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UPDATE: Richmond judge bars removal of Lee statue on Monument Avenue for 10 days

A Richmond judge has issued a temporary injunction barring the state from taking down the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue for 10 days.

The injunction, issued Monday afternoon, came after a complaint was filed earlier in the day objecting to the monument’s removal. Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that the state would take down the 130-year-old statue, which it owns and maintains, after a week of protests against police brutality and racism.

Earlier Monday, state workers inspected the monument before its planned removal. The Department of General Services said in a statement that a date for the statue’s removal had not been determined. Northam asked that it be taken down “as soon as possible.”

In the injunction, the judge, whose name could not be identified at press time, said there is “a likelihood of irreparable harm to the statue” if it is removed as proposed by Northam and DGS Director Joe Damico, the two defendants in the lawsuit.

“It is in the public interest to await resolution of this case on the merits prior to removal of the statue by defendants, and the public interest weighs in favor of maintaining the status quo,” the injunction reads.

Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the administration is still reviewing the order.

“Governor Northam remains committed to removing this divisive symbol from Virginia’s capital city, and we’re confident in his authority to do so,” she said.

Joseph Blackburn Jr., a lawyer for the plaintiff, confirmed the judge’s ruling, but declined comment.

The 381 Movement, one of the main Richmond groups organizing protests, did not immediately return a request for comment in response to the injunction late Monday.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the Monument Avenue Preservation Group described William Gregory, the plaintiff in the case, as a “descendant of a donor of the Lee Monument fund.” The statue, erected in 1890, is the largest on Monument Avenue and has served as the epicenter of Richmond’s protests in response to the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota.

Like the other Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, it has been tagged with graffiti during the protests. The Lee statue in particular has served in recent days as the site of mass gatherings, with protesters singing, dancing and registering to vote.

State workers were there Monday inspecting the statue before its planned removal.

While protesters have toppled some other Confederate statues and some cities have moved swiftly to remove what critics see as symbols of white supremacy, this monument won’t be so easy to take down.

Officials said the removal of the Lee monument must be done safely, given the memorial’s weight and height.

“The massive statue weighs approximately 12 tons, stands 21 feet tall, and has been on a 40-foot pedestal for 130 years,” the Department of General Services said in a statement. “Meticulous planning is required to remove an aging monument of this size and scale safely.”

Northam ordered the removal of the Lee monument last week amid nationwide protests sparked by the death of Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a white officer jammed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.

While the Lee statue is on state property, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and the City Council, meanwhile, have committed to taking down four additional Confederate memorials on city land along Monument Avenue. Together, they are among the nation’s most prominent tributes to the Confederacy, and their planned removal has been widely praised by black leaders and activists.

Police officers blocked off streets leading up to the traffic circle that surrounds the Lee statue around 7 a.m. Monday. Others ringed the monument with their vehicles.

Several top state officials, including Northam’s chief of staff, were on the scene as a cherry picker hauled in on a flat-bed truck hoisted workers up to inspect the statue. The work appeared to take only about an hour, and the scene was soon cleared.

Motivated by a bystander’s video of Floyd’s agony, demonstrators around the world have vowed to sustain a movement focused on addressing racial injustice and police brutality. In the American South, they’re also advocating for the swift removal of Confederate monuments, with or without the approval of authorities.

Opponents of the monuments say they celebrate white supremacy and gloss over the nation’s history of slavery. Others who advocate for keeping them say they have historical or artistic value and their removal amounts to erasing history.

Authorities have removed other symbols since protests erupted two weeks ago, including a massive obelisk in Birmingham, Ala., and a bronze likeness of Adm. Raphael Semmes that had stood in a middle of a downtown street near the Mobile, Ala., waterfront for 120 years. In Fredericksburg, a 176-year-old slave auction block was removed from the city’s downtown, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy removed its statue from Old Town Alexandria.

