Richmond protesters honoring George Floyd celebrate plans to remove Robert E. Lee monument

Moments before a large group of protesters arrived at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, several people snapped photos and handed out water bottles. Photo by Andrew Ringle

Hannah Eason, Managing Editor
Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor

Kia Hill stood on the Robert E. Lee memorial and livestreamed a crowd of several hundred demonstrators Wednesday afternoon, many holding signs and chanting “tear it down” in reference to the statue above her. 

Hill has been protesting since Friday. She was tear-gassed on Monday, spoke at Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s town hall on Tuesday and plans to keep marching “until it ends.” She said she feels angry and wants the monument honoring the Confederate leader to be removed from Richmond immediately.

“I feel like they need to take it down now,” Hill said. “Not next week, not next month.” 

Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce plans on Thursday to remove the Lee statue, a now graffiti-covered gathering point for Richmond protesters honoring George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody.

Stoney is introducing an ordinance to remove state-owned monuments honoring Confederate leaders, according to a press release from the mayor on Wednesday. The Stoney administration will introduce the ordinance to city council along with Councilman Mike Jones on July 1. 

“Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy – it is filled with diversity and love for all – and we need to demonstrate that,” Stoney said in the release.

Hundreds gathered Wednesday evening around the Lee statue’s stone foundation, where protesters celebrated the plans for removal. One protester said through a bullhorn “this is only the beginning.”

Hundreds of protesters chanted “tear it down” by the Robert E. Lee monument on Wednesday afternoon, following news that local and state officials planned to move forward with the statue’s removal. Photo by Andrew Ringle

John Chandler and Kathleen Farly, owners of local food truck Mobile Munchies, attended Wednesday’s protest. The two have lived in Richmond their entire lives, and they say removal of the memorial is long overdue.

“I was told by my parents and everybody else that these are war heroes,” Chandler said laughing. “These guys fought against everything that we’re supposed to be standing for now.”

Stoney marched to the Lee memorial with protesters on Tuesday afternoon, which ended with demands to remove Confederate statues, establish a community review board to monitor police, lift the citywide curfew, release detained protesters and fire the Richmond police officers who tear-gassed protesters throughout the weekend.

Richmond’s citywide curfew, which went into effect from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., was lifted by Stoney on Wednesday. 

Left, Austin Jennings and Johnny Kerr hold an upside down American flag, a symbol for a nation in distress, near the J.E.B. Stuart statue. The two marched in front of the crowd on Wednesday. Photo by Andrew Ringle

While speaking to protesters at the Lee memorial, Stoney made a commitment to enact a Marcus Alert, which would require Richmond Police to work with Richmond Behavioral Health Authority when a person is experiencing a mental health crisis.

The alert was named after VCU alumnus and Essex County Public Schools teacher Marcus David Peters, who was killed by Richmond police in 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis. According to the mayor’s release, Stoney’s administration will work with Peters’ family on the details and operation of the alert and then introduce the ordinance to Richmond City Council.

Mikhail Smith is one of the protesters who has been marching every day through Richmond. He said he joined the group once it became peaceful after watching a GRTC bus burn Friday night not far from his home.

On Sunday at around 4:30 a.m., Smith recorded a video of police pepper spraying him and his girlfriend while they were inside their apartment. He said he was yelling and swearing from his window at officers who sprayed people outside, when one officer sprayed into Smith’s open window.

“They sprayed innocent people,” Smith said. “And so, I of course reacted. I mean I was shouting ‘fuck you,’ ‘fuck 12’ out my window the whole night, but that’s irrelevant.”

Smith says he’s been tear-gassed several times since Friday. He was at the Lee statue on Monday when Richmond Police officers deployed tear gas on protesters 30 minutes before curfew.

“I had to hide in some house like Nazi fuckin’ Germany with my girlfriend,” Smith said.

Ravenne Taine joined protests on Friday, after she walked her dog near Rite-Aid and realized tear gas had been deployed. 

“We went outside, could not breathe,” Taine said while walking home from Tuesday night’s protests. “We went out from there.”

Taine was one of hundreds of peaceful protesters that were tear-gassed by Richmond Police at the Lee memorial on Monday. Richmond Police later tweeted that the officers involved would be removed from the field. 

The General Assembly passed a bill in early March allowing Virginia localities to remove, relocate or alter memorials for war veterans. The law goes into effect on July 1. The statue honoring Lee is one of five statues owned by the state on Monument Avenue.

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