Today, after years of protest, the authorities in Richmond, Virginia are finally removing a 12-ton statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the largest remaining Confederate monument in the United States. This is an opportunity for Democratic politicians to promote the narrative that they are the ones who can reckon with the legacy of white supremacy in the United States, encouraging anti-racists to focus on state-led forms of social change. It is also a chance to narrow the debate about public monuments to Confederate statues alone, when in fact the demand to remove Confederate statues is just one element of a much broader movement against all forms of structural white supremacy, memorial and otherwise.
The Lee statue is not coming down because law-abiding citizens participated peacefully in the democratic process until they succeeded in achieving a popular reform. If those who desire to see the Lee statue and others like it removed had confined themselves to the democratic process, all of those statues would still be in place, because that process disproportionately centers the agency of wealthy white conservatives and liberal politicians whose approach to social change is based chiefly in appeasement and empty promises.
In neighboring North Carolina, after white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people in 2015, the Republican-controlled state legislature prohibited the removal of “objects of remembrance” from public property. Politicians and university chancellors throughout the state cited this law to explain that it was impossible to remove statues from their towns and campuses, no matter how unpopular the statues were. In August 2017, after the murder of Heather Heyer during the fascist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina took matters into their own hands, toppling their local Confederate monument in open defiance of the law and the police.
In response to the action in Durham, the governor of North Carolina tweeted, “The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments.” If that were true, the statue would have been removed decades earlier. Even under a Black mayor and a majority-Black city council, the statue stood just as solidly as it had during the Jim Crow era of all-white government—until people took direct action.
Once the statue was torn down, it stayed down, even in violation of the law passed by the state legislature. The same politicians who had not dared to take it down now did not dare to put it back up. Direct action gets the goods. Demonstrators followed suit in nearby Chapel Hill a year later, tearing down a Confederate statue on the university campus in defiance of the chancellor’s protests that she did not have the authority to remove it, as much as she might like to. Again, once that statue was down, it stayed down—and politicians finally began to remove statues elsewhere, lest demonstrators continue to show up their weakness and hypocrisy.
It does a disservice to the courage of countless demonstrators around the country to frame the removal of the Lee statue and other such monuments as an act carried out by the government. A great number of these statues have been removed by grassroots direct action, and practically all of the ones that were removed by government order were removed only for fear that demonstrators would remove them.
Likewise, the wave of statue topplings that has finally compelled Virginia authorities to remove the Lee statue was always about something bigger than reckoning with the shameful legacy of the Confederacy. As documented in the chronology below, throughout 2020, people vandalized a wide range of monuments, not just Confederate memorials. Far-right pundits and timid liberals sought to frame this as a “slippery slope” in which opposition to explicitly racist monuments would lead to desecrating supposed heroes of emancipation like Abraham Lincoln. But the statue topplings were not motivated by a narrow desire to defend the supposedly pristine legacy of the United States against the treasonous Confederate States of America; from the beginning, they were driven by a desire to confront structural white supremacy in all its forms, from slavery to colonialism and police violence.
This was consistent with the values of the George Floyd uprising, during which these actions proliferated. The logic that led demonstrators to tear down monuments to Confederate soldiers was the same logic that motivated them to vandalize monuments to police departments that harass, incarcerate, and murder Black and Brown people in disproportionate numbers.1 It was the same logic that inspired some of them to tear down a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Portland, marking it with graffiti reminding everyone that Lincoln signed off on the murders of 38 Indigenous Dakota people.
As we celebrate the removal of the Lee statue, we owe it to those whose actions made it possible to remember all that they accomplished and what they were fighting for. Their actions—documented, in part, in the following chronology—speak louder than words. The struggle against white supremacy is far from complete; we must not let small victories like the removal of the Lee monument offer a false sense of closure.
The statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia.
A Chronology of Statue Topplings during the George Floyd Revolt
Summer 2020 saw a wide range of protest activity across the country in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people and people of color. A few days into the uprising, as people were storming police precincts, looting shopping districts, and lighting police cars on fire, some protesters began to turn their attention towards monuments honoring centuries of racialized exploitation and violence.
Demonstrators roving Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia tore down a large number of Confederate monuments, helping to catalyze scores of similar actions elsewhere around the country. Together, these efforts forced the government of Virginia to order the removal of the long-controversial statue of Robert E. Lee, just as they compelled many other politicians to make similar decisions around the country. Using direct action, demonstrators accomplished in minutes what civil complaints and reformist campaigns had failed to address for decades. In this context, even small gestures, such as scrawling a word or two on a pedestal, sufficed to incite public debate, if not the removal of monuments.
As a whole, these actions have changed our landscape and altered our sense of both the past and the present. Cheers to everyone who took matters into their own hands.
