10/11/2018, 6 a.m.
That’s the best word to describe Monday’s action by Richmond City Council to roll over and play dead when it comes to the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.
On a 6-3 vote, the council rejected a very basic and straightforward resolution by 9th District Councilman Michael Jones that would ask the Virginia General Assembly to grant City Council authority over monuments and memorials in the city, including those on Monument Avenue.
Currently, a state law enacted by a racist General Assembly in 1904 Jim Crow Virginia prohibits localities from trying to “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials” erected to honor veterans of war. This was done during a time when statues to Johnny Reb and other slavery-loving, traitorous Confederates, including the vanquished five on Monument Avenue, were being put up in front of courthouses and places of honor throughout Virginia and the bedraggled South.
Democratic lawmakers tried to change the state law after the deadly violence perpetrated in Charlottesville in August 2017 by alt-right, neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and neo-Confederate factions. But they were unsuccessful because of the vise-like vestiges of the racist South still gripping the General Assembly.
So, it’s no surprise that Virginia remains one of several Southern states with laws protecting Confederate monuments. Others include Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina.
What is jaw-droppingly surprising and appalling is that Richmond City Council, many of whose members profess to be progressive, shrank from a simple request to give City Council the authority to make its own decisions about the landmarks.
Not only have council members abdicated their responsibility to their constituents in a city that is largely African-American, they shamefully hid behind a myriad of weak excuses in explaining why they don’t have the backbone to deal with the crucial question of what should happen to the statues on Monument Avenue.
The foremost excuse was that by including such a request in their legislative wish list, it might jeopardize the more important request to the General Assembly for additional state funding for Richmond Public Schools.
But even new RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras saw through that rationale. During the council meeting, he sent a message through Councilman Jones that City Council shouldn’t hide behind the schools in doing what was right by standing up for important values.
Several council members spouted sound bite-like rhetoric about how the largest monuments to slavery in our city are the poorly funded schools and huge gaps in wealth and homeownership between Caucasians and African-Americans, and how those problems should be addressed.
Yes, we expect City Council to work on those issues, but the council should not ignore the blatant and outsized symbols of racism that are visible to every driver, pedestrian and tourist on Monument Avenue. Even the weak-kneed recommendations of Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s appointed Monument Avenue Commission went further than this City Council — by recommending that the statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, be removed and that signs be added to the statues of Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson and Matthew Fontaine Maury to put them in context.