A Virginia judge has ruled that statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in Charlottesville are war monuments that the city cannot remove without permission from the state.
In a nine-page ruling obtained from the University of Virginia School of Law website, Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore said neither the intentions of the people who erected the statues nor how they make people feel change the fact that the statues pay homage to the Civil War. Moore cited state code in his ruling that says it is illegal for municipalities to remove such monuments to war.
"I find this conclusion inescapable," Moore said. "It is the very reason the statues have been complained about from the beginning. It does no good pretending they are something other than what they actually are."
Don Gathers, the former chair of the city's Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces, said he disagreed with the judge's ruling because it retraumatizes the city.
"Just because something is legal, doesn't mean it's right or it's moral. I'm fearful what this has done is given the vile evilness that descended upon us in August of 2017 to come back," he said.
The ruling comes nearly two years after the Unite the Right rally, a white nationalist gathering, left counterprotester Heather Heyer dead. The Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statues in response to the rally, CNN affiliate WVIR-TV reported.
The city also covered the statues with black tarp while it mourned the deaths of Heyer and two troopers who died during the rally. However Judge Moore ruled the tarps had to be removed because the city never defined what a "temporary" shrouding meant. Moore also said the tarps have interfered with the public's right to see the monuments and enjoy the parks.
Outstanding motions remain in the case, according to Charlottesville spokesman Brian Wheeler.
"The ruling resolves one major legal issue in the case, specifically it sets forth Judge Moore's opinion that the statues are war memorials," he said. The judge will decide whether the question of the statues' removal will go to trial in September, Wheeler said.