In other cases, protesters aren’t waiting: In Richmond over the weekend, protesters toppled a statue of Gen. Williams Carter Wickham in Monroe Park, and in Bristol, England, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston met a watery end.

PHOTOS: Crews inspect Lee statue for removal

Local
Lohmann: Godwin senior overcame cancer, will attend UVA as Jefferson Scholar

If you were diagnosed with cancer at age 13, it would be natural — and justified — to feel fear and even self-pity.

Charles Ellison skipped those steps and went directly to, “What’s next?”

“It was just a state of shock and acceptance at the same time,” he said. “I was so surprised that, ‘Wow, this is actually happening to me.’ I really didn’t know what to think.

“But at the same time, I kind of realized in the moment that there was nothing I could do to undo it. The diagnosis is what the diagnosis is … and I felt like it would be better mentally if I just accepted things as they were and focused on whatever the next step in treatment was.”

Ellison, 18, who graduates from the Center for Medical Sciences at Godwin High School on Tuesday, survived cancer and the treatments that forced him to miss substantial time from school, but still managed to excel and was awarded a Jefferson Scholarship, the premier undergraduate scholarship at the University of Virginia.

“Extraordinarily impressive that he’s been able to do what he’s been able to do in light of those circumstances,” said Bishop Bosher, a science teacher at Godwin who has taught Ellison in three of the past four years. “It’s hard enough navigating life as a teenager, much less having to deal with that also.

“Not many people can pull off what he’s pulled off.”

Ellison will be one of 34 Jefferson Scholars in the upcoming freshman class, according to the Jefferson Scholars Foundation. The scholarship, for which students are nominated by their schools, covers the entire cost of attendance for four years, plus coverage for additional enrichment experiences.

He hopes to major in chemistry, though he’s also interested in American history and exercise physiology. The flexibility offered by the Jefferson Scholars program was a large part of the appeal.

He’s long had the idea of a career in medicine. His current goal is to become a head and neck surgeon, an ambition that comes directly from his own health experiences.

In December 2015, during his eighth-grade year, he was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, which has a high survival rate, but is not the kind of thing you want to hear when you’re 13 (or when you’re the parent of a 13-year-old).

The following month, surgeons removed his thyroid gland and many of his lymph nodes. Since then, he’s gone through two radioactive iodine therapies. Though the cancer is “dormant,” he said, recurrence is always a possibility, so he undergoes routine blood work and scans to keep an eye on things.

And what does he take out of all of that?

“I never actually went through chemotherapy, and when I think about it, I think about the fact that even though I have cancer and I’ve gone through the treatments and surgery, I think about how many kids have it worse off than me,” he said.

“I survived, but there are a lot of pediatric cancer patients who don’t. I feel like for me to waste the life I’ve been given by medical professionals and modern medicine would be disrespecting the lives that were lost. It’s almost a way of honoring the kids who were less fortunate than I am, and that’s probably what stuck deepest in my heart through those times.”

As a result, he has become involved with the Richmond-based ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation and also has become an advocate for pediatric cancer research, lobbying for more funding at the General Assembly.

“Not many teens or adults are brave enough to share their struggles,” said Amy Godkin, ASK executive director. “Charles chooses to share his story as a way of helping others going through pediatric cancer treatment. Whether it’s speaking at an event or advocating to state legislators, Charles is using his voice to help make a difference here in our community.”

Ellison also became involved with the ASK Moving Forward Wellness Program, which set him up with a YMCA trainer who has helped Ellison become more fitness- and health-oriented. Even though he considered himself athletic before, he is “the most physically fit I’ve ever been.”

Bosher said he sees a lot of “really bright and very talented kids,” but that Ellison stands out not only because he’s smart and works hard but because he combines those attributes in a way “that is not overbearing and that he’s easy to be around.”

“He’s just very well-rounded, which is going to make him, no matter what he decides to do, sought after by a lot of different people,” Bosher said. “I have no doubt he will be very successful in whatever he puts his efforts into.”

