PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Two Portsmouth NAACP leaders, including Portsmouth chapter president James Boyd, were arrested in handcuffs by Portsmouth police at the city’s Confederate monument during a protest Wednesday.
Boyd was about to go live on-air with WAVY’s Andy Fox, when he and Portsmouth NAACP Vice President Louie Gibbs were taken into custody on a trespassing charge. Police initially wouldn’t say why the two men were arrested.
The two had been outside for hours inside the gated area of the monument, which sits on Court Street right in the middle of downtown. The group had the blessing of Police Chief Angela Greene to be on the property, per NAACP member Onyx Hicks, as long as there was no permanent damage to the structure.
But around 11:50 a.m. police asked the two men to leave the property, “a piece of property they claim is not their’s,” Boyd said after he and Gibbs were released about an hour later.
“They put us in handcuffs and took us downtown, took us to the jail,” Boyd said. He says police did not offer them a summons.
“It was a very scary situation, it was a very tense situation that we did not expect to happen … we have been working well with the police officers with all of our protests, specifically Police Chief Greene,” Hicks said. “She was out here earlier in the morning, she was out here last night, so she has been working very closely with us. So to them show up in this capacity when we were advised multiple times by leadership that it was OK to be inside the monument as long as we did not do anything to permanently deface the monument. They were aware that we were covering the monument, they were actually out here last night when we covered all four statues.”
Hicks says the police “unnecessarily escalated a situation that peaceful.”
“They again underlie the tensions that happen between the police and Portsmouth citizens all the time. So they again show why the black community is often fearful when police come into play.”
Uncertainty around the legal ownership of the monument has limited the city from removing it from Olde Towne for years now.
In 2016, the City of Portsmouth went to court to ask for a declaratory judgment to establish its ownership of the monument, which at one time was owned by the Stonewall Camp.
The modern Stonewall Camp #380, Sons of Confederate Veterans filed an objection to the city’s complaint, and a judge ultimately ruled in 2018 he couldn’t name the city the owner, simply because no one else was trying to claim it.
Rowe also proposed using $100,000 to look into two sites, Cedar Grove or Oak Grove cemeteries.
Some council members are in favor of the move. Councilman Bill Moody said he believes removing the monument is removing history. The city attorney is expected to reveal more in the next meeting.
Protesters first gathered at the 127-year-old statue Tuesday night after that meeting, where they covered the monument with sheets and plastic bags.
The group spent hours demanding change and chanting “remove the stain,” which references the painful history for African Americans regarding slavery, segregation and police brutality.
At one point, Police Chief Angela Greene was out talking with the group.
The coverings remained until around 6 a.m., when Julian White carried his ladder and a knife to the 54-foot statue to remove the coverings. He removed coverings from the 4 Confederate soldiers on the monument, with one remaining as of Wednesday afternoon. White told WAVY.com the Confederate soldiers were his ancestors and he feels they should be honored.
“They were just fighting for their land. I really do not think it was about slavery … I wish people would stop hating, that is what I wish.”
Early Wednesday morning, Jon Francis, a Portsmouth native stopped by to see the covered monument.
“It’s a statement. It’s saying change is coming, we will rise again and again … change is coming. It’s a beautiful movement. That is a beautiful sight.”
Francis said he would like to see the statue removed “as soon as possible.”
“All of my life I’ve been looking at that statue, not know what it meant. Now many years later, I found out what it meant and I just don’t understand why this nation still glorifies that [section of the] past. Instead of moving on, we have a constant reminder of what caused this movement today.”
Portsmouth is just one Hampton Roads city that’s considering moving its Confederate monument.
Virginia Beach is also considering the future of its monument, although officials there haven’t made a concrete decision yet.
In January, the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission recommended against moving the city’s Confederate monument after a committee called for adding context. That modification would have included lowering the statue, adding an African American statue, and installing historical markers that describe the horrors of slavery.
WAVY’s Andy Fox will have the latest on the story coming up at 4 p.m. on WAVY News 10.