Richmond votes to ask state to give control over Confederate monuments

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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) — The debate on what to do with Confederate monuments heated up on Monday with Richmond leaders asking the commonwealth to make a change.

Right now, Virginia state law bans cities and towns from removing war memorials. Monday night, Richmond's council members voted to ask the General Assembly to allow Richmond to make its own choices when it comes to monuments.

Such a decision would establish a precedent for other localities across Virginia, like Charlottesville, which has been fighting to remove a state of Confederate General Robert E. Lee for several years.

It's not the first time this issue has come up, but those hoping to begin the conversation believe things may be different this year since the General Assembly will be controlled by Democrats for the first time in decades.

"{People are} continuing to take down statues, trying to cover up the history, the true history of Americans,” a Confederate monument supporter told city leaders.

"I'm here to protect our American history. Confederate statutes shouldn't be moved or destroyed,” Wendy Hazlett added.

Traveling to Richmond from Hampton Roads, those two women spoke in favor of keeping Confederate statues standing.

"I am the great great granddaughter of a Confederate soldier…It's not about white supremacist as he says, racists. It's about 200,000 Confederates dead, for all the mother's sons who never came home, our family,” Hazlett continued.

But that support was met with resistance.

"I am sick of individuals coming from out of town to tell us what is and what isn't history, what we should or shouldn't do with these statues,” a resident fired back.

"People put up statues when they want to honor a person or cause they represent and they take them down when they no longer want to honor that person or cause…To call for them to stand up is cowardness,” Phil Wilayto said.

Richmond city leaders listened to both sides before taking action.

"The easiest thing to do would be to vote against this. Have the General Assembly just keep the power over there and say ‘well there's nothing we can do about it’. I don't think that's right,” council member Chris Hilbert said.

Ultimately, council decided to ask to be exempt from a state law banning localities from removing war memorials.

"Request for permission from the General Assembly is not about destroying our past or tearing down a statue or all of them, it is meant to be giving us the ability to have a conversation because right now we can’t,” council member Andreas Addison added.

Two council members voted against making that decision but the majority won.

Mayor Stoney is pleased by the vote.

“I’m encouraged that the Richmond City Council has taken this important step to tell the VA General Assembly that localities like Richmond need the authority to determine and control public spaces which reflect their values in 2020, not 1920,” he said in a tweet.