Tarps covering statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in two Charlottesville, Virginia, parks must be removed, a judge ruled Tuesday in the latest twist in the battle over their future.
Circuit Judge Richard E. Moore said the black shrouds must be removed within 15 days of the order being filed, said Brian Wheeler, director of communications for Charlottesville. Wheeler said the city was disappointed with the ruling but he was not sure whether it will appeal.
Even if the statues are again visible, their fate is unclear: The city wants them permanently removed, while those against the idea have turned to courts.
The city last August covered the statues while it mourned the death of two troopers and Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car plowed into counterprotesters who had gathered to oppose a rally of white nationalist and other right-wing organizations.
But Moore ruled the city never defined the length of the “temporary” shrouding. “I cannot find that council ever intended for them to be temporary and they have never, until recently, even discussed that possibility,” he wrote in a letter to lawyers.
Wheeler said the city believed otherwise.
“The expectation of our city manager and council was that the shrouds could be up as long as a year in respect to the lives lost on August 12.”
Besides Heyer, two Virginia State Police troopers died when their police helicopter crashed and burned in Charlottesville as they patrolled near the site of the clashes.
The decision came as protesters on both sides of the issue gathered outside the courthouse, CNN affiliate WVIR reported.
Moore has said the tarps have interfered with the public’s right to see the monuments and enjoy the parks.
“The statute that prohibits the moving or damaging of such memorials and monuments places on the locality the duty to protect, preserve, and care for such,” Moore wrote.
CNN attempted to reach an attorney for those seeking to have the shrouds removed. The attorney, Ralph Main, told WVIR the right decision was made.
The City Council would like to see the statues gone, but thus far has not been able to win Virginia General Assembly action that would give it the authority to remove such memorials, said Wheeler.
According to WVIR, a lawsuit claims elected officials have overstepped their authority by leaving the tarps and have no legal right to remove the statues. A legal battle over the statues’ fate will continue.
Meanwhile, Charlottesville has sought proposals to carry out a downtown parks master plan that would create additional interpretation at Justice Park, where the Jackson statue stands, and at Emancipation Park, formally Lee Park.
The City Council would like Justice Park to include a memorial to the city’s enslaved population, Wheeler said.
“The basic goal is to provide a more complete history of our community that includes the history of slavery and addresses the community’s concerns about the history of white supremacy,” he said.
CNN’s Sheena Jones, Sara Sidner, AnneClaire Stapleton and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.