Updated at 4:53 p.m. ET
Virginia’s capital city began taking down its statue of Stonewall Jackson after Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the immediate removal of multiple Confederate statues in Richmond.
A crane and a cherry picker swiftly arrived on the city’s Monument Avenue to remove the statue of the Confederate general. Crowds gathered to watch and cheer the crew’s work, reported Mallory Noe-Payne of NPR member station WVTF.
Stoney says he has the powers to remove the statues immediately because of powers he holds during a declared state of emergency.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon with NPR, Stoney said he had moved quickly to remove the statue for public safety and other reasons.
“We’ve had 33 days of unrest,” the mayor said. “It’s time. It’s time to move beyond the lost cause and embrace the righteous cause. We can be more than just the capital of the Confederacy. It’s time for us to be the capital of compassion.”
Earlier in the day, Stoney had sought approval from the Richmond City Council for the immediate removal of the city-owned Confederate statues, arguing that they posed a threat to public safety.
While many council members voiced full support for the mayor’s proposal, procedural issues caused them to push a vote on the matter until Thursday, to allow enough time for public notice. Interim City Attorney Haskell Brown warned that the mayor’s going ahead with emergency statue removal would be contrary to the legal advice he has offered previously.
Stoney says that he will work with the council in the coming weeks on a public process to determine the ultimate fate of the statues. Until then, the monuments will go into storage.
Monument Avenue’s Robert E. Lee statue is owned by the state. Gov. Ralph Northam is trying to remove it, but that effort has been blocked by an injunction from a Richmond judge. A statue of Jefferson Davis was toppled by protesters last month, leaving Monument Avenue with two other city-owned statues of Confederate figures still standing: J.E.B. Stuart and Matthew Fontaine Maury.
City Council member Michael Jones was among those watching the statue come down on Wednesday. He said the protesters who have been rallying for racial justice in Richmond are a manifestation of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beautiful community.”
“That’s what he was shooting for,” Jones told CBS station WTVR. “Out here in the streets protesting you have black young men and women, white young men and women, Latinx young men and women, Asian. Everyone is gathering together to say, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and that white supremacy cannot exist and should not exist in this country.”
“I’m proud of everything young Richmonders have done to get us to this point, to where we can truly say that Virginia is for lovers.”