Charlottesville mayor wants special session to remove Robert E. Lee statue

DURHAM, N.C. (Reuters) - The mayor of Charlottesville called on Friday for a special session of Virginia's legislature to let localities decide the fate of Confederate monuments like the statue that was the focus of a far-right rally last week that turned deadly.

Mayor Mike Signer issued his appeal amid an increasingly contentious debate over what to do with memorials to Confederate figures, who fought for the preservation of slavery during the U.S. Civil war, that are seen by opponents as offensive.

SEE ALSO: Three huge charities just dropped Trump's Mar-a-Lago after Charlottesville

In what has become the biggest domestic crisis of his presidency, Donald Trump has been sharply criticized, including by fellow Republicans, for blaming Charlottesville's violence not only on the white nationalist rally organizers, but also the anti-racism activists who opposed them.

"Whether they go to museums, cemeteries, or other willing institutions, it is clear that they no longer can be celebrated in shared civic areas," Signer said in a statement, referring to the statues. "We can, and we must, respond by denying the Nazis and the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) and the so-called alt-right the twisted totem they seek."

A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed and several people were injured when a man crashed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters at last Saturday's rally. A 20-year-old Ohio man has been charged with her murder.

Some attendees at the rally were heavily armed, and Singer said in his statement he was also calling for legislation that would let localities ban open or concealed carry of weapons at some public events. And he said he wanted to find a way to memorialize Heyer's name and legacy.
 

RELATED: US controversy surrounding Confederate memorials

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Controversy surrounding Confederate memorials
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Controversy surrounding Confederate memorials
A monument to former U.S. Vice President and Confederate General John Cabell Breckinridge stands outside the Old Courthouse in Lexington, Ky., U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A monument to Confederate General John Hunt Morgan stands encased in a protective scaffolding because of local construction, outside the Historic Lexington Courthouse in Lexington, Ky., U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A municipal worker attempts to remove paint from a monument dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman that was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Municipal workers attempt to remove paint from a monument dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman that was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Protesters gather below a monument dedicated to Confederate Major John B. Castleman while demanding that it be removed from the public square in Louisville, Ky., US, August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A plaque dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman is seen after it was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Municipal workers attempt to remove paint from a monument dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman that was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
White supremacists carry a shield and Confederate flag as they arrive at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A member of a white supremacists militia stands near a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 13: Police stand watch near the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally devolved into violence August 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue and change the name of the space from Lee Park to Emancipation Park, sparking protests from white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and members of the 'alt-right.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 13: Police stand watch near the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally devolved into violence August 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue and change the name of the space from Lee Park to Emancipation Park, sparking protests from white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and members of the 'alt-right.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 12: White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and members of the 'alt-right' attempt to organize inside Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-facist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Lee Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ANNAPOLIS, MD - AUGUST 16: Two women take pictures in front of the statue of US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney that sits in front of the Maryland State House, on August 16, 2017 in Annapolis, Maryland. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has called for the removal of the statue. Taney was the author of the Dred Scott decision. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KY-AUGUST 14: A monument to John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate General during the Civil War, stands near the old Historic Lexington Courthouse August 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. The Mayor of Lexington, Jim Gray, announced he has vowed to remove the statue, along with a statue of John C. Breckinridge which also stands at the courthouse, following the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Gray tweeted, 'We cannot let them define our future.' (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
DEMOPOLIS, AL - JUNE 14: The marble statue of a Rebel soldier was unceremoniously toppled from the granite pedestal where he had presided since 1910, on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Demopolis, AL. About 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 16, 2016, an on-duty patrol car with the Demopolis, Ala., Police Department proceeded north on North Main Avenue to the intersection of West Capitol Street, where it crashed into the citys Confederate memorial. The impact of the Dodge Charger broke the statue off at the shins. Undamaged was the inscription on the base: Our Confederate Dead. (photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, UNITED STATES - APRIL 3. The Jefferson Davis statue stands across the street from First Grace United Methodist Church in New Orleans, on April 3, 2016. It is one of several confederate statues in the city. (Photo by Ben Depp for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 04: New Orleans police officers stand guard at the Jefferson Davis monument on May 4, 2017 in New Orleans, Loiusiana. The Louisiana House committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs voted Wednesday to advance House Bill 71 that would forbid the removal of Confederate monuments in Louisiana as the City Council in New Orleans tries to move three statues of Confederate luminaries from public spaces and into museums. Protests that have at times turned violent have erupted at the site of the Jefferson Davis Monument after the Battle at Liberty Place monument was taken down in the middle of the night on April 24. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A 1933 statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is removed from University of Texas' South Mall Sunday after UT President Gregory Fenves cleared it to be placed in a campus museum along with a companion statue of President Woodrow Wilson. Recent racially-motivated shootings in the U.S. have called for reexamining some cultural icons of the Confederate South. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
Attorney Kirk Lyons disagrees as a 1933 statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is removed from University of Texas' South Mall Sunday after UT President Gregory Fenves cleared it to be placed in a campus museum along with a companion statue of President Woodrow Wilson. Recent racially-motivated shootings in the U.S. have called for reexamining some cultural icons of the Confederate South. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
ROCKVILLE, MD -May 5, 2016: A life-size bronze statue of a Confederate soldier stands in a grove outside the courthouse on May 5, 2016 in Rockville, MD.(Photo by Eric Kruszewski/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A 1933 statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is removed from University of Texas' South Mall Sunday after UT President Gregory Fenves cleared it to be placed in a campus museum along with a companion statue of President Woodrow Wilson. Recent racially-motivated shootings in the U.S. have called for reexamining some cultural icons of the Confederate South. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
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In many places, Confederate monuments have become rallying points for white nationalists, and efforts to remove many such statues around the country have been stepped up since the Charlottesville rally, called by white nationalists to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

In North Carolina, Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said his officers were preparing for a possible march by white nationalists in front of a Durham city courthouse on Friday, according to the News & Observer newspaper. Protesters tore down a Confederate statue in the city earlier this week.

Some downtown businesses closed early and several hundred anti-racist demonstrators took to the streets as a result. But by, some with a banner reading "We will not be intimidated." By mid-afternoon, however, the rumored white-nationalist march had not materialized.  

'I'M NOT FORGIVING HIM'

In Maryland on Friday, authorities took down a statue of a 19th century chief justice who wrote an infamous pro-slavery decision.

The 145-year-old bronze statue of Roger Taney, whose 1857 ruling, known as the Dred Scott decision, reaffirmed slavery and said black people could not be U.S. citizens, was removed from its base outside State House in Annapolis overnight by workers using a crane, local media showed. 

Trump on Thursday decried the removal of such monuments, drawing stinging rebukes from fellow Republicans in a controversy that inflamed racial tensions nationwide.

The mother of Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, said in a television interview on Friday that after Trump's comments, "I'm not talking to the president now."

"You can't wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying, 'I'm sorry.' I'm not forgiving him for that," Susan Bro told ABC's "Good Morning America."

"I've had death threats already ... because of what I'm doing right this second - I'm talking," Bro told MSNBC separately on Thursday.

There are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces across the United States, with 700 of those being monuments and statues, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

The large majority of these were erected long after the Civil War ended in 1865, according to the center, with many going up early in the 20th century amid a backlash among segregationists against the civil rights movement.

More than half a dozen have been taken down since Saturday.

 

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