Protesters gathered last weekend in Charlottesville’s downtown mall and on the campus of the University of Virginia to remember Heather Heyer and to protest the police presence in Charlottesville on the anniversary of the August 2017 alt-right riots. But while the two statues drew less attention, they still remain contentious.
The statues were blocked off from the public for the entire week and weekend before the anniversary to prevent people from congregating around the statues.
It’s not the first measure the city has taken to keep the statues out of the spotlight. Following Heyer’s death, the two statues were covered with tarp to allow for a period of mourning. The temporary solution was intended to ease looming tensions in Charlottesville.
In February, the tarp was lifted in accordance with a ruling by Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore.
“The harm to defendants from removing the tarps and not being able to shield them until the matter goes to trial is outweighed by the harm to plaintiffs and the general public in not being able to view or enjoy them,” Moore said, according to a New York Times report.
In a press release, the city of Charlottesville said that it was disappointed by the ruling, but that it would respect the court’s decision.
“We are looking forward to the process of redesigning our downtown parks to promote a more complete history of our community,” the press release said.
The work to redesign the parks has been challenging.
The city council had voted in February 2017 to relocate the the Robert E. Lee statue to another location.
However according to Virginia state law, Virginia code 15.2-1812 “localities” do not have the power to “disturb or interfere” with existing war memorials.
The law defines “disturb or interfere” to include removal of statutes and the “the placement of Union markings or monuments on previously designated Confederate memorials or the placement of Confederate markings or monuments on previously designated Union memorials”.
Many expect that this issue will eventually reach the Virginia Supreme Court.
In addition to the legal hurdles, the city budget may not cover a complete overhaul of Market Street Park, which holds the Lee statue, and Court Square Park, which has the Jackson statue.
In the original request for proposals for a downtown parks master plan, the city offered “to allocate up to $1 million to the two parks overhaul and to new installations recognizing civil rights victories and the stain of slavery.”
However, Charlottesville’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces recently estimated the cost of relocating both statues at about $700,000 dollars, NBC Charlottesville reported. That leaves only $300,000 to redesign two parks.
The city council may consider other ways to “change the narrative on race” if the statues remain. One possible alternative involves adding new statues to the parks and supplementing the existing statues with historical context, the New York Times reported.