Virginia gubernatorial candidates weigh in on the fate of the Robert E. Lee monument

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – After more than a century in Richmond, the Robert E. Lee statue will soon be removed from its pedestal on Monument Avenue.

While its fate is still unknown, questions over how the vestige of the Confederacy will be remembered and viewed remain. On Thursday, two candidates running for Virginia governor shared their thoughts on the rulings from the state’s Supreme Court clearing the way for the statue’s removal.

Republican Glenn Youngkin hopes it will go to a battlefield or museum, citing a desire for people to acknowledge and remember the history of the Confederate monument.

“First and foremost, there’s no place for violence and tearing down statues. And in fact, we can’t airbrush away our history. Our history is our history,” he said in an interview after a campaign stop Thursday. “So, the Supreme Court, in fact, has ruled on this. And the statue is going to come down and I hope they move it to a battlefield or museum, so we don’t lose the fact that we have a history, we all need to know it.” 

Third-party candidate Princess Blanding, running under the newly-formed Liberation Party, said she thought “it’s about time” when she first heard about the high court’s decisions on Thursday. But Blanding noted it’s just one step towards the ultimate goals of the activists who helped bring the monuments down.

“We know although this is a victory, this is still very symbolic,” Blanding told 8News in an interview.

The area near the statue became the epicenter for demonstrations during civil unrest last summer as activism grew in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020, leading to protests in the city and across the country. The space around the monument was informally known as Marcus-David Peters Circle, named after Blanding’s brother who was killed by a Richmond police officer during an altercation in 2018.

Blanding explained that her family never asked for the space, and only heard about it on social media after signs went up for her late brother.

“As people came by, it dawned on them that we had our own George Floyd and his name was Marcus-David Peters,” Blanding said. “That will always be the Marcus-David Peters Circle.”

Blanding has called for more police accountability during her campaign and urged Colette McEachin, Richmond’s commonwealth’s attorney, to reopen the case into her brother’s death. McEachin concluded in a report made public in early November that the officer’s decision to use lethal force was justified.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking a second term in the Executive Mansion, shared a statement with 8News on Friday about the Lee statue’s impending removal. “These monuments have clearly become flashpoints for hate and division, just like we saw in Charlottesville in 2017, and it’s time they came down,” the former Virginia governor said.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered the monument’s removal in June 2020, but legal challenges held up the process until Thursday.

The 21-foot (6-meter) bronze equestrian statue is expected to be cut into pieces to accommodate travel plans after its removal. Its graffiti-covered pedestal will remain in place for the time being, according to Northam’s office.

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