When he looks back on those days after he was diagnosed, he’d like to go back and tell his 13-year-old self to take a longer view and understand there is “so much more at the end of the tunnel” than simply surviving.

“It’s a second chance I’ve been given,” he said. “I have to make that worth something.”


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Crime
Henrico prosecutor: Hanover man who drove into protest is admitted KKK leader

The Hanover County man arrested Sunday for driving his truck into a crowd of protesters “is an admitted leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a propagandist for Confederate ideology,” Henrico County’s top prosecutor said Monday.

Harry H. Rogers, 36, has been charged with attempted malicious wounding, felony vandalism, and assault and battery. He is being held without bond.

In her statement, Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor said Rogers was driving recklessly down Lakeside Avenue in the median on Sunday, drove up to protesters, revved his engine and drove through the crowd. One person was evaluated for injuries.

“While I am grateful that the victim’s injuries do not appear to be serious, an attack on peaceful protesters is heinous and despicable and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” Taylor said.

She added: “The accused, by his own admission and by a cursory glance at social media, is an admitted leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a propagandist for Confederate ideology.”

Taylor said her office is investigating whether hate crime charges “are appropriate.”

Rogers’ girlfriend, who declined to give her name because she said she has received death threats, said Rogers had set out for the A.P. Hill statue after hearing about protests there. She said he has been concerned about damage or removal of the statues, and wanted to “observe” the protests and call police if anyone defaced the monument.

“He did not go there with violent tendencies,” she said in an interview at the home she shares with Rogers. They have been dating for a year.

She said that Rogers, who goes by “Skip,” went there with her 14-year-old son and that a protester hit her son while the teen was in Rogers’ pickup truck with him.

“Someone reaches in the truck window and popped my son in the side of the face,” she said.

Henrico police said in an email they are aware of the allegation involving the juvenile, and are continuing to investigate.

Rogers’ girlfriend said she was on the phone with Rogers and that he was saying “What do I do?”

“He tried to drive over a median to get my son out of danger,” she said.

One of the protesters, Rachel Kurtz, said it’s untrue that anyone assaulted the teenager or that Rogers was trying to flee from the protesters. She said that she and other supporters of Black Lives Matter were planning to march to the A.P. Hill monument and then end with a moment of silence.

Kurtz said she was carrying her daughter and walking with her son and husband along Lakeside Avenue when the pickup came from behind them revving its engine. They got up on the sidewalk just in time to avoid the truck, she said. “It came right beside us into the crowd of protesters,” she said.

Kurtz said the truck bumped a bicyclist and that someone threw a water bottle at the vehicle, causing the driver to stop. Some of the bicyclists who were with the protesters surrounded the pickup to block it from striking the protesters who were on foot, Kurtz said.

The pickup’s driver got out of the truck “like he was going to fight,” she said, but instead he got back in and started revving and inching forward. “It looked like he was trying to intimidate us,” she said.

Kurtz said her 11-year-old was upset by the experience. “He went from being so proud that he was marching and doing the right thing to crying and saying, ‘I want to go home,’” she said.

“This is why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she said. “We want this kind of hate to end.”

George Townsend, an attorney listed in court papers as representing Rogers, could not be reached for comment.

In a news release about the incident issued on Sunday, Henrico Police Lt. A.M. Robertson said the county police department received a call from city police around 5:45 p.m. Sunday.

“Several witnesses reported that a vehicle revved their engine and drove through the protesters occupying the roadway,” Robertson said.

One person was evaluated at the scene but refused further treatment, Robertson said.

Roughly three years ago in Charlottesville, James Fields drove his car into a crowd that was protesting the white supremacist-organized Unite the Right rally. Fields killed one person and injured more than two dozen more. He was sentenced to life in prison last year.

Amy Spitalnick, the executive director of Integrity First for America, the civil rights group behind the federal lawsuit against the organizers of the Unite the Right rally, said the use of car attacks against peaceful protesters is a “deliberate tactic by these extremists.”

