Richmond 2015 bike route sparks outrage: 'Horrific Embarrassment'

Published: Sep. 18, 2015 at 3:52 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 18, 2015 at 2:13 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Road World Championship is expected bring thousands of spectators and reporters from around the world to RVA. One group is outraged the race will travel down the historic Monument Avenue.

"We think this is a horrific embarrassment," Phil Wilayto, with the Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality, says.

Wilayto calls Monument Avenue a virtual shrine to the Confederacy, and so his group is planning to stage an international press conference.

"We don't think it would be a good thing for the race to circle this monument without somebody in Richmond saying this doesn't represent us," Wilayto says.

Wilayto plans to hold the news conference at Davis and Monument Avenue. Cyclists will circle the Jefferson Davis statue during the race. Police have a message for anyone attempting to get close to the gates.

"They cannot step foot on the closed course. It is closed for a reason," Deputy Chief John Burturla, with RPD, says. "The race is going to go on, and if they wish to protest, they will have to do it somewhere where they are not going to disrupt the race."

Ana Edwards, also with the Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality, says the monuments are symbols of racism.

"And in the face of things not changing," Edwards says. "That's when you have to be more vocal. There is no reason we should act like everything is hunky dory just because there are groups who want us to ignore what happened."

Virginia Flaggers released a statement calling the press conference an obvious ploy to garner publicity.

"We're not here just to garner more publicity," Wilayto says. "We are here to make a statement to the world. The majority of Richmonders do not support honoring the symbols of the slavery defending [the] Confederacy."

Virginia Flaggers released the following statement:

"'The Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality' is an extremist group who failed at their attempts to have the UCI bike races rerouted away from the Confederate Monuments that line Monument Avenue, where tourists from the Commonwealth, the United States, and around the globe visit just to view and admire the stately monuments and memorials to our Confederate Heroes.

This group, like so many others around the country is attempting to exploit an unrelated tragedy in South Carolina as an excuse to cast aspersion on our Confederate Veterans and force their lopsided, uneducated, politically correct view of history on all of Richmond's citizens.  Recent polls have shown that the majority of the citizens of the Commonwealth, including the Governor, do not want to see any of our Veterans' monuments or memorials disturbed or removed.

This press conference is an obvious ploy to garner publicity for their extremist agenda, and disrupt the planned activities this weekend.  At a time when the citizens of Richmond should be uniting and putting our best foot forward to welcome so many to our great city, this group has decided to use the platform to further divide us and stir up trouble where none exists.

As the proud descendants of the Confederate soldiers who bravely fought to defend the Commonwealth, we will not sit by quietly and allow the attempted destruction of our history to continue.  The Virginia Flaggers have coordinated patrols of the city's monuments each night since June 26, when one of our folks surprised a vandal in the act of defacing the Jefferson Davis Monument.  Thanks to information they were able to provide, and evidence left at the scene, the perpetrator was subsequently arrested and convicted.

Since that time, over four dozen volunteers, including a father-son duo from Pennsylvania, and a couple who traveled all the way from Chicago, Illinois, have stepped up to serve as Monument Guards.  We will continue to patrol the monuments as long as there is any threat of vandalism, and are ready and willing to meet any and all calls for removal of these historical treasures with the same fortitude, determination and perseverance shown by our ancestors some 150 years ago."

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