Charlottesville community divided over Robert E. Lee statue

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Dozens of people met at Lee Park Tuesday morning for a press conference hosted by City Councilor Wes Bellamy.

A very divided Charlottesville gathered to hear city leaders discuss why the Robert E. Lee statue needs to come down.

Waving Confederate flags, on one side stood those who oppose tearing down the statue.

"Anytime someone finds something offensive, it's an opportunity to have it removed from society," said Wesley Leach, a Commander with Sons of Confederate Veterans. "Where do we stop with changing and moving things."

And on the other side, holding Black Lives Matter signs, stood those who want to see the statue removed.

"I think a decision must be made to remove the statue by any means necessary," said NAACP President M. Rick Turner.

Community activists and leaders, like Bellamy and Kristin Szakos, spoke on why they feel the statue should come down. Turner said the statue is validating and romanticizing racism and violence.

An activist took to the podium saying, "since we are standing for human rights, this statue can't stand and we still stand for human rights."

Fifteen-year-old Zyhana Bryant, who created a petition for the removal of the statue, confronted the crowd saying the statue makes her and her peers "uncomfortable."

Chants began of "Lee must go. Lee must go!"

Those opposed to the removal felt the discussion was one-sided because they didn't get the chance to voice their opinion, and that's when things got heated.

"This was a rig job," said Joe Draego. "There should have been opposing points of view. When people can't have an opposing, respectful conversation than that's all that's left to us, to holler above the speakers because we are not allowed to speak ourselves."

Feeling silenced and caged, tensions quickly escalated. Everything from yelling to name-calling and shouting. Those who want the statue to remain yelled, "Anti-Christian," "Racist," "Coward," and "He unified this country."

Outraged, people like Draego blamed Bellamy.

"Wes Bellamy lied," he said. "I spoke to Wes last night, he did not represent himself then as he did today."

Some left feeling upset and disappointed while others were relieved the conversation is happening and inspired by the change.

The Charlottesville City Council will convene April 18 for a meeting to discuss all options, taking public comment into consideration.

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