Richmond reacts to governor's ban of protests at Lee Monument

Updated: Aug. 18, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - As of Friday, anyone taking to Richmond's Lee Monument in protest could be subject to arrest.

This comes after Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order banning permits for demonstrations. Right after that decision, there was a very visible police presence at the Lee statue.

Both Richmond and Capitol police officials said their agencies were aware of possible protests in the coming days. The governor's decision gives officials time to determine both when to lift the restriction on demonstrations and how.

Paul Anderson spent the evening with his kids who enjoy running around the Robert E. Lee monument.

"They know he was a General in the Confederate Army," Anderson said.

As they play, police officers are patrolling from afar. Governor McAuliffe says recent events have shown activities around Confederate monuments raise "substantial public safety concerns."

"I think people should be able to demonstrate and protest peacefully. The problem is there's always these bad actors that show up," said Jason Villafranca.

Since the tragedy in Charlottesville, there have been armed protestors at the Lee Monument, which led to what the governor calls a disturbance of the peace. He also pointed to Durham, N.C., where protestors tore down a statue of a Confederate soldier.

"The government can regulate the use of free speech on government property, such as the Lee Monument, only so long as the regulation is content neutral. It would be impermissible for the government to say, 'we're not going to have any pro-monument demonstrations here' because that wouldn't be content neutral," said NBC 12 Legal Analyst Steve Benjamin, who added that any restrictions must be temporary.

The decision comes as the debate on what to do with Virginia's Confederate monuments versus growing controversy.

"We cannot allow these symbols to keep us in the reflection of what we supposedly got victory over. It's just like having whatever it is that you got victory over, [and] you've got a monument now to that situation. We got to let those monuments go," said Chesterfield Pastor Joel Brown of New Jerusalem.

"I don't think so. It's Virginia history. Not all of it is racist," Anderson added.

Anyone who shows up on the grounds of the Lee Monument with flags or banners could be charged with trespassing. A state agency is working on how to govern any protests that would happen there once the governor lifts the restriction.

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