“The fact that their fellow white supremacists are now hitting peaceful protesters with cars should make it crystal clear: efforts to deflect and distract about who’s responsible for the violence are not only cynical and irresponsible, but also incredibly dangerous,” Spitalnick said Monday. “Our officials have an obligation to state clearly who is behind recent violence — and ensure these extremists are fully held to account for their actions.”

Police are asking anyone who may have been in the area of Sunday’s incident in Henrico, or have any information regarding this incident, to contact Sgt. Wood at (804) 501-5000, call Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or submit tips on the “P3 Tip” app on your smartphone or tablet.


PHOTOS: Richmond's Monument Avenue during the recent Black Lives Matter protests

PHOTOS: Richmond's Monument Avenue during the recent Black Lives Matter protests

National
AP
Thousands mourn George Floyd in Texas amid calls for reform (copy)

HOUSTON — The last chance for the public to say goodbye to George Floyd drew thousands of mourners Monday to a church in the city where he grew up, as his death two weeks ago continues to stoke protests in America and beyond over racial injustice.

Floyd’s death on May 25 has inspired international protests and drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. by police and the criminal justice system. France on Monday ordered a halt to the use of police chokeholds, and officials in New York, California, Colorado and elsewhere announced measures to do so.

Reflecting the weight of the moment, the service drew the families of black victims in other high-profile killings whose names have become seared in America’s conversation over race — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.

“It just hurts,” said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, sobbing as he ticked off some of their names outside The Fountain of Praise church. “We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close.”

Under a blazing Texas sun, mourners wearing T-shirts with Floyd’s picture or the words “I Can’t Breathe” — the phrase he said repeatedly while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer — waited for hours to pay their respects as Floyd’s body, dressed in a brown suit, lay in an open gold-colored casket. Some sang “Lean on Me,” and Houston’s police chief bumped fists and embraced others in line.

Some knew Floyd in the nearby housing projects where he grew up. Others traveled hours or drove in from other states. Those who couldn’t make it whipped up their own tributes: In Los Angeles, a funeral-style procession of cars inched through downtown as the viewing began in Houston. In Tennessee, residents of Memphis held a moment of silence.

Bracy Burnett approached Floyd’s casket wearing a homemade denim face mask scrawled with “8:46″ — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd, who was black, was pinned to the ground under a white officer’s knee before he died.

“All black people are not criminals. All white people are not racists. All cops are not bad. And ignorance comes in all colors. That’s what I thought about when I viewed the body,” Burnett, 66, said.

Hours into the viewing, a judge in Minneapolis kept bail at $1 million for Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death. Chauvin, 44, said almost nothing during the 11-minute hearing while appearing on closed-circuit television from a maximum-security prison.

“With this happening to him, it’s going to make a difference in the world,” said Pam Robinson, who grew up with Floyd and handed out bottled water to mourners waiting outside the church. The punishing heat spiked above 90 degrees and got to dozens in line, including one person who was taken to a hospital. Dozens more were helped to a cooling tent.

Comill Adams said she drove more than seven hours from Oklahoma City with her family, including two children ages 8 and 10. They wore matching black T-shirts with “I Can’t Breathe” on the back — shirts she made up specially for the memorial.

“We had been watching the protests on TV. We’ve been at home feeling outraged. At times it brought us to tears,” Adams said. “The fact this one is causing change, we had to come be a part of it.”

Mourners were required to wear masks over fears of the coronavirus and stood 6 feet apart as they paused briefly to view the casket. On a stage behind the casket two identical murals showed Floyd wearing a black cap that read “Houston” and angel wings drawn behind him.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among the first to view the casket, wearing a striped gold-and-crimson tie, the colors of Floyd’s Houston high school, where Floyd was a standout football player.

“George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States. George Floyd has not died in vain. His life will be a living legacy about the way that America and Texas responds to this tragedy,” Abbott said.

Floyd’s funeral will be Tuesday, followed by burial at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he will be laid to rest next to his mother, Larcenia Floyd.

