Charlottesville mayor calls for removal of downtown Confederate statues

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 18: A homemade sign that says Heather Heyer Park rests at the base of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that stands in the center of Emancipation Park on August 18, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer was killed during last weekend's protest by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and members of the 'alt-right.'

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer on Friday called for the removal of Confederate monuments from the city’s downtown, including the controversial Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park.

The decision comes nearly a week after a group of neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched to oppose the statue’s removal and clashed violently with counterprotesters.

“With the terrorist attack, these monuments were transformed from equestrian statues into lightning rods,” Signer said in a statement, referring to a car ramming attack on counterprotesters that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. “We can, and we must, respond by denying the Nazis and the KKK and the so-called alt-right the twisted totem they seek.”

“And so for the sake of public safety, public reassurance, to magnify Heather’s voice, and to repudiate the pure evil that visited us here, I am calling today for the removal of these Confederate statues from downtown Charlottesville.”

A weekend of violence

Heyer was killed Saturday when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters gathered to oppose a “Unite the Right” rally of neo-Nazi and other far-right groups. Nineteen others were injured.

The rally was held to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in a local park that had been named for the Confederate general. The Charlottesville City Council voted this year to remove the statue, rename the location to Emancipation Park and sell the monument.

But a lawsuit challenging the removal was filed, and a judge issued a temporary injunction in May stopping Charlottesville from moving the statue for six months. A court hearing in the lawsuit is set for later in August.

The weekend outpouring of neo-Nazis marching through the streets of the quiet college town while yelling racist and anti-Semitic slurs caught worldwide attention. Charlottesville is the home of the University of Virginia.

Last Friday night, “Unite the Right” demonstrators carried tiki torches, marched and chanted “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” “Blood and soil” is a phrase invoking the Nazi philosophy of “Blut und Boden.”

On Saturday, angry confrontations and skirmishes ensued between armed white nationalists carrying Confederate flags and counterprotesters, including anti-fascist groups.