PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — Protesters in Portsmouth, Virginia, covered a Confederate monument in the city with trash bags and sheets Wednesday, several hours after the city’s council members had a meeting to figure out ways to relocate it.
A white sheet that read “BLM” covered the fence in front of the monument hours after the Portsmouth city council met Tuesday to discuss who owns the figure, WVEC-TV reported. The question about who owns the monument has been the main roadblock in the city’s years-long quest to remove it.
During the council’s meeting Tuesday, Mayor John Rowe asked the city attorney if Portsmouth has the right to move the 127-year-old memorial. In 2018, a judge denied the city’s claim to own the monument because no one else had tried to claim it.
The local chapter of the NAACP and protesters have called for the 54-foot (16.5-meter) monument to be taken down, but some council members oppose removing the statue without a city wide vote, WAVY reported.
“Removing history is something I associate with bad government, communist government, fascist government,” Councilman Bill Moody said during the meeting. He said the monuments and museums exist “to remind us to never let this happen again.”
Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke suggested covering the statue until it’s relocated. During the meeting, the mayor proposed $100,000 the city can use to relocate the figure.
A new law in Virginia that allows cities to move or alter Confederate monuments they own goes into effect July 1.
Confederate monuments around the country have fallen in recent years amid contentious debate over whether they are proud monuments to Southern heritage or hated symbols of racism and past slavery. The debate has escalated anew in the nationwide protests over police misconduct and racism after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Elsewhere in Virginia, a statue of Christopher Columbus in Richmond was torn down by protesters, set on fire and then thrown into a lake Tuesday. The statue was toppled less than two hours after protesters gathered in the city’s Byrd Park were chanting for the statue to be taken down, news outlets reported.