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Update: Charlottesville Mayor Signer Calls for Removal of Confederate Statues

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Mayor Mike Signer is calling for the removal of Confederate statues in downtown Charlottesville, and changes to the state's open or concealed carry laws.

The mayor had announced Thursday, August 17, that he would be speaking about, “the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, the legacy of Heather Heyer, and the public safety of future public events” at CitySpace around noon Friday, August 18.

Mounting pressure over the timing of Signer’s announcement and it being labeled as "major" seemed to have been some of the factors in him canceling that event according to sources at City Hall.

Friday morning, the mayor said via Twitter that a press conference was not the best medium to express his views: “FYI all: we are canceling today’s press conference and instead issuing a statement in the afternoon. Stay tuned.”

Signer also tweeted, "FYI, the reason for the change is we decided a statement rather than a press event was the best medium for the ideas I want to convey today."

The mayor released a statement after 2:10 p.m. Friday, stating in part, "With the terrorist attack, these monuments were transformed from equestrian statues into lightning rods. We can, and we must, respond by denying the Nazis and the KKK and the so-called alt-right the twisted totem they seek. And so for the sake of public safety, public reassurance, to magnify Heather’s voice, and to repudiate the pure evil that visited us here, I am calling today for the removal of these Confederate statues from downtown Charlottesville."

Signer and councilor Kathy Galvin had voted against the removal of the Lee statue back on February 6. A similar vote on April 17 approved plans to sell the statue to an educational institution, museum, or nonprofit group.

Signer now wants Governor Terry McAuliffe to convene an emergency meeting of the General Assembly to allow the city to remove the statue of the Confederate general in Emancipation Park.

"Whether they go to museums, cemeteries, or other willing institutions, it is clear that they no longer can be celebrated in shared civic areas, like Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall," said Signer in his statement.

Brian Coy, a spokesperson for Governor McAuliffe, released the following statement to NBC29:

“As of this time, Mayor Signer and the city of Charlottesville have yet to make any formal request of the governor regarding a special session. However, the governor believes that it would be redundant to call a special session to address an issue that is already subject to litigation. The governor hopes the court will rule in the city's favor soon and encourages Mayor Signer to focus on that important litigation rather than a redundant emergency session.

“As we wait for that legal process to conclude, the Governor will continue to focus on learning from these events in Charlottesville and addressing the systemic racism and inequality that led to the extremism we all witnessed on Saturday.”

The mayor is also now calling for the removal of the statue of Confederate General Thomas Johnathan "Stonewall" Jackson in Justice Park as well. Charlottesville City Council has not voted on any action for that statue.

Currently, state code makes it unlawful for anyone to disturb, damage, or interfere with monuments or memorials in relation to any war or conflict.

In his statement, Signer said he will work to, "demand that our General Assembly swiftly enact legislation allowing localities to ban the open or concealed carry of weapons in public events reasonably deemed to pose a potential security threat."

“You have many states that have different rules about firearms, many localities that do. I think in this case, when we’re looking at the unique sort of event that we had here that the world watched last weekend, it is not appropriate for people to be bearing open arms and concealed weapons and wearing military-style, militia-style uniforms. In that sort of event, that clearly constituted a public safety threat,” said Signer.

Additionally, Signer is proposing the creation of a memorial for Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal killed during a protest in the area of 4th Street and Water Street.

"In the coming days and weeks, I will propose to my colleagues on City Council and to stakeholders in our community that we take concrete steps to memorialize Heather’s name and legacy. Many good options may surface from our creative and loving community, and we should consider them all seriously, including whether Emancipation Park could include Heather’s memory in some fashion. However we ultimately decide to remember Heather, it should be in a way that tells the truth of what happened in our city—before, during and after August 12, 2017—and that should, again, magnify her voice."

Police have charged 20-year-old James Alex Fields, Jr. with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of hit-and-run.

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