It’s about time

6/11/2020, 6 p.m.

It’s about time

That was our first reaction to Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s announcement last week that he is ordering the statue of Confederate traitor Robert E. Lee to be removed from Monument Avenue.

His announcement was quickly followed by Mayor Levar M. Stoney and a unanimous Richmond City Council saying they will vote to remove the other four monuments to Confederates from Monument Avenue as well as those in other city locations.

Their actions are long, long overdue.

The Free Press has demanded for nearly three decades that the statues honoring white supremacists must come down.

Nazi statues were destroyed and Nazi symbols were outlawed in Germany after World War II. Statues honoring British colonialists were moved to the outskirts of New Delhi following India’s independence. Even the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad was toppled and hauled off after the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

Why did it take George Floyd’s death at the hands of a vicious white police officer in Minneapolis for top government officials in Virginia and Richmond to understand that the Confederate statues are racist and oppressive to African-Americans and people of color — like someone having a knee on our neck and they need to come down?

Like the video of Mr. Floyd crying out as he was pinned on the pavement for nearly 9 minutes, it is clear that something is horribly wrong with this state and this city to continually idolize and treasure men who fought a bloody war against the U.S. government in order to keep black people in human bondage — buying, selling, owning and abusing black men, women and children as if they were nothing more than cattle.

The graffiti that protesters sprayed on the statues gives these Confederate barbarians all the context they need before they are removed to museums, Civil War battlefields and cemeteries, historic homes or private collections where they can become teachable props instead of deities of a Lost Cause.

How swiftly the statues come down remains a question because of legal complexities. But it is clear the political will is there to bring them down as soon as possible.

At this moment in an election year, we deign not to look too closely at the motives of the politicians and corporate chiefs who have jumped on the justice train sweeping the country and the globe.

However, the conductors — thousands of passionate, energetic young people fueled by knowledge of right from wrong — are to be commended. They are woke and refuse to tolerate the foolishness of older generations and their years of inaction.

In Richmond, young people have taken matters into their own hands and pulled down statues of Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham and Christopher Columbus — racist symbols of inhumanity, inequality and injustice.

We hope their energy will continue to translate into action at the ballot box in November and in local civic affairs — from City Council to the School Board to community meetings. We believe the events of the last two weeks have helped people of all ages and backgrounds to understand the need to recognize, vote out and eliminate the roadblocks to justice and usher in nonbiased, equitable policies, practices and laws regarding policing, health care, education, housing and jobs, just to name a few.

We warn our readers to be mindful that the Old Guard and those with entrenched interests in the status quo will fight vehemently — underhandedly and violently — to block progress toward an enlightened, equitable world. That is evidenced by the lawsuit filed Monday in Richmond Circuit Court to keep the Lee statue up and the violent actions of white supremacists who are feeling pressured and threatened by the sudden changes.

On Sunday, a self-professed Ku Klux Klan member drove his pickup truck into a group of protesters in Henrico County in a possible sick attempt to copycat the bloody, fatal attack by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism demonstrators in Charlottesville in 2017. Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported this time. The driver has been arrested and charged with assault and battery among other charges. Henrico County prosecutor Shannon L. Taylor also is weighing hate crime charges.

On Monday night, three carloads of white men reportedly drove around the traffic circle at the Lee monument shooting peaceful protesters with paintball guns. No one was hurt, but people, including young children, were terrorized.

Do these desperate, hateful actions signal that we are witnessing the coming extinction of the Confederacy?

We hope so.

Change can be difficult, messy and even painful, especially when it is necessary. The past struggles during Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement taught us that. But we urge Richmonders and others not to stop and to keep pushing vigorously forward toward a just, fair and equitable society.