Antiracists and neo-Confederates face off at the Davidson County building in August. (photo by Jordan Green)
An order from superior court judge blocked a plan by the city of Lexington to take down a Confederate monument in heart of downtown last night. The monument has been the focal point of escalating tension and occasional violence between antiracists and neo-Confederates over the past three months.
The temporary restraining order signed by Superior Court Judge Lori Hamilton and filed in Davidson County Court on Friday morning enjoins the city of Lexington from “removing or attempting to remove the Confederate monument from its current location.” Hamilton said removal of the monument would result in “immediate and irreparable injury, loss and damage” to Davidson County, which owns the property where the monument is located and opposes removal.
The city said in a statement on Friday that it has been working with the owner of the monument, the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, to save the monument and relocate it outside of the city. The city had planned to remove the monument and place it in storage last night “in an effort to ensure safety and restore peace,” the statement said.
“The city of Lexington is deeply disappointed Davidson County continues to ignore the deeply divisive nature of the monument, as well as the threat it poses to both public safety and our business community,” the city said.
“Davidson County is on the wrong side of history,” the statement continues. “To many, this monument is a symbol of oppression and a painful reminder of racial injustice. As we aspire to become a City of Choice, and perhaps most importantly, a City of Unity, we remain committed to creating an inclusive, safe and welcoming community. We pledge to continue to fight for what is right and just.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy joined the city of Lexington in opposing the order, according to the city press release, and that Debra Barta, the chapter president, expressed frustration with the county. Barta could not be immediately reached for comment.
County Manager Casey Smith declined to comment on the county’s opposition to relocating the monument.
A hearing is scheduled in Davidson County Court for Oct. 15 to consider the county’s motion for injunctive relief.
The city has cited the presence of a member of the Proud Boys, an organization with ties to white supremacists that has been involved in street fights with leftist opponents in several US cities, in a nuisance-abatement lawsuit seeking to remove the monument on public safety grounds. Jason Passmore, a militia activist from Stokes County who also hold ties to white supremacists, brought a group of men in tactical attire to the monument on July 21. Lexington police Chief Mark Sink wrote in an affidavit supporting the city’s lawsuit that members of the Stokes County Militia “dressed in military style ‘boonie hats’ and ballistic vests with rifle magazines attached and carrying hand-held two-way radios, were observed making racial comments and were very provocative in their words.”
Without mentioning Passmore by name, Sink said he announced shortly after his arrival: “Remember that scary white supremacist group that was in Greensboro? Hello.”
Sink said in his Aug. 17 affidavit that racist invective he’s observed during the nightly confrontations at the Confederate monument is “even viler and more of a threat to public safety than my professional experiences during the Ku Klux Klan rallies of the 1990s in this very same area.”
The police have attempted to enforce the state’s prohibition against dangerous weapons at demonstrations, but he said he is aware “that certain protesters on a nightly basis continue to bring assault weapons and other guns that they can easily access if something happens,” along with two-way radios.
“I have a real concern based on my tactical police experience that the two-way radios are for the purpose of contacting others located in nearby vehicles containing dangerous weapons so those weapons can be used if violence breaks out,” Sink wrote.
“It is my professional opinion that the continued presence of the Confederate monument in its current location is an imminent threat to public health and safety, and is a dangerous and unsafe condition,” Sink concluded. “In my opinion, the Confederate monument has inspired outrage, leading to demonstrations and protests which are ongoing, and as stated herein, exposes not only the public but out police officers to COVID-19 and forces the city to incur significant expenses. It is my professional opinion that we are at a tipping point that inevitably and imminently will lead to violence, which in a worst case scenario could result in substantial violence, injury and even potential death of individuals, and as we have witnessed in other communities, the vandalism or destruction of the Confederate monument itself.”