The rhetoric and actions of racists, white supremacists, and Nazi-ideologues in Charlottesville were disgusting and vile. This is not what Virginia believes in or stands for and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We are heartbroken that Heather Heyer was killed in a violent act of terrorism. Whether the perpetrator is charged as a terrorist or as a murderer, I hope his punishment is swift and harsh. We are grateful for the bravery and professionalism of local law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, and the Virginia National Guard. They are heroic public servants.
The men and women of local law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, and the Virginia National Guard conducted themselves honorably and professionally during a very difficult and delicate situation. I know the professional leaders at each of those agencies will review what happened on Saturday, and there will be time to ask those questions. I am not going to second guess or publicly criticize them while they mourn the death of two of their own. As I said before, I agree with the Governor in asking people on Friday to stay at home.
We join our fellow Virginians mourning for Lt. Jay Cullen and Trooper Burke Bates. They lost their lives in service to the Commonwealth. We pray for their families and colleagues, and grieve over the needlessness of their deaths. The brave men and women of local law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, and the Virginia National Guard are heroes who represent the true character of our Commonwealth.
The President’s statement Monday was clear and unequivocal, and I wish he had left it there. I was disappointed by what he said on Tuesday. The antifa is a violent and dangerous movement in its own right, and Black Lives Matter has dangerously threatened law enforcement and promoted violent rhetoric, but there is no moral equivalence here. The blame for Saturday rests solely with the out-of-state racists, white supremacists and Nazi-ideologues who invaded our Commonwealth with the purpose of promoting hate and vile ideas. They deserve our clear and unequivocal condemnation.
Unfortunately, the evil people we saw in Charlottesville on August 12th used Virginia’s historical monuments as a pretext for their hateful rally. But I think most Virginians know there are reasonable people on both sides of the ongoing debate over the role of historical monuments in our communities. I oppose the destruction or removal of historical monuments. I believe we don’t necessarily have to revere our history, but we should not try to rewrite it. There is a commonsense balance to be found here. This is a discussion we should have throughout our communities.
There is also a legal question surrounding current law. At least one Virginia judge has ruled that current law allows localities to alter historic monuments. The General Assembly attempted to clarify that this was not the intent of the law, but Governor McAuliffe vetoed the legislation. There is pending litigation in Charlottesville right now on this law. Historically, the General Assembly has been hesitant to take up statutes involved in ongoing litigation.
Section 15.2-1812 of the Code of Virginia provides that counties, cities and towns may erect monuments or memorials for any recognized war or conflict. The law further provides that it shall be unlawful for the locality or others to disturb or remove any such monument or memorial. The earliest version of this section was applicable only to counties and dates back to 1904. It has been amended several times and was not made applicable to all localities until 1997. There have been recent challenges to this code section. In Danville, the Circuit Court ruled that did not apply in this case because the monument was erected prior to 1997 and that the General Assembly did not make the application of the 1997 amendments retroactive. There is currently a pending case in Charlottesville.
During the 2016 Session, the General Assembly passed HB 587 amending § 15.2-1812 to provide that existing provisions related to the protection of certain monuments and memorials shall apply to all such monuments and memorials, regardless of when erected. The Governor vetoed this bill. This would have conclusively made the statute retroactive to prohibit the altering, moving, or defacing of any such monument or memorial in Virginia.
Regarding the monuments currently located on Monument Avenue in the City of Richmond, these are all owned by the City of Richmond with the exception of the Lee Monument which is owned and maintained by the Commonwealth. In summary, the 1904 provisions of § 15.2-1812 and all subsequent amendments are currently applicable to county monuments; however, absent conclusive action by the Supreme Court or the General Assembly, it is questionable whether the courts will apply the provisions of § 15.2-1812 to such monuments erected prior to 1997 located in cities.
On Friday, Governor Terry McAuliffe issued Executive Order Number 67 temporarily halting issuance of permits and prohibiting demonstrations at the Lee Monument until new emergency regulations have been approved and implemented by the Virginia Department of General Services.
Governor McAuliffe determined that following the events of the Unite the Right rally on August 12th in Charlottesville, and subsequent deaths of three individuals, to develop a comprehensive set of fair and consistent rules to both protect first amendment rights and prevent threats to public safety. The Governor believes that this suspension is necessary to give state and local officials breathing room to make thoughtful and informed decisions on managing the new reality of the potential for civil unrest.
Governor McAuliffe will issue a related executive order convening a task force, headed by Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran to study the safety concerns that arose from the events of August 12th. The Department of General Services will craft their new emergency regulations based on the recommendations of this new task force, which will be issued within three months.
Full Executive Order text can be found here: https://governor.virginia.gov/executive-actions/executive-orders/
Over the next few weeks and months I will be spending time out in the district meeting constituents and scheduling meetings with businesses and groups in the 59th District. I encourage you to contact my office if you have an issue or concern that I may be able to help assist with. I value the feedback you provide as it helps me do my job representing you better. You can email me at DelMFariss@virginia.house.gov or call me at (434)821-5929. You can also join the conversation on our social media page at www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.