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Debate over Monuments

In light of news in New Orleans, Baltimore, and the Neo-Nazi, white supremacist unpleasantness and murder in Charlottesville, Confederate monuments and their future are even more in the news. In my view, there is only one venue to discuss locally erected monuments and that is in that locality--it is an opportunity for everyone to learn and re-learn our local history. For the most part, that is the law today, although there is ongoing litigation that could change the status quo and prevent the removal of any monument regardless of the context surrounding its erection.

The applicable law is a little complicated. In 2016, there was a bill to overturn a circuit court ruling that held that cities can decide the fate of any statue erected before 1997. Since no Confederate memorials have gone up since 1997, the Commonwealth has played almost no role in these local debates. The State is unable to control, protect or remove, monuments on non-State property. 

I voted against the bill on the grounds that I did not want to preempt local and community debate that I believe is both indispensable and useful. Although the bill passed, the Governor vetoed it so the current law remains. These confederate monuments need to be explained in the context of their time, which may be the sole remedy. However, monuments erected in a salute to the "Lost Cause," in opposition to Reconstruction, to Jim Crow or the civil rights era in the 20th Century, are likely to be viewed negatively by the communities where they reside. Their future disposition should remain with those communities.

Some statues, however, like the controversial 'Appomattox' on Washington Street at Prince Street in Old Town, have their very own law which requires the State to act. There will be a bill introduced this winter to move it to the nearby Lyceum and out of the road per the request of the Alexandria City Council. If it gets to the House floor, will vote for it. It needs to be in a museum.