Charlottesville must remove the two tarps installed to symbolize the city’s collective mourning over white supremacist violence, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Hours before the decision, the tarp draped over one of the city’s two statues of Confederate generals again was removed. Now, both tarps must come down within 15 days of the signing of an official order.
“As I previously noted,” Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore read from an official court letter, “the statute that prohibits the moving or damaging of such memorials and monuments places on the locality the duty to protect, preserve and care for such.”
Attorneys and court officials said the order will be delivered and signed soon, meaning the tarps are likely to be removed by city officials sometime within the next three weeks. City officials did not say when they are planning to do so.
Moore’s announcement came at the end of a four-hour hearing in the ongoing lawsuit to prevent the removal of the Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statues. While the City Council voted to do so last year, it is currently enjoined from following through.
In August, following a deadly white supremacist rally around the Lee statue in Emancipation Park, the council directed city staff to shroud the statues as a symbol of the community’s mourning for a counter-protester and two Virginia State Police troopers who died Aug. 12.
Though Moore has stated he would allow the shrouds to remain temporarily despite the injunction and his opinion that the statues are protected by state law, he said the city never scheduled a definitive “mourning” period.
“It’s not for the court to say how long mourning should last,” Moore said.
In a statement, Charlottesville spokesman Brian Wheeler said the city is “disappointed by the ruling but will respect the court’s decision.” He later said the city has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.
Despite the decision, community pressure to remove the statues remains.
About 50 protesters — who want the statues to be covered and ultimately relocated — rallied prior to the 10 a.m. hearing.
The protest was organized by Showing Up for Racial Justice Charlottesville, though it included activists with the local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and Black Lives Matter, as well as other community members.
With about 15 Charlottesville police officers keeping watch near the courthouse, the protesters gathered peacefully while chatting and chanting anti-racist and anti-white supremacist slogans.
The chants turned to shouts after Jason Kessler, who organized the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally began taking close-up photos of protesters with his cellphone. Kessler and the crowd traded taunts and curses until Kessler left the area and the protesters returned to their chants with renewed zeal.
After the hearing, a Showing Up for Racial Justice activist addressed news reporters.
“[Moore] said the tarps cause irreparable harm for people who can’t see these statues, but we would say the exact opposite,” said Ben Doherty. “These statues being here on a daily basis causes irreparable harm.”
“It’s a new day in the South and we’re looking to have all these monuments taken down,” he said.
Doherty and other activists say the statues were placed erected during the height of the Jim Crow era with the intention of asserting racial hierarchy and segregation.
“The judge’s order today ignores those harms to this community,” he said. “The irreparable harm comes from the statues’ presence themselves — that constant, threatening reminder of the white supremacy hierarchy — which is why communities around the South are removing them.”
In a Solidarity Cville news release, activist and University of Virginia professor Jalane Schmidt criticized the statues for their continuing impact on Charlottesville.
“These statues normalized white supremacist violence by telling a false Lost Cause version of the Civil War that showed no empathy toward enslaved people,” she said. “Our city’s policies are institutionalized white supremacy that show no empathy to the descendants of the enslaved. Taking down the shrouds further normalizes this callousness.”
Local anti-racist groups were not the only ones to comment on the decision.
In a Facebook post later in the day, the Virginia Flaggers, a Confederate heritage group, posted a screen capture of a Daily Progress story about the decision. The image was imposed with text that said: “Confederate Heritage #Winning.”
In recent weeks the group has been quick to post on its website and social media pages each time the tarps on the statues were removed, labeling whoever was responsible as “The Southern Avengers.”
Christopher James Wayne, of Richmond, has been arrested three times this month for allegedly removing the tarps. He is facing trespassing and destruction of property charges.
After Tuesday’s hearing, an attorney representing the various plaintiffs suing the city — a collective of local and state residents with Confederate ancestry — said he is pleased with the court’s decision.
“I think [Moore] made the right decision — it’s in accordance with the law,” attorney Ralph E. Main said.
The court letter directs Main to prepare the order reflecting the judge’s ruling on the tarps. Main said he is unsure of exactly when the order will be submitted to the court.
“I can’t say whether it will happen today or not, but probably not,” he said. “I can’t say how long it will take, but it will be done as quickly as possible.”
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for April 11. The court is expected to determine whether individual city councilors are liable for compensatory damages related to the ongoing case.
A court official and one of the plaintiffs said they think Moore is inclined to determine that while the city could be held liable, the councilors have immunity in this case.
Meanwhile, Charlottesville is still planning to proceed with a redesign of the two parks where the statues are located. The plan, Wheeler said, is to have the parks promote “a more complete history of our community.”