CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A Charlottesville advocacy group is trying to jump into the legal battle over a Confederate statue.

Attorneys for Showing Up for Racial Justice Action (SURJ), filed a brief in Charlottesville Circuit Court about the Robert E. Lee statue. The group wants to provide information to the judge ahead of a ruling in the case.

A group of people filed the statue lawsuit in March. They argue Virginia's monument protection law forbids the city from removing the statue. The city contends the statue is not covered by that law, because it's unclear that it's a memorial to a veteran. SURJ agrees with the city.

A judge issued an injunction to prevent the statue from coming down. A hearing is set for Aug. 30. 

Press Release from Showing Up for Racial Justice Action, (SURJ):

Today, attorneys for Showing Up for Racial Justice Action, Inc. filed a motion in Charlottesville Circuit Court requesting Court allow it to file a brief amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in the lawsuit seeking to block the City of Charlottesville from removing the Lee Statue from Emancipation Park.  SURJ Action is a national grassroots nonprofit organization committed to ending policies and practices that uphold white supremacy with over 180 chapters, including the Charlottesville chapter, SURJ Cville.  Immediate removal of the Lee and Jackson Statues is one of the demands made on July 8 by Solidarity Cville, a community defense network of Charlottesville activists acting in solidarity with communities of color locally and globally to fight all forms of white supremacy.

An amicus brief is a brief filed in court by someone who is not a party to a case (often a non-profit organization or interest group), but who assists the court by offering information or perspective that is relevant to the case.  The decision of whether to accept the brief and use the information is up to the Judge’s discretion, and amicus briefs are frequently accepted by Circuit Courts in Virginia.  A copy of the motion filed by SURJ Action and the proposed brief is attached to this advisory.  

The brief SURJ Action seeks to file makes a number of legal arguments about the case. Most importantly, the brief supports the City’s position that the state law in question (Virginia Code § 15.2-1812, which prevents localities from removing or altering “monuments or memorials for any war”) does not apply retroactively to monuments erected before the law was passed in 1997.  The brief also points out that the Lee Statue cannot be considered a “war memorial” under § 15.2-1812, because it was never erected for the purpose of honoring war veterans or their service.  Instead, the Lee and Jackson statues were erected during the height of the Jim Crow era as part of the fictionalized “Lost Cause” narrative, amid a massive resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in Charlottesville and throughout the South.  The statues were erected not to honor war veterans, but for the purposes of reinforcing white supremacy in Charlottesville, solidifying the segregation of public spaces, and intimidating Black community members.

“As we saw this weekend, with the Ku Klux Klan coming to protest removal of the statue, and the massive anti-racist counter-protest, this case is of profound public interest and importance both within and without the Charlottesville community,” said Pam Starsia, one of the attorneys who filed the brief.  “Since the Monument Fund and others seeking to block removal of the statue will get to present whatever arguments they like to the Court about the statue, we thought it was appropriate and important in this case for the Court to hear directly from anti-racist activists as well.”  

The motion and amicus brief were filed today, which is also the deadline for the City to file its brief in support of its Demurrer seeking to dismiss the lawsuit.  SURJ Action and SURJ Cville look forward to the speedy dismissal of the lawsuit and the City’s immediate removal of these symbols of white supremacy from our public spaces, which is one of the demands activists presented Saturday.

“White supremacy is not just a problem in Charlottesville this weekend,” said Mimi  Arbeit of SURJ Cville, referring the to Klan protest at which Solidarity Cville presented the demand to remove the statues. “White supremacy is a problem in Charlottesville every day. White supremacy is the violence of the police, the legal system, social services, public housing, and more. White supremacy is a city that cannot figure out a way to take down these statues now, even though they celebrate centuries of enslavement and continue the legacy of oppression. We have to take down all monuments to people who upheld slavery, and we must make reparations urgently.”