ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The Roanoke City Council took the first step in removing the Robert E. Lee statue from downtown after council members voted during Monday’s meeting to approve a resolution to express intent to remove it.

The approval of intent and the scheduling of a public hearing session on Aug. 17 is the first official step in the formal process. City manager Bob Cowell says, before July 1, local governments couldn’t discuss removing monuments, but now they have a process to do it.

“On the one hand it’s slow because it takes a few months, but the other hand it’s much faster than it was because we weren’t allowed to do it at all,” Cowell said.

However, it’s a process that some say is long and frustrating.

“I hope that everyone can remain patient and confident in us, as we are declaring today what our intentions are,” said councilman William Bestpitch.

“I just hope that everyone in the community understands that. Understands how frustrating it is for me personally and I’m sure for others to have to take as much time as we do, but that’s the situation we’re in.”

During the meeting on Monday, July 6, some people signed up to speak during the public comment portion to discuss the monument.

“It has been there sixty years, it seems appropriate to leave it there at least six more months to allow emotions to mellow a bit,” said John Woolwine.

Woolwine called in to say removing it now may cause people to retailliate.

“It’s not about defending Lee’s legacy, it’s about the unintended consequence of a monument removal which we’re undergoing now across the U.S.,” Woolwine said.

Others, like Freeda Cathcart, say removing the statue would allow for something else to go in its place.

“I give thanks to this council for considering the work that needs to be done to honoring Robert E. Lee’s memory by removing the memorial and renaming the plaza in a way that heals our city and our country,” Cathcart said.

All of these are opinions that the city manager says are welcome.

“There are folks who probably have feelings on a variety of different angles regarding that, and certainly we encourage them to participate in the public hearing on the 17th,” said Cowell.

In addition, the city council heard an informative presentation from a representative of “No Justice, No Peace” with regard to D.A.R.E. Officers in schools. The presentation focused on de-funding DARE and removing school resource officers from schools.

Tatiana Durant, a member of the No Justice, No Peace group, expressed her concerns about the ineffectiveness of DARE and suggested it should be replaced with a non-police program. Durant says there is no need for police in the drug prevention role anymore since there are medical professionals and social workers who are better prepared to handle those situations.

“As a community that is riddled with our own pandemic of addiction, we need to acknowledge that drug use and addiction are not a criminal issue or a public safety issue, but a physical and mental health issue and modify our education and treatment programs accordingly.”

The Roanoke City Council will discuss this presentation at their upcoming planning retreat.

Durant says they also plan to bring up similar concerns with the Roanoke Police Department and the school district.

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