‘Lost Cause’: Monument Avenue residents call for rehearing of Lee statue removal case

The Robert E. Lee monument was removed on Sept. 8 by the Virginia Department of General Services after more than a year of legal entanglements. The public was able to view the removal. On Sept. 29, Monument Avenue residents filed a petition to rehear the case. Photos by Jon Mirador

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

Helen Marie Taylor and other Monument Avenue residents submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of Virginia to request a rehearing of the Robert E. Lee statue removal case. 

The statue was removed on Sept. 8 and the petition was filed on Sept. 29, less than four weeks after the removal. 

Patrick McSweeney is the lawyer for Helen Marie Taylor and other plaintiffs, who include John-Lawrence Smith, Janet Heltzel, George D. Hostetler and Evan Morgan Massey. All made efforts to block the statue’s removal. A majority of the plaintiffs are residents of Monument Avenue, according to the Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision to remove the statue.

Part of McSweeney’s argument lies on the 1889 Joint Resolution, which states that the Commonwealth of Virginia must hold the Lee monument and the area around it “perpetually sacred.”

“The Court failed to apply its own precedent that specifically held that the joint resolution in that case was enforceable,” McSweeney stated in the petition.

Gov. Ralph Northam stated the resolution could not be enforced, because the commonwealth cannot be forced “to engage in expression with which it disagrees.”

Community members reclaimed the area around the former site of the monument in the summer of 2020 and renamed it Marcus-David Peters Circle, in honor of a VCU alumnus who was shot and killed by a Richmond police officer while experiencing a mental health crisis on Interstate 95. 

A fence was erected around Marcus-David Peters Circle on Jan. 25 by the Virginia Department of General Services in anticipation of the statue’s removal, according to a release from DGS that morning. At the time, a date had not yet been set for Lee’s removal.

The fence is still standing as of Oct. 5. There is currently no update on when the fence will be removed, despite the statue’s absence, according to DGS spokesperson Dena Potter. 

Alena Yarmosky, senior communications advisor for Northam, referred to the petition as “a lost cause,” in an email.

The Virginia Supreme Court backed its decision regarding the monument’s removal on six different recent events, including: the establishment of Juneteenth as a holiday, Northam’s removal of the Lee and Stonewall Jackson holiday from Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the removal of a Lee bust from the Virginia Capitol’s Old House Chamber and action from protesters to remove Confederate monuments themselves. 

“Every branch of government has spoken — including a unanimous ruling from the Supreme Court — in support of a more inclusive, just Virginia,” Yarmosky stated. “It’s time to move on.”

Senior health, physical and exercise science major Madison Turner said she agrees with the court’s decision to remove the statue, since Richmond residents “obviously” didn’t want the monument to remain in place.

“One street and one neighborhood doesn’t have the power to decide for a whole group of people,” Turner said.

Turner said she witnessed Marcus-David Peters Circle used for cookouts. She thinks the area could be used as a community space to “uplift” Black voices and businesses. 

“It should be like a family place, and like rewrite history so it’s not all a negative connotation,” Turner said. “Make it something happy.”

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