- Associated Press - Thursday, August 10, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Hundreds of people packed Richmond’s first community meeting intended to solicit input on what should be done with the city’s prominent Confederate monuments.

More than 500 people gathered Wednesday night at the Virginia Historical Society for a discussion that was at times contentious and chaotic. Others were turned away due to space restrictions, local media reported.

Earlier this summer, Mayor Levar Stoney announced he does not think the statues along the city’s Monument Avenue should be removed. Instead, he appointed a commission of historians, experts and community leaders to study either adding context to the statues or building new ones.

However, many of the speakers Wednesday night weighed in on whether the statues should stay or go.

Others suggested building monuments to honor prominent black community members, including Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor, and John Mitchell Jr., a journalist and community leader.

Some objected to the idea of adding context.

“Every tourist who comes to Richmond wants to see Monument Avenue; they don’t want to see a politically correct Monument Avenue,” said Henry Kidd. Kidd identified himself as a former national officer of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Attendees at times shouted, cheered, booed and cried. A second public meeting is set for next month.

The discussion in Richmond comes as other cities across the country are wrestling with the question of how to handle Confederate statues and other symbols. The debate has been driven in part by the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church by an avowed white supremacist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos.

In Charlottesville, about an hour west of Richmond, the decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park has sparked a series of protests by white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan. Another large rally is taking place this weekend.

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