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In Confederate statue fight, judge could block Lexington from removing monument
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In Confederate statue fight, judge could block Lexington from removing monument

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Lexington Confederate statue

A Confederate monument stood in the heart of Lexington’s downtown since 1905. It was removed sometime overnight between Oct. 15 and 16.

A judge is set to consider a request for a temporary restraining order to prevent Lexington city officials from removing a Confederate monument in the city's downtown. Also at issue is an agreement between the city and a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to remove the statue.

Judge Edwin G. Wilson of Davidson Superior Court will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 14 in the Davidson County Courthouse to determine if the temporary restraining order sought by Davidson County will remain in place.

In addition, Wilson will be presented with an agreement between the city of Lexington and the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the UDC in which the UDC would remove the monument from the Old Courthouse Square to another location outside the Lexington city limits, said Brittany Lance, a city spokeswoman.

Under the agreement, the city of Lexington will pay the costs of removing the statue and any related storage costs. After the statue is removed, the city will dismiss its lawsuit against the UDC regarding the monument, according to the agreement.

The Davidson County Board of Commissioners issued a statement Wednesday regarding the agreement between Lexington officials and the UDC.

"The Confederate Memorial in Lexington should be retained in its current location, as a memorial and tribute to the Davidson County men who lost their lives during the Civil War," the statement said in part. "The United Daughters of the Confederacy agreement with the city of Lexington to remove the memorial, however, puts an end to the County’s ability to honor and preserve this memorial."

Charles Frye III, the Davidson County attorney, declined to comment about the agreement and pointed to the Davidson County commissioners' statement about it.

The state law, which limits the relocation of Confederate statues, provides that the UDC, as the monument's owner, can determine the proper placement for its memorial, the commissioners' statement said.

In Lexington, Wilson will conduct the court hearing amid recent protests and increasing tensions regarding the Confederate statue.

Stephen Holton, Lexington's city attorney, filed an amended complaint in late September in Davidson Superior Court. The city originally sued last month to have the Confederate soldier statue, erected in 1905, removed from the square at the Old Davidson County Courthouse.

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Citing an escalation in tensions at protests over the fate of the monument, the city says it must be moved without delay.

"The Confederate monument has become a figurative powder keg and thus a public nuisance and must be abated quickly," the city said in the court filing. "Relocating the monument temporarily will prevent injury, unrest, damage to property while at the same time protecting and preserving the monument."

Lexington officials are aware of the impact that public unrest has on the community. Lexington ordered the defendants — Davidson County and the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy No. 324 — to remove the monument from city limits and later filed the lawsuit when the statue was not removed.

In its complaint, the city described an escalation in violent rhetoric at protests over the monument, which has long been seen as "a symbol of and monument to white supremacist ideologies."

In the 1920s and 1930s, it served as a site for Klu Klux Klan ceremonies and in recent protests has drawn "heavily armed individuals publicly affiliated with white supremacy groups," the city alleged in its complaint.

According to the lawsuit, peaceful protests over racial equality began taking place in Lexington after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

However, in June, the focus shifted to the existence of the Confederate monument, according to the lawsuit, and tensions rose as pro- and anti-monument protesters gathered almost nightly to support their cause.

Protesters on both sides have been arrested on several occasions.

"Patience is growing thinner and thinner on behalf of several protesters," Chief Mark Sink of the Lexington Police Department said in an court affidavit.

"The tension and stakes are increasing each and every day," Sink said. "In my professional opinion, the breaking point will occur in the immediate future."

As a security measure, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office will deploy its deputies Thursday around the courthouse, the Dispatch of Lexington reported Wednesday.

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