The NCSL Blog


Statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond. Photo by Colonel Anthony S. Pike

This striking photograph of the statue of Robert E. Lee  is evocative of the national turmoil over Confederate Civil War memorials.

Joe Macenka, public information officer for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Division of Capitol Police, described for NCSL the photograph and the social turbulence surrounding it.

The Photograph and the Photographer

"The picture shows darkened storm clouds looming over a statue of Robert E. Lee, perhaps the most recognizable Confederate monument in Richmond, Va., a city once known as the Capital of the Confederacy.

Colonel Anthony S. Pike, chief of the Virginia Capitol Police"The image was captured by Colonel Anthony S. Pike, who in addition to being the chief of the Virginia Capitol Police is an accomplished amateur photographer. Colonel Pike specializes in nature and wildlife photography, but on this day he was walking around the Monument Avenue neighborhood in Richmond, searching for ways to protect the area and its citizens during what amounted beforehand to a great unknown: a planned protest at the Lee Monument by a group calling itself the Confederate States of America that figured to stoke racial tensions and perhaps spawn violence.

"Several groups had clashed at a rally Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, roughly 60 miles west of Richmond, and it ended with three people dead, dozens injured and many arrested."

How the Capitol Police Wound Up with Jurisdiction Over a Statue Miles Away From the Capitol.

"While Pike and other law-enforcement leaders in and around Richmond spent countless hours planning ways to avoid a repeat at the Sept. 16 event in the capitol city, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a pair of executive orders aimed at helping the police. Executive Order No. 67, signed Aug. 18, temporarily suspended permit-required activities at the Lee Monument. Even though the Lee Monument is in the city of Richmond, roughly 2 miles west of the main Virginia Capitol complex, it is located on a small piece of land owned by the state and is therefore under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Capitol Police.

"McAuliffe also signed Executive Order No. 68 to establish a task force that would examine the state's public safety preparedness and response to civil unrest and would make needed recommendations to him within three months. The 25-member group was led by Brian Moran, Virginia's secretary of public safety and homeland security, and comprised of state legislators, government officials and law-enforcement leaders, including Pike.

"When large rallies or demonstrations become violent," McAuliffe said, "it is not only the safety of our communities and citizens that is threatened, but also the safety of our men and women in uniform who risk their lives to protect us."

The Aftermath

"Three members of the Confederate States group from Tennessee showed up at the Lee Monument on Sept. 16. There was no violence, no injuries and just a handful of arrests involving counter-protesters, most for violating a law that bans wearing masks in public. McAuliffe's task force reported back to him, and on Nov. 20, the governor announced new rules for rallies at the Lee statue, which sits on a small plot of grass in the middle of a traffic circle on Monument Avenue. The rules create a new permitting process for groups of 10 or more people planning to rally at the Lee Monument. The regulations also cut the maximum allowable crowd size from 5,000 to 500 and ban firearms at permitted events.

"It remains to be seen whether this year's protests will lead to any new legislation in Virginia. The 2018 General Assembly session convenes Jan. 10.

"Meantime, the CSA plans to hold another rally at the Lee Monument (tomorrow), on Saturday, Dec. 9."

Actions: E-mail | Permalink |

Subscribe to the NCSL Blog

Click on the RSS feed at left to add the NCSL Blog to your favorite RSS reader. 

About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.