America has seen a spate of protests over the past few weeks – some have been peaceful, and other violent. Now, some groups have started tearing down statues across the country. This started with Confederate monuments, since these are related to the history of slavery in the U.S. The protesters argue that the statues should removed as they honor people who were once slave owners, or who fought to keep slavery. Others suggest that the statues should stay, as they remind us of history.
However, the issue has become broader as non-Confederate statues and memorials have also been targeted.
Juneteenth (June 19) is a day celebrating the end of slavery. This year, protesters celebrated by tearing down the statue of Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco. Although the 18th president had one slave, whom he freed, Grant led the Union Army to victory and signed the Naturalization Act, which provided blacks with citizenship. He also created the Department of Justice so that the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist hate group, could be prosecuted.
Black Lives Matter protesters also defaced the Lincoln Memorial, a representation of the Republican president who ran on an anti-slavery platform. In Boston, demonstrators ruined the Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial on May 31, 123 years to the day after it had been dedicated. This sculpture was a tribute to the black soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
Trump Threatens Activists
On June 22, protesters tried to pull down a statue of President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, located across the street from the White House. Infuriated, Trump called for enforcement of the law that punishes anyone who tries to damage a monument on public property of who served in the armed forces of the United States. He threatened that anyone who breaks this law could get 10 years in jail.
Protesters tried to set up a Black House Autonomous Zone (BHAZ) outside the North Lawn of the White House, but were stopped. This was just hours after the president’s promise to prosecute those who destroy monuments. Trump then tweeted out another warning: “There will never be an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President. If they try they will be met with serious force!”
Two Points of View
The chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University, Chad Williams, said the executive order has him worried:
“How an order like that would actually be enforced remains to be seen. But what this thing speaks to in a really problematic way is the president’s desire to tamp down, to crush any forms of protest and dissent and to weaponize the various apparatuses of federal government, including the military, National Guard, Secret Service, to act as agents of enforcement.”
On the other side of the debate, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton sent Attorney General William Barr a letter asking for something to be done about the destruction of statues and monuments:
“These criminals masquerade as protestors exercising their lawful right to peacefully assemble, but there can be no right to destroy public or private property. To borrow from Abraham Lincoln – whose Memorial in our nation’s capital was also defaced – ‘there is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.’
Thus, I urge the Department of Justice to bring charges against these criminals. They aren’t exactly criminal masterminds, typically filming their crimes and posting the videos on social media.”
This is likely to be a major issue leading up to the November election, and it’s yet to be seen who will win the argument.