Lawyer stands for monument

Published 8:37 pm Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Suffolk lawyer has been hired to represent citizens and groups in Portsmouth who are fighting the city’s proposed removal of a Confederate monument located at the intersection of High and Court streets.

Fred Taylor of Bush and Taylor sent a letter Wednesday to Portsmouth’s city attorney about the monument, which was erected in 1893. Taylor contends the city does not own the monument, and that any damage, destruction or removal to it would violate not only state law but also the agreement that originally placed the monument.

“There’s some concern from a lot of individuals and groups that the city of Portsmouth is going to take some action to either remove or disturb the monument,” Taylor said. “From our perspective, the law is very clear and very well settled. You can’t move it. There’s no exceptions. Period.”

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Symbols and monuments of the Confederacy have been a point of contention since June’s racially motivated shooting in Charleston, S.C., where a white man killed nine black people after participating in a Bible study with them at their historic church. A photo later emerged of him holding the Confederate flag, which sparked a wave of opposition to the public display of it.

Taylor said this is the exact situation against which a Virginia law aims to protect war memorials.

“It’s not like (the law) just deals with this monument,” Taylor said. “It’s any war memorial, and there’s a reason for that.”

Taylor said the past legislature “thought very wisely” to make it a crime for anyone to disturb or interfere with monuments or memorials to wars. The idea is that, when certain wars become unpopular over time, the monuments would be protected.

“Regardless of whether we’re talking about the Civil War or whether we’re talking about Vietnam … it’s going to be a slippery slope from doing that to a lot of other war memorials,” Taylor said.

Taylor also represents a group in Danville that is fighting that city’s attempt to remove a Confederate flag from a monument there. That effort predates the Charleston shooting but has had renewed vigor since, Taylor said.

“We should be using these as a tool to educate and talk about these situations, not a tool to somehow delete history,” he said.

Taylor also represented the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a fight to keep the group’s logo, which depicts the Confederate battle flag, on specialty license plates. A federal judge last month ruled against the group, but an appeal could still be forthcoming.