May 28, 2020
At a rowdy march honoring Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, demonstrators clash with police, barricade streets, attack law enforcement vehicles, light fires, and smash storefront windows. Outside the county sheriff’s office, protesters rip a hand off of a statue of King Louis XIV and tag it with “ALL COPS UPHOLD WHITE SUPREMACY.” A sign is left at the statue’s feet, “UNTIL ALL POLICE STATES BURN, WE FIGHT FOR BLACK LIVES,”
Give this demonstrator a hand.
At a protest outside of the police headquarters in Bakersfield, California, demonstrators tag “BLM,” “KILL MORE COPS,” and “ACAB” on a memorial to police officers.
During a demonstration in Fayetteville, North Carolina against the killing of George Floyd, protesters break into the historic Market House, which once hosted slave auctions. The building catches fire. Though the fire is doused before it destroys the building, police charge two demonstrators with felonies.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, people paint “RACIST” and “FUCK 12” on a Confederate monument near the state capitol building.
A protest passing a monument to Confederate Defenders in Charleston, South Carolina defaces it with red paint and the letters “BLM.”
In Richmond, Virginia, people tag memorials to Confederate general Robert E. Lee, General J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and the Confederacy itself. Some people paint and set fire to the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group responsible for erecting Confederate monuments across the country and resisting their removal. As the former capital of the Confederate States of America, Richmond is home to dozens of memorials to the Confederacy, from stained glass in churches to grandiose statues along Monument Avenue. Over the following days, protesters in Richmond attack these symbols relentlessly, forcing the city to remove many of them.
At a protest in Norfolk, Virginia, demonstrators climb onto a Confederate monument, tag it, and cover it in toilet paper.
In Nashville, Tennessee, protesters topple a statue of Edward W. Carmack, a US Senator, segregationist, and newspaper owner who championed lynchings.
During a night of rioting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, someone scrawls “PIG” on a police memorial.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, protesters tag a statue of “tough-on-crime” racist Mayor Frank Rizzo with the letters “FTP,” unsuccessfully try to pull it down, then light a fire at its base.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 30.
During a protest in Sacramento, California, “FUCK THE POLICE” appears on a memorial to police officers. Protesters also leave signs reading “SAY HIS NAME” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” That night in Washington, DC, George Floyd demonstrators target a number of monuments, including the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a statue of Revolutionary War figure Casimir Pulaski, and the National Law Enforcement Memorial. The latter is tagged with the word “MURDERERS.”
In Cleveland, Ohio, a rowdy anti-police demonstration stops by the US Soldiers and Sailors Monument and tags it with the words “GEORGE FLOYD,” “FTP,” “COLONIZERS,” “TAMIR RICE,” and “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.” Protesters also take an American flag from the memorial.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, protesters rampage through the city, smashing windows, fighting riot police, and lighting at least one building along Lincoln Mall on fire. The mall also holds a statue of President Abraham Lincoln, which protesters cover in yellow paint.
That night, vandals target monuments throughout the country. On the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford, people paint red handprints on a Confederate memorial and write “spiritual genocide” across it.
Protesters in Birmingham, Alabama pull down a statue of banker, industrialist, and Confederate officer Charles Linn. The crowd also attacks a nearby obelisk dedicated to soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy. Throughout the night, rioters smash windows and set fires throughout Birmingham.
In Athens, Georgia, demonstrators pause by a Confederate monument to write “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “GEORGE FLOYD” on it.
Over the weekend in Dayton, Ohio, a roadside police mural reading “SUPPORT, COMMUNITY, HOPE, AND PEACE” is defaced twice. The first artist paints over the image of a police officer’s face with the visage of a pig. The second one adds graffiti expressing criticism of police.
In Antwerp, Belgium, demonstrators cover a statue of King Leopold II in red paint. Leopold oversaw the colonization of Congo in the late 1800s, during which the Belgians enslaved, maimed, and killed millions of people—as detailed in Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.
Protesters in Montgomery, Alabama topple a statue of Lee outside of the Robert E. Lee High School. For years, students, parents, and alumni had asked that the predominantly Black school be renamed and the statue be removed. In response, police charge four people with felonies.
In Asheville, North Carolina, demonstrators surround the Vance Memorial, tagging it with “ACAB,” “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “FUCK 12,” and “SLAVES SOLD HERE!” Zebulon Baird Vance was a captain in the Confederacy and later a senator for and governor of North Carolina. He oversaw white supremacist policies during his time in office.
At the end of a weekend of looting and rioting in Mobile, Alabama, demonstrators vandalize a statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes with the words “CONFEDERATE SCUM” and “ACAB.”
