Is removing Richmond’s Confederate statues legal?

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Mayor Levar Stoney is speaking out for the first time since asking the city’s Monument Avenue Commission to consider moving or removing Richmond’s Confederate monuments, but Virginia law could prevent such measures from being taken.

After last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Governor McAuliffe has called on cities across the Commonwealth to do the same.

Mayor Stoney and the governor both say it’s about doing what is right, but that hasn’t stopped critics who have called the move purely political.

Mayor Stoney says over the past few days, he thought about his grandmother and what is right for the City of Richmond. He came to the conclusion that his Monument Avenue Commission should look at ways to remove or relocate Confederate statues.

“The events of Saturday have really, really sat with me,” he said. “”The fear of violence, the possibility of such can never stop us from doing the right thing. It’s not necessarily going to change everything, but is it the right step for our city? Yes.”

It’s a shift in position for the mayor and the governor, who on Wednesday called for localities across the state to remove and relocate Confederate monuments. But is that even legal?

According to Virginia law, localities cannot remove war memorials. But a legal expert told 8News that law may not apply to all statues in the state.

“I don’t think it is as cut and dry as people are making it out to be,” 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said. “I do think it’s important to point out that the General Assembly attempted to amend that statute.”

Last year, lawmakers passed an amendment to the law, adding that it applied to all statues regardless of when they were erected. But Stone says an argument could be made the law — as it stands — only applies to statues erected after 1962 when the law was passed, something he thinks lawmakers were concerned about.

I think that’s clearly what it signals,” Stone said. “That was not in the statute right now. They tried to change that. It passed the House and it passed the Senate but the governor vetoed it.

“What we’re talking about here is something that a judge would have to ultimately decide.”

8News also reached out to the attorney general’s office for comment and received the following statement:

“There may be different restrictions that apply to different monuments, or no restrictions, depending on where it is, who owns it, and a number of other factors that individual localities will need to evaluate and consider.”

Regardless of the law, some, like Virginia Congressman Scott Taylor, are criticizing the governor for politically capitalizing on the deaths of Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Police troopers.

“It was all political from the get go,” Taylor argued.

Barry Isenhour with the Virginia Flaggers agrees and believes the mayor and governor are playing politics with their decisions.

“I think people need to step back and think for a second of what we’re doing to our war dead, these are our war dead,” he said.

Isenhour says Mayor Stoney has more pressing issues to worry about.

“When we have potholes, we have fire hydrants here in Richmond that don’t work and we have literally public schools that are tearing down,” Isenhour added.

Stoney, meanwhile, says schools, public safety and poverty are still his top priorities.

“Those individuals are living and breathing people and they need our help today, so that will be still the priority for us,” the mayor said. “I’m not going to allow criticism to stop us from doing the right thing. There’s right and wrong. I’ve chosen to be on the side of the right.”

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