RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As Virginia awaits the resolution of legal challenges that have delayed the removal of the Robert E. Lee Monument, workers from the Department of General Services installed a fence to prepare for the statue’s removal.
In a statement, DGS said the fencing is to “ensure the safety of visitors and workers as part of DGS’s plan to prepare the site for the removal of the Lee statue.” Part of Monument Avenue was also closed off for several hours on Monday but re-opened in the early afternoon.
In June of 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that the statue would be removed. At the time, the governor asked DGS to remove the statue “as soon as possible.” However, ongoing litigation has prevented the department from doing so since the Lee monument sits on state-owned land.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Northam says the pedestal will stay after the statue is removed. At this time it is unclear if the pedestal will remain there permanently.
The Robert E. Lee monument is the last Confederate monument remaining on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. All other Confederate monuments owned by the City of Richmond were removed this past summer following protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
In October, a Richmond judge sided with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a legal battle to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Monument Avenue, dissolving an injunction that had blocked the Confederate monument’s removal for months.
Despite the ruling, the Lee statue was not taken off its pedestal, as Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant suspended his order until after the resolution of an appeal.
The attorney for the plaintiffs challenging the Lee statue removal, Patrick McSweeney, told 8News Reporter Ben Dennis last week they had not yet formally filed a petition to appeal the circuit court judge’s decision, dissolving an injunction barring Lee’s removal.
But as the removal prep began, 8News reporter Alex Thorson followed up with McSweeney and learned they filed their petition to appeal the decision on Monday. Filing a petition is the next step in the formal appeal process. If a judge grants the petition to appeal, the case will go the Virginia Supreme Court.
The plot of land became a central gathering spot in recent months. “It’s a healing place,” said Donna Royster, who frequents the memorial. On Monday, she and a group of others wondered why they’re being forced out before the case is even settled in court.
“Police are supposed to make you feel safe and that’s not happening. This place did,” she said. “Why separate people?”
For some it’s a sanctuary. However, it’s also where a fair share of problems happen, according to Capitol Police. A police spokesperson, Joe Macenka, told 8News they get calls to the circle almost daily — for fights, fires, public urination and so on. However, Macenka said Capitol Police did not play a role in the decision to put the fencing up.
DGS said they want to be prepared to act quickly when a final decision is reached in court. The fencing is not intended to be permanent.
Macenka told 8News the fencing is 8-feet tall and is being bolted into the ground. The jersey walls that once surrounded the area will be placed right behind the fencing.
The department has removed all “abandoned personal items” from the site. Dena Potter with DGS told 8News they will discard all items except the basketball goals.
All memorials at the Lee monument will be staying put for now but will have to be removed if the statue is taken away. “At that time, DGS will remove memorials and store them with care until a decision is made as to their disposition,” DGS said.
DGS clarified that the Lee monument will not be removed Monday. Back in December, Chief of Staff to Gov. Northam, Clark Mercer told 8News he expects the statue to come down between February and April 2021, depending on the schedule of the Supreme Court.
Stay with us for updates.