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Janice Hall Nuckolls column: Lee Circle: A Monument Avenue resident's perspective
Lee Circle

Janice Hall Nuckolls column: Lee Circle: A Monument Avenue resident's perspective

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Heavy-duty fencing surrounds the Robert E. Lee monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond.

My husband and I have lived on Monument Avenue near the Lee Circle for more than 25 years. We are supportive of all the monuments being removed, as proximity to any Confederate statue never was a factor as to why we bought here.

The Lee Circle has become a highly volatile and contested space in the past few years — first with the right-wing protests beginning in 2017, and more particularly and consistently in the past nine months, with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests after the death of George Floyd.

Many in the Black community now feel the circle is theirs. After the November election and Joe Biden’s presidential victory, many people celebrated (myself included) his win at the circle. BLM and the occupiers resented people coming and celebrating in that space, including some Democratic leaders who declared that it was inappropriate.

They indicated that it is a sacred space for the Black community. In other words, all are not welcome. The graffitied plinth says, “Black and brown unity.” Unfortunately, since the circle also has represented something important to Confederate supporters, and, confusingly, to Second Amendment activists, the piece of land is a flashpoint for people with differing views.

The city of Richmond has had to close off the street and intersecting blocks several times due to announced protests on social media by competing groups that likely were to lead to physical violence, and to harm the public safety of all protesters.

It has been a month since the state put a fence up around the property in preparation for the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument.

Since the fence went up, there has been improved safety in the area. Since the circle is closed off, nobody can claim it as a place to air grievances against one group or another right now, nor claim to have any superior right to occupancy and use of this contested public land.

There has been less ancillary criminal activity near the circle, and fewer violent physical and verbal confrontations. Prior to the fence installation, my neighbors had a bullet go through their door and lodge in a wall.

A car parked in front of my house had a bullet shot into it. I have been harassed, grabbed and followed to my home. My husband has confronted armed men with assault rifles on our property.

People regularly use our yard and parking area as a bathroom. We now have four security cameras around the perimeter of our house.

A significant safety issue with the circle being a rallying space is that it is right in the middle of a very dense residential neighborhood. It is a traffic intersection, a traffic circle.

It was, even prior to 2020 protests, the No. 1 most dangerous traffic intersection in terms of accidents in the city. For Richmond, the Lee monument and the real estate it sits upon has become analogous to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Clearly opposing and angry claims as to who shall have the right to use it has caused violence, encampments, armed drive-thrus designed to terrorize and public safety concerns to a degree that the city of Richmond has needed to spend huge amounts of money protecting public safety for all in the area, closing off the cross-streets again and again.

At a time like this, when so many in the city are struggling, to have monies spent on protecting public safety surrounding one piece of land is obscene and wasteful.

As a resident of Monument Avenue, I question having huge funds spent on the space being “reimagined.” We do not need $11 million spent on the street. That money would be better spent toward real improvements in the city and state, and on areas that are in dire need of basic necessities.

Mow the grass, trim the trees, take the monuments down. All are welcome to walk on a beautiful tree-lined boulevard. I’ll wave to you from my front porch.

Janice Hall Nuckolls has been an active volunteer in her Fan District neighborhood for more than 30 years. Contact her at: Janice@tada-studio.com

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