What's Next For Richmond's Confederate Monuments
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The former capital of the Confederacy is Richmond, Va. And we've been following the debate there about the fate of its many confederate monuments. The city's mayor, Levar Stoney, set up a commission to look into how to add context to the statues. The question of removal was initially off the table. But in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Mayor Stoney has changed his position. He now says the statues are offensive and need to be removed. And he's told the commission to consider the option of taking them down. Mayor Stoney joins us now from Richmond. Good morning, sir.
LEVAR STONEY: Good morning, Lulu. How are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm very well. Richmond is just an hour's drive from Charlottesville. What was it like to watch what unfolded last weekend?
STONEY: Well, I watched the coverage from home. And, boy, it really gave me a sinking feeling. I called my team. And they obviously were glued, as well. And I knew that we were not immune to a situation like Charlottesville. So, you know, that really stuck with me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was it that that made you decide to change your position on the monuments in Richmond?
STONEY: Yes. I never was a fan of these monuments. When I ran for office, I stated that I would not shed a tear if Jefferson Davis the statue would be removed. But, you know, I wanted to create a process that, you know, people's voices were heard. And the one voice that was not at the table was that for removal. And after Charlottesville, I thought, you know, we could no longer use these monuments as teaching tools to enlighten and educate. Now there are those out there - white supremacist, KKK, neo-Nazis - who now use these moments for hate and bigotry and intolerance and violence. And to me, those are not the values of the city of Richmond.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you know, the mayor of Baltimore had the Confederate statues in her city removed overnight this week. Why not just do what she did?
STONEY: Well, I think that's what people don't understand is that they had a process, as well. She was acting under a recommendation from a commission that did take the first step in interpreting those statues. And the same way in New Orleans, as well, there was a public process that dragged on for many, many years. Both received endorsement votes from the city council. And so we're going to do the same thing here. That is the most responsible thing. Despite how I may feel, we're going to let the commission do its work.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the process exactly? If the commission says that the monuments should be taken down, what happens then?
STONEY: If the commission says the monument should be taken down, this will be for me to propose to the city council. And the city council will have to weigh whether or not, you know, we can find the dollars to make something like this happen. At the end of the day, we have a lot of priorities here in the city of Richmond. You know, I - I'm I live in a city where 25 percent of the residents live under the poverty line, that 40 percent of our children live under the poverty line. The vestiges of Jim Crow live with us every single day. I do believe inanimate objects are - those symbols are important. But the priorities still remain. And that is making a difference in people's lives who are the living and the breathing, who walk with us every day.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How have the president's actions and words fed into this debate?
STONEY: I think the president has not bridged the divide, instead he's widened it. You know, I think folks are looking for a leader who will bring us together in our darkest hour. And we have not seen that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Levar Stoney is the Democratic mayor of Richmond, Va. We've been following him on his first year in office. And we'll be checking in with him again soon. Mayor, thank you very much.
STONEY: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.