RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Capitol Police are investigating a number of leads after the Robert E. Lee Monument was vandalized this weekend with red spray paint.
It happened during the overnight hours between Friday and Saturday. Capitol Police Spokesperson Joe Macenka says the incident happened between routine patrols of the area.
“These historic properties have become flashpoints,” he said. “It was a very large area of damage.”
Capitol Police believe a high-pressure sprayer, like a reusable fire extinguisher or something similar to a sprayer on a gardening hose, was used to “tag” the statue.
The Department of General Services oversees clean up. We are still waiting to hear back on the costs, but Macenka says it’s a serious amount.
“The square footage alone and the amount of man hours invested… qualifies it as a felony just the shear financial toll involved with cleaning up such a large area,” he added.
This isn’t the first time vandalism has happened at a Confederate Monument. Last year, someone sprayed “racist” on the Jefferson Davis Monument in Richmond. Around the same time, someone also spray painted a Confederate statue in Norfolk.
It’s also almost been one year since a violent rally in Charlottesville, sparked by calls to remove two of the city’s statues. One counter protester died in the rally.
“I think we have troubled relationships with these monuments that represent troubled histories in our community,” said Bill Martin, the Director of The Valentine. “[These are] really are signs of unresolved issues.”
An exhibit featuring the Robert E. Lee statute and other monuments in Richmond is on display at the museum.
Martin notes that each statue took a long time to get approved for construction, because of ongoing conversations about where certain historical figures should be recognized by communities in Virginia.
“It’s interesting to note, if you look at the original designs for Monument Avenue, there’s only one monument and that’s Lee,” he said.
The exhibit is meant to spark conversations too.
“Who gets a monument and who doesn’t? And what we’re doing now as we begin to think about new monuments is really beginning to reframe what story we want to tell of the future?” Martin said.
Walking through the halls of the exhibit, you’ll see a monument in the works right next to the replica of Lee’s. The model was broken during the move to the museum, but it shows an African AMerican woman holding up the Emancipation Proclamation and a man breaking free from the chains of slavery.
“We have just got to make sure that we’re telling a complete story of Virginia history,” Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) said.
Sen. McClellan is the chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission, which is overseeing the creation and construction of the Emancipation and Freedom Monument. It’s set to be unveiled in December of 2019 on Brown’s Island.
She says more stories need to be told of Virginia history, including “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
“Getting rid of slavery included some pretty ugly things, but also some very inspiring stories. You can’t ignore the bad and the ugly and focus on the good,” she said. “If you do, you’re doing a disservice to future generations.”
As the investigation continues, officers are looking to people who live around the monument for assistance. Macenka says neighbors should keep an eye out for anything left in their trash can or alley ways that seems out of the ordinary, such as clothing or spray paint.
If you have a tip, Capitol Police want you to give them a call on their dispatch line 804-786-2567. Just ask for the investigator on duty.