Vandals set fire to a statue of King Leopold II in Antwerp, Belgium. This is the second time that the statue has been targeted in four days. A number of Leopold statues are defaced and torn down throughout the country over the coming months.
Prince Laurent, the great-great-great-great nephew of Leopold II, charges that the protesters are misguided on the grounds that his ancestor never set foot in Congo—as if kings ever do their own dirty work.
A police memorial in Virginia Beach, Virginia is vandalized with paint.
In Jacksonville, Florida, people write “BLM” and dump red paint onto the “Women of the Southland” Confederate monument.
People discover that a Confederate monument has been vandalized in Williamsburg City, Virginia. The memorial’s flag has been crossed out and “BLM” painted across its base.
Protesters pull down a statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham in Richmond, Virginia. Members of the crowd spray-paint and urinate on the statue.
In New London, Connecticut a march in honor of those killed by the police stops by a Christopher Columbus statue. Protesters chant “TAKE IT DOWN!” and spray-paint the statue red. Over the next week, vandals repeatedly paint the statue red, forcing the mayor to remove it.
In Iowa City, Iowa, a demonstration makes it way by Kinnick Stadium. In response to the outing of Chris Doyle, the football strength and conditioning coach, for years of racist comments towards players, protesters tag the stadium and the statues outside it with “TREAT YOUR PLAYERS RIGHT,” “ACAB,” and “FUCK THE KKK.”
Overnight, vandals deface a number of Confederate monuments throughout Atlanta, Georgia, including the “Lion of the Confederacy,” covering the monument in red paint and adding the letters “BLM.” Over the following year, many more attacks occur targeting Confederate memorials throughout Atlanta.
People topple a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, England. Protesters roll the statue through the streets and dump it in Bristol Harbour.
The same day, outside Parliament in London, demonstrators deface a statue of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, charging him with racism and advocacy of colonialism.
In Louisville, Kentucky, vandals dump paint on a statue of Confederate officer John Breckinridge Castleman. Like many of these monuments, the Castleman statue has been vandalized repeatedly over the years.
Vandals in Fort Worth, Texas deface a police memorial with “FUCK 12,” “BLM,” and “ACAB.”
Shortly before dawn in Louisville, Kentucky, police arrest three people, accusing them of vandalizing a statue of King Louis XIV outside the office of the county sheriff. Black paint had been sprayed on the statue along with the words “GEORGE FLOYD,” “WE WILL WIN,” and “BLM.”
In St. Paul, Minnesota, members of the American Indian Movement pull down a Christopher Columbus statue at the state capitol.
A demonstration in Richmond, Virginia targets a Columbus statue as well, toppling it, lighting it on fire, and dumping it in a nearby lake.
That night, in Boston, Massachusetts, vandals behead a statue of Columbus.
In Griffin, Georgia, vandals deface multiple Confederate memorials, writing “FUCK THE POLICE,” “PEOPLE OVER PROPERTY,” and “BLM” on them.
Protesters in Richmond, Virginia topple a statue of Jefferson Davis.
A hundred miles away in Portsmouth, Virginia, protesters attack a Confederate monument. Four statues are beheaded and one pulled down.
Portsmouth, Virginia, June 10.
That night, vandals cover Columbus statues in red paint in Houston, Texas and Miami, Florida. Someone hangs a sign on the statue in Houston reading “RIP THE HEAD FROM YOUR OPPRESSOR.”
In Lothian, Maryland, someone damages a statue of Confederate Private Benjamin Welch Owens.
At Fort Donelson in Dover, Tennessee, vandals deface a Confederate monument with “END WHITE SUPREMACY,” “ACAB,” “TAKE ME DOWN,” “BLM,” and “DEFUND THE POLICE.”
In Savannah, Georgia, people put a white hood over a bust of Confederate Major General Lafayette McLaws and stencil a black fist across it.
In Brussels, Belgium, people vandalize a statue of King Leopold II.
In Hamilton, New Zealand, vandals cover a statue of the town’s namesake, Captain John Hamilton, with paint. After serving as a British naval officer in China and Crimea in the mid-1800s, Hamilton fought to put down Māori rebellions in New Zealand. With a Māori-led protest that threatens to tear down the statue scheduled days away, the city removes the statue.
In Brussels, people put red paint on a bust of King Baudouin, the Belgian monarch who oversaw genocide in Congo in the mid-1900s, and write “REPARATION” on the monument’s pedestal.
In the Hague, Netherlands, vandals throw red paint onto a statue of Piet Hein. In the 1600s, Hein was as a vice-admiral for the Dutch West India Trading Company and a privateer. Hein tried to seize colonies in Central and South America from Spain, committing genocide as he did. Hein also worked to take control of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
During daily protests outside the state capitol in Atlanta, Georgia, police arrest a person for writing “TAKE IT DOWN” on a statue of plantation owner, Confederate general, and governor John Brown Gordon.
