A new portait of General Lee was returned to the Canal Walk floodwall on February 9, 2000.
Richmond police are keeping an eye on the banner to insure that no further vandalism occurs. To date, no arrests have been made in the destruction of the portrait.
OPEN SEASON ON GENERAL LEE
Someone in Richmond celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day by setting fire to the portrait of General Robert E. Lee mounted on the city's Canal Walk floodwall.
Richmond City police discovered the damage around 5:00 p.m. January 17 during a routine patrol. Although police arson investigator Joel Lawson initially would not offer details about the nature or extent of the damage, subsequent reports indicated that the damage was believed to have been caused by a Molotov cocktail. Lawson did say the incident was under investigation; evidence found at the scene of the vandalism apparently was sufficient to provide police with some strong leads.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the banner (shown in the photograph to the left) had been removed (along with all of the murals dealing with the War Between the States), and police were continuing to gather evidence and seek possible witnesses to the crime. A reward of $6000 ($5000 from the city, $1000 from the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans) has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).
Richmond Mayor Timothy Kaine condemned the vandalism, stating that "People who destroy property are punks. I am sure that we will catch them. They usually end up getting caught."
Upon hearing of the incident, Virginia Governor James Gilmore commented that "Vandalism is not in Virginia tradition."
Mrs. David S. Whitacre, President of Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, said, "The efforts to bring the portrait to the wall amid controversy were strenuous, and to have it destroyed by a senseless act of hatred is unconscionable. We look forward to its return to its proper place in short order. How can anyone who reveres Robert E. Lee or Martin Luther King, Jr. do such a despicable act on a day that honors both of these extraordinary Americans?"
City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, who found the General's portrait offensive and touched off an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to have it removed from the floodwall last summer, reportedly was undisturbed by the damage to the mural and emphasized that although he hoped it would not be replaced, he did find the act of vandalism itself "thuggish."
"If you condone violence or vandalism, then you have to condone it with all public displays, and I don't think we can condone that, simply because I wouldn't want to see someone do that to a statue or mural that I respected," El-Amin continued.
This latest incident follows in the wake of the recent defacement of Monument Avenue's Lee statue, which was spray painted with satanic images and the words "Kill White Devils." Police are trying to determine if the two incidents are related. [Webmaster's note: The graffiti has been successfully removed from the monument.]
Robert W. Barbour, Jr., Commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), has called for a swift and thorough investigation of the vandalism, labeling it "nothing [less] than a crime of hatred toward Southerners and Confederate history." He further called on the General Assembly, Governor Gilmore, Mayor Kaine, and the City Council to "denounce this crime for what it is, a crime of hate and not a simple act of vandalism."
"Why," Barbour continued, "was that mural picked and burned? If the mural was Martin Luther King or it was the Arthur Ashe monument, would they consider it a hate crime if it was desecrated? I'm sure they would."
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, however, is reporting that city police do not believe the vandalism rises "to the level of a hate crime." Police Chief Jerry Oliver has been quoted as saying "We don't know if it was done out of hate or love. We're treating it as an arson.... We have a criminal out there who is an arsonist."
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Kevin D. Purnell agreed with Oliver, adding that assault and battery committed against an individual "because of race, religious conviction, color or national origin" constitutes a hate crime but that property damage does not. Because no one was injured during the torching of the banner, state law will not permit the perpetrator(s) to be prosecuted for a hate crime.
READ the text of Commander Barbour's press conference on Tuesday, January 19, 2000, in Richmond, Virginia.
Although the SCV has asked that the damaged portrait be replaced as quickly as possible and then protected, the final decision about replacing the flame-retardant banner (which was produced by Big Image Products at a cost of $5,000) must be made by the Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation. Foundation President James Rogers can be reached for input at (804) 697-3500.
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