Retired officers call for Richmond Police Memorial statue relocation to Va. Capitol grounds

The Richmond Police Memorial statue when it stood at its location in Byrd Park
The Richmond Police Memorial statue when it stood at its location in Byrd Park(NBC12)
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 1:37 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A group of retired Richmond police officers and descendants of officers killed the line of duty is calling on legislators to allow a Richmond police memorial to be relocated to the Virginia State Capitol.

This comes after the statue was vandalized with red and white paint in 2020 during unrest throughout the city. It was subsequently removed from its location at William Byrd Park for protection.

“It really felt bad to have to remove that statue for safe keeping; it was wrong,” said Penn Burke.

Burke is the grandson of Richmond Police Sgt. J. Harvey Burke. The latter was gunned down 96 years ago from Wednesday while trying to help a woman during a domestic situation.

His name is among 38 others killed in the line of duty.

“Today, a beautiful bronze statue is homeless,” said retired RPD officer Glenwood Burley. “It stands bound in tarps and ropes secured in a locked warehouse; truly heartbreaking.”

In 2015, Burley spearheaded the campaign to relocate the statue to Byrd Park after it was first erected outside the Richmond Coliseum. However, years of neglect left it overrun with weeds and debris.

Following the vandalism, Burley and his group removed the statue from Byrd Park where it was relocated in 2016.

“Every day that the statue remains hidden in a warehouse is another day we’re denying its symbolism of supreme sacrifice,” Burley said.

On Thursday, Burley proclaimed a plea to have the memorial relocated once again, but this time inside the gated perimeter of the state Capitol.

The 79-year-old stated two reasons why this statue should be housed on the grounds – one due to security reasons, the other because of the significance of the Capitol building.

“Of the 39 names on this plaque, there are 11 names that are Richmond police officers who died in 1870 during the balcony collapse, inside this building (the statehouse),” Burley said.

According to the Library of Virginia, on April 27, 1870, the balcony in the Hall of Delegates collapsed – the incident known as the “Richmond Calamity.” Roughly 60 people were killed, and 250 others injured.

An engraving in the May 14, 1870, edition of Harper's Weekly depicts rescue workers pulling out...
An engraving in the May 14, 1870, edition of Harper's Weekly depicts rescue workers pulling out the injured and the dead inside the State Capitol after the overcrowded courtroom on the floor above the House chambers collapsed on April 27, 1870. Approximately 60 people were killed and 250 injured.(Harper's Weekly. AP2 .H32. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.)

While the General Assembly has discussed matters tied to policing across the Commonwealth, the group hopes it will not deter lawmakers from considering this proposal.

“These are officers who were sworn to serve and protect, and they died doing their job to protect,” Burke said. “I do not intend to die allowing our symbol of sacrifice to be abandoned once more in a dark warehouse,” Burley added.

To have the statue relocated to Capitol grounds would need approval by the General Assembly.

Burley said he has already reached out to the Governor’s office and some local legislators to inform them of his proposal.

Messages to the Governor’s Office for comment were not immediately returned.

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