Sahara Sriraman, Contributing Writer
The fence that once surrounded the Robert E. Lee monument is still up after over a year since its erection despite the statue’s removal on Sept. 8.
Black Lives Matter protesters and members of the Richmond community demanded for the removal of the statue starting in the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, according to a previous report from The Commonwealth Times. After people graffitied the statue, a fence was put up by the state on Jan. 25, 2021. There are now plans to remove the fence since the land is now owned by Richmond instead of the state, according to James Nolan, press secretary for Mayor Levar Stoney.
Nolan stated the land surrounded by the fence is considered by the city of Richmond to be a construction site. He stated the Department of Public Works will be working on the site in the next few weeks before turf is placed in the spring. There is not a specific date for when the turf will be placed.
The area around the statue has become known as Marcus-David Peters Circle, named after a VCU alum who was shot and killed by a Richmond police officer on I-95 while experiencing a mental health crisis, according to a previous report by the CT.
“The future of the circle, like that of all Monument Avenue, will be determined through a thoughtful and community-rooted planning process, with the objective of repurposing the space in support of the goals set forth in the Richmond 300 Master Plan,” Nolan said.
He stated the fencing that encircles the Robert E. Lee monument will then be removed so people can use the space how they please once again.
The Richmond 300 Master Plan is a set of initiatives set forth by the city council to improve the city overall, according to the plan’s website. It includes six “Big Moves” that “intentionally seek to expand equity, increase the sustainability of our city, and beautify our city,” according to the plan’s website. The plan is meant to be completed by 2037, Richmond’s 300th anniversary.
Princess Blanding, a former candidate for Virginia governor and sister of Marcus-David Peters, said she believes the fence was put up and is still up because the city wanted to prevent people from gathering there.
“The monument is down, they tried to say it was for safety reasons at first, but what is their excuse now?” Blanding said. “And the answer is there is no justifiable excuse outside of they don’t want community members to gather there anymore.”
Before the fence was put up, she said the area used to be a safe community space where different people could come together for entertainment and community events.
Blanding said Marcus-David Peters Circle had become an especially safe place for Black Richmonders following the monument’s removal. She said the fence has alienated them by blocking the space off.
“Even this whole reimagined Monument Avenue – where’s the input from community members?” Blanding said. “Community members who had a huge part in that statue even coming down.”
Blanding said she is still a public advocate for the Richmond people who demand further transformation of the city. She said she believes decisions surrounding the fence made by the city are not about what’s best for the Richmond community.
“If it was truly about the people, you would not have been making decisions without input from the people,” Blanding said.
Alex Keena, an assistant professor of political science, said he noticed there were overlapping jurisdictions between the state and local government that made the removal process of the Lee monument much more complex.
He said the land where the Lee monument was located used to be a peaceful space that the community could mutually use.
“It was a space of spontaneous political organization and political expression and just a perfect example of how the collective action of motivated people can completely change the power dynamics of a monument,” Keena said.
He said now, however, there is uncertainty surrounding the fence even though the monument has been removed for a while, especially because the city hasn’t taken community opinion into consideration.
“There doesn’t seem to be much of an effort to solicit community impact or community opinions about what we’re going to do with that space, so it’s a little weird, a little strange,” Keena said. “It kind of exists in limbo.”
He also said he wants Monument Avenue to be a place where everyone can gather and use it collectively.
“What I would like to see is a broad dialogue, what are the values our city holds and can we have public art as a place that is also a site of political participation,” Keena said.
Keena said he hopes the removal process of the Lee monument will have an effect on how Richmond approaches issues of race in the future.
“I hope the effect will be transformative, that this is an opportunity to create a new vision of the future for the city of Richmond that isn’t so intertwined with white supremacy,” Keena said.