EDITOR’s NOTE: Black Lives Matter 757 organized a protest at the Confederate monument starting at 7:57 p.m. Wednesday.
During the demonstration, protesters broke off pieces of the monument, threw paint and set it on fire.
It came to an end after one of the soldier statues toppled over and injured a male at the protest.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth’s historic Confederate monument was severely damaged Wednesday night at the hands of demonstrators, upset with city council’s timeline to relocate it.
Just hours after protesters covered Portsmouth’s Confederate monument in spray paint — and two NAACP leaders were charged with trespassing — City Council held an emergency meeting to make another move toward relocating the controversial statue.
While protesters were still gathered around the 54-foot-tall statue, council scheduled a public hearing on the relocation of the monument for July 28.
Under a state law that goes into effect on July 1, altering or relocating public monuments in the state of Virginia can occur. Following a public hearing—which the City Attorney said couldn’t happen for at least 30 days to account for public notice — the city then has to wait another 30 days to offer the monument up to a museum or other group before moving it themselves. Under this timeline, Portsmouth’s monument may not move until at least September.
NAACP Portsmouth chapter leaders along with activists from Black Lives Matter 757 listened to the discussion as it happened.
“If there is something morally courageous to do, you don’t wait 30 days, you do it now,” said James Boyd, President of the local NAACP chapter. “If you get a legal challenge in court then you allow the city attorney and whole team of attorneys that can argue in the court like they did in 2017. So this was just more delay and disappointment.”
The demonstration evolved into vandalism with paint and deconstruction of all four soldier statues on the monument. All were decapitated.
Before the heads were taken off the monuments, protesters broke off the swords and rifles attached to the statues, giving them to a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran who said he “waited 73 years to hold this sword.”
The protest evolved into a party-like scene with a brass band playing as the monument’s deconstruction continued, but that joyous atmosphere came to an end after one of the soldier statues toppled over and injured a man.
Video below shows the moment the statue fell on the man (Graphic video warning)
“It came and fully hit him in the head, and his skull was actually showing … there was a great amount of blood, We are just asking everyone to pray for that man right now,” said Aubrey ‘Japharii’ Jones, President of Black Lives Matter 757, who saw what happened.
The crowd had mostly dispersed within the following hour.
Members of the NAACP had continually tried to use the megaphone to tell people to come off the statue out of fear of what would happen. Roughly a dozen Portsmouth Police officers were standing by watching.
“It was a very unfortunate incident that should have never escalated to this,” said Angela Greene, Portsmouth’s Police Chief.
- RELATED: LIVE BLOG: One person hurt as protesters take down pieces of Portsmouth’s Confederate monument
But why didn’t the officers step in before then? Destruction of the monument began around 8:15 p.m.
“When things were occurring, the amount of officers that I had would put them in danger and at risk when I was attempting to contact the organizers for assistance to come in and stop it,” Police Chief Angela Greene said. “We were waiting for mutual aid to come and assist us so that we could safely disperse the crowd.”
Greene said officers were originally told to not arrest anyone covering by “another elected official.” While she wouldn’t name who the person was, earlier in the day State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) was on Facebook Live saying “let them cover it.”
Under the city charter only the City Manager can direct the police chief’s actions.
Relocating the monument
It’s been an ongoing debate whether the city owns the monument and has the authority to move it. However, City Attorney Solomon Ashby gave the opinion Wednesday that the city does, in fact, own it. He said the city oversees its care, the National Register of Historic Places lists the city as the owner, and the city has previously denied others access to manipulate or touch it.
- RELATED: Despite ownership questions, Portsmouth councilman proposes moving forward with Confederate monument relocation
Four council members Wednesday were in favor of holding a public hearing on the monument’s removal, while three others asked for a citywide referendum. At first, Councilman Paul Battle said he would favor a referendum, then changed his preference, tipping the council’s majority to the option of holding a public hearing.
“Removing this object within the confines of the law. That’s all I’m interested in. I just want to do what’s right so no one is injured,” Battle said.
Following that public hearing in July, City Council will enter another 30-day period in which it will decide what to do with the monument, such as relocation, removal, covering or contextualizing. City Council has already expressed a desire to move it to Cedar Grove or Oak Grove cemetery.
In addition to deciding on a public hearing instead of a referendum, City Council also directed the city manager to put together a resolution that would allocate $200,000 to help plan to move the Confederate monument.
An initial amount of $100,000 was discussed by council Tuesday night, but Mayor John Rowe suggested boosting it to $200,000 to help with surveying and analyzing potential sites, etc.
That resolution should appear on the June 23 agenda, the city manager said.
In the meantime, some council members voiced concern about safety around the 127-year-old monument.
Earlier Wednesday, some members witnessed people — including children — climbing on the monument. There was some concern they could fall or the monument could break and injure someone.
The city manager will be talking with the city attorney to begin the process of putting a safety fence around the monument.
So, while the monument may end up surrounded by a fence, could it be covered with a cloth or tarp?
On Tuesday, Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke suggested covering the monument with a tarp while the city worked to move it.
Ashby said covering it is probably not possible as the law stands now. In Charlottesville, officials at one point decided to cover their Confederate monument with a tarp, but that case was taken to court and the judge ruled the monument could not be covered.
Earlier Vandalism Enforcement
Portsmouth’s Confederate monument was covered in spray paint Wednesday afternoon, hours after two Portsmouth NAACP leaders, including chapter president James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs, were arrested in handcuffs, accused of trespassing on the monument.
Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene told 10 On Your Side that the night before she had told Boyd and Gibbs they could place items on the monument that would not be permanent destruction of property.
“The next day we were advising them that they could not be trespassing as that would allow other individuals to trespass as well, so we had to enforce the trespassing laws,” Green said.
Rowe said during the meeting Wednesday evening that the Portsmouth commonwealth’s attorney said she doesn’t intend to prosecute those trespassing charges against the two NAACP leaders.
However, Councilman Bill Moody voiced strong disappointment in the police’s decision not to arrest or charge others who were vandalizing the monument. He also said he was disappointed elected officials who witnessed the incident didn’t try to intervene.
“And I think whoever gave the order to the police officers on the scene to stand down … I think that person should submit their resignation. What they’ve done is set a precedent,” Moody said.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas agreed that vandals need to be prosecuted.
Councilman Shannon Glover, on the other hand, said he agreed with the decision by police.
“Right now, we have a public safety crisis,” Glover said. “[Moody] wants to criticize, condemn and complain… I’ve been trying to ensure safe protesting… So they’re safe and heard.”
Mayor Rowe said Portsmouth is a city of laws but commended the police departments decision.
“That piece of rock is not worth another person being hurt injured or even killed,” Rowe said.