Charlottesville solves Robert E. Lee statue problem by ... covering it with a giant tarp

What better way to get passersby to ignore a tribute to the commander of a slave regime’s army in the middle of a park than by draping it in a shroud, turning it into a giant eyesore and denying the curious so much as a glimpse?

In one sense, it’s an oddly perfect method for making bystanders “woke” about Confederate monuments. Charles Barkley said recently that he’s never given a moment’s thought to CSA memorials, that they’re part of the scenery and that he prefers to devote his time and energy to more meaningful ways of raising the quality of life for black Americans. Throwing a big-ass curtain over the statue of Lee solves that “it’s just scenery” problem by forcing you to reckon with the reason for why the curtain’s there. That’s the pro-shroud take. The anti-shroud take is that, ah, it’s a strange sort of reckoning that won’t allow you to even see the thing you’re supposed to be reckoning with. If you dislike the idea of removing Confederate memorials because you don’t trust an emboldened left to restrain its instincts towards censorship and condemnation of America more broadly, the act of physically blotting out a “problematic” public statue with a ginormous piece of cloth isn’t going to make you feel better. Removing the statue and repurposing the space is one thing. Obscuring it is more like a flashing neon “verboten” sign.

Charlottesville’s stuck, though, in terms of what it can do about the statue. Covering the Lee memorial with a black tarp is ostensibly an act of mourning for Heather Heyer, but it’s also a half-measure designed as an end-around a state law that prevents the city from moving the monument — for the moment:

A state law passed in 1998 forbids local governments from removing, damaging or defacing war monuments, but there is legal ambiguity about whether that applies to statues such as the Lee monument, which was erected before the law was passed. A judge has issued an injunction preventing the city from removing the Lee statue while the lawsuit plays out.

Signer said Tuesday that city staff had begun working to find a way to cover the large statues with a material that can withstand the elements. The council believes doing so would not violate the state law, he said.

The city can’t tear it down and can’t smash it up, but covering it arguably doesn’t qualify as “defacement” since the statue remains perfectly intact under the tarp. If they win the lawsuit, they’ll move the whole thing and solve the problem that way. If they don’t win it but the court finds that shrouding it doesn’t constitute defacement, what then? Are they going to leave this thing behind a curtain forever? That option seems like the one least conducive to community healing.

Here’s footage of the shrouding, along with a minute or so of yesterday’s verrrrry contentious city council meeting at which the decision to shroud it was made. The public was understandably unhappy that the alt-right and counter-protesters were allowed to clash with no police buffer, with Heyer ending up dead and many others injured. Local authorities had every reason to expect that a “Unite the Right” rally featuring white-nationalist all-stars would turn dicey. Why weren’t they prepared?

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