried his ladder and a knife to the 54-foot statue to remove the coverings.
He removed coverings from the 4 Confederate soldiers on the monument, but one of the soldiers was later covered again on Wednesday during the time Boyd and Gibbs were arrested. White told WAVY.com the Confederate soldiers were his ancestors and he feels they should be honored.
In opposition to moving the Portsmouth Confederate Monument is Cliff Page Jr., who is running for Portsmouth mayor and is basing a lot of his campaign on keeping the monument.
“This is not about hate … 8,000 men in militias and this is where they gathered. This is where the monument is. People were heroic. They were veterans who went off to the war,” he said.
Boyd, with the NAACP, counters that.
“On this statue it says, ‘our confederate dead.’ The confederacy represented slavery and oppression in the country,” Boyd said.
Who owns the monument and can it be moved?
Uncertainty around the legal ownership of the monument has limited the city from removing it from Olde Towne for years now.
It’s been an ongoing debate whether the city owns the monument and has the authority to move it. However, City Attorney Solomon Ashby gave the opinion Wednesday that the city does, in fact, own it. He said the city oversees its care, the National Register of Historic Places lists the city as the owner, and the city has previously denied others access to manipulate or touch it.
While protesters were still gathered around the 54-foot-tall statue Wednesday evening, Portsmouth City Council scheduled a public hearing on the removal of the monument for July 28.
A recent bill signed by Gov. Ralph Northam allows cities to move or alter Confederate monuments they own starting July 1.
- RELATED: Another step forward: Portsmouth leaders schedule public hearing on moving Confederate monument
Tensions over Confederate monuments in Hampton Roads
Portsmouth is just one Hampton Roads city that’s considering moving its Confederate monument.
Virginia Beach is also considering the future of its monument, although officials there haven’t made a concrete decision yet.
In January, the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission recommended against moving the city’s Confederate monument after a committee called for adding context. That modification would have included lowering the statue, adding an African American statue, and installing historical markers that describe the horrors of slavery.
EXTRA BELOW: NAACP member Onyx Hicks discusses arrests of NAACP leadership Wednesday
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