Former Vice President Joe Biden met with Floyd’s family Monday, according to a photo posted by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Biden will provide a video message for Floyd’s funeral service. Previous memorials have taken place in Minneapolis and Raeford, N.C., near where Floyd was born.

***

Floyd’s death has spurred calls for change nationwide.

The Minneapolis City Council has vowed to dismantle the city’s 800-member police agency. And in Washington, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall before proposing legislative changes in policing oversight, reading Floyd’s name and those of others killed during police interactions and kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality.

Besides banning police chokeholds, the Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police and create a national database of excessive-force incidents, according to an early draft. It is the most ambitious change to law enforcement sought by Congress in years.

Meanwhile, officials nationwide are already taking steps to outlaw chokeholds: California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s police training program to stop teaching them and Denver police announced Sunday they were banning them, effective immediately.

Cities imposed curfews as several protests last week were marred by spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. More than 10,000 people have been arrested around the country, according to reports.

But protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful — and over the weekend, several police departments appeared to retreat from aggressive tactics.

Several cities have lifted curfews, including Chicago and New York City, where the governor urged protesters to get tested for the coronavirus as concerns have been raised that demonstrations could lead to an increase in virus cases.

***

Jami Resch, the police chief in Portland, Ore., resigned on Monday, just six months into her job, amid criticism of her department’s handling of protests in Oregon’s largest city. An African American lieutenant on the force replaced her.

The shake-up came as police were sharply criticized for using what has been called inappropriate force against some protesters as huge demonstrations continued in Portland.

“To say this was unexpected would be an understatement,” the new chief, Chuck Lovell, said at a news conference. “I’m humbled. I’m going to listen. I’m going to care about the community, and I’m looking forward to this journey.”

He and community leaders of color credited Resch, a white woman, for stepping down as Floyd protests roiled the city.

Resch said at the news conference that Lovell is “the exact right person at the exact right moment” to head the police department.

Resch had replaced Danielle Outlaw, who was Portland’s first African American female police chief and who became Philadelphia police commissioner in February.

Resch said she will stay with the department in a different role.

Demonstrators held two peaceful George Floyd protests in Portland, but a third one that lasted until the early hours of Monday resulted in at least 20 arrests, with some demonstrators throwing objects at police, who fired tear gas and sponge-tipped projectiles.

***

Black Democrats in the Pennsylvania House pre-empted the day’s business to call for changes to policing, displaying a Black Lives Matter banner and commandeering the podium for about 90 minutes at the start of a voting session on Monday.

The dramatic takeover in Harrisburg went on pause when the Republican speaker said that he would consider putting proposals up for votes and that he supports a special session the protesters had sought to consider the legislation.

The protesters unfurled the banner at the dais and vowed they would not leave without movement on proposals to ban chokeholds, improve tracking of officers who have engaged in misconduct, and widen access to police video.

“We’re going to stay here until you act,” said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia. “This is our moment to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Rep. Steven Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, said he was “frustrated, upset and feeling as though I’m carrying the weight of black folks on my shoulders.”

“We cannot rewrite history,” said Kinsey, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. “However, black and brown folks refuse to relive history.”

In the state Senate, Republicans announced they would hold hearings next week on law enforcement and criminal justice accountability reforms, a plan a spokeswoman said began before the House protests.

Kinsey asked everyone in the chamber to kneel for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned to the ground under the officer’s knee.

Several House Republicans appeared to be kneeling and others praying while seated. Under special rules passed to cope with the pandemic, members do not have to be in the Capitol to vote, and attendance was spotty.

Republicans hold a sizable majority in the House, giving them ample tools to prevent action on any bills, and they have shown no interest this session on Democratic-sponsored proposals to reform police.

The House never formally convened. Democratic and Republican leaders met privately afterward and planned to confer again before Tuesday’s session. Democrats declined to say what their plans are if they do not get the response they want.