Charlottesville Mayor Changes Position, Agrees With Confederate Statue Removal
Police stand watch near the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park the day after the 'Unite the Right' rally devolved into violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Signer said in a statement that he wants Gov. Terry McAuliffe to convene an emergency meeting of the General Assembly to greenlight the removal of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee monument from a city park. In addition, he also asked for city leaders to figure out ways to memorialize Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old counter-protester who was killed in a car-ramming at Saturday's rally.
"With the terrorist attack, these monuments were transformed from equestrian statues into lightning rods," Signer said. "We can, and we must, respond by denying the Nazis and the KKK and the so-called alt-right the twisted totem they seek."
The "Unite the Right" rally, which devolved into chaos as white nationalists clashed with counter-protesters, was in opposition to the planned removal of the Lee statue from Emancipation Park. It sparked a national debate on what to do with Confederate monuments.
The City Council in February narrowly passed a measure to move the Lee statue — triggering a lawsuit and leading a judge to impose a six-month injunction in May to prevent its relocation while the case winds through the courts.
In May, Signer explained in The Washington Post why he voted against the removal: "I believe the Lee statue should remain as a reminder that many Americans were once treated as the property of others, then as second-class citizens."
But the death of Heyer led Signer's perspective to evolve, he said.
"I believe that we must act to consecrate the memory of Heather Heyer — a martyr in what Senator John McCain recently described as the battle here between our better angels and our worst demons," the mayor added.
He said he is also calling for the General Assembly to enact legislation that would allow cities and towns to ban the open or concealed carry of weapons during public events where there is a potential security threat.
McAuliffe did not immediately respond to Signer's statement Friday.
Meanwhile, other cities and states are weighing whether to scrub Confederate symbols from public spaces — seen by some as outdated tributes that only reopen the nation's painful past.
After New Orleans did so earlier this year, the city of Baltimore took down four of its monuments overnight Tuesday, with Mayor Catherine Pugh later saying it was done "quickly and quietly" in order to avoid the same type of protests that roiled Charlottesville.
In Lexington, Kentucky, the government council voted Thursday night to relocate its two Confederate-era statues and have the mayor present a plan in 30 days for where to place them.
President Donald Trump has been roundly criticized for his reaction to Charlottesville. He said the violence there was the fault of "many sides."
On Thursday, he tweeted his apparent support for keeping Confederate monuments and said it was "sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments."
Erik Ortiz is an NBC News staff writer focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.