A police memorial in Richmond is vandalized with red paint and the words “JUSTICE FOR ALTON”—a reference to Alton Sterling, a Black man murdered by Baton Rouge police officers.
In Philadelphia, someone writes “COMMITTED GENOCIDE” on a memorial to George Washington.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 11.
An ax-wielding vandal nearly decapitates a Delaware law enforcement memorial. When police arrive on the scene, all they find is the ax and a urine-soaked Delaware flag.
In Pretoria, South Africa, someone covers statues of Paul Kruger and two Boer soldiers in red paint, writing “KILLER” and “I CAN’T BREATHE” on the monument. Kruger was a military officer, president of South Africa, and white supremacist during the second half of the 1800s.
Pretoria, South Africa, June 12.
Vandals in Ballarat, Australia deface the busts of former prime ministers, covering them in red paint and draping one in an Aboriginal flag. In Sydney, protesters vandalize a statue of Captain James Cook. The 18th-century explorer was the first European to chart many parts of the Pacific, paving the way for genocide. In Perth, Western Australia, someone vandalizes a statue of Captain James Stirling. As the first Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Western Australia, Stirling committed the Pinjarra Massacre, among other acts of colonial genocide.
In Melbourne, Australia, vandals paint “DESTROY WHITE SUPREMACY,” “STOLEN LAND,” and “FUCK COOK!” on a memorial to Captain Cook.
In Milan, Italy, people cover a statue of journalist Indro Montanelli in red paint. Montanelli fought in the 1930s to colonize Ethiopia and was an enthusiastic supporter of fascism, penning articles about the superiority of the white race and supporting Italy’s control of North Africa. While stationed in Ethiopia, Montanelli bought and sold a 12-year old Eritrean girl.
Protesters take a bust in New Orleans, Louisiana depicting businessman and slave owner John McDonogh and toss it into the Mississippi River. In retaliation, police arrest least two people.
Protesters topple and drag statues in Eugene, Oregon celebrating white settlers, “The Pioneer” and “The Pioneer Mother.”
In Providence, Rhode Island, people throw white paint on a Columbus statue. Prosecutors charge three people with felonies but the charges are later dropped. The previous year, someone had doused the same Columbus statue in red paint and left a sign reading “STOP CELEBRATING GENOCIDE.”
A year later, in June 2021, a group of teens in nearby Westerly, Rhode Island follow up by pelting a Columbus statue with eggs and blue paint.
Providence, Rhode Island, 2019.
In the early hours of the morning, vandals in Chicago, Illinois place a white hood over a statue of George Washington. They fling white paint at it and write “SLAVE OWNER” and “GOD BLESS AMERIKKKA” on it.
Meanwhile, in Wilmington, North Carolina, people vandalize a Confederate memorial with paint.
Calling themselves “Justice 4 Jayson” in honor of 15-year-old Jayson Negron, who was murdered by police in 2017, protesters in Bridgeport, Connecticut set up camp outside the police department. During the occupation, someone writes “FUCK THE POLICE” on a police memorial.
Protesters in Portland, Oregon pull down a statue of Thomas Jefferson outside Thomas Jefferson High School.
In Silver Springs, Maryland, protesters spray-paint a Confederate monument.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, vandals damage a memorial to Confederate soldiers.
Overnight in Dover, Delaware, someone stencils “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the Delaware State Police Memorial.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, vandals write “BLM,” “QUIT PIGS,” and “ACAB” on a memorial to deceased police officers.
Protesters in Richmond, Virginia topple another Confederate monument.
In Macon, Georgia, someone writes “HOW OFFENDED ARE YOU NOW?” at the base of a Confederate memorial, a reference to those who are more offended by the vandalism of monuments than the things they stand for.
Someone pours a bucket of red paint on a police memorial in Baltimore, Maryland and writes “I CAN’T BREATHE” on its base.
In White’s Ferry, Maryland, vandals pull down and deface a Confederate memorial, writing “RACIST” beside it. The statue had originally been in Rockville, Maryland, but was moved to White’s Ferry after someone wrote “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on it in 2017.
In Columbus, Ohio, a statue of the city’s namesake is vandalized with black and red paint.
In Nashville, Tennessee, someone writes “THEY WERE RACISTS” on a Confederate memorial in Centennial Park and throws red paint on it.
In St. Louis, Missouri, town employees quietly removed a statue of Christopher Columbus from Tower Grove Park. The statue had long been controversial; it was only the outpouring of rage against racist and colonial statues that compelled the city authorities to take action.
Nashville, Tennessee, June 16.
A demonstration in Charleston, South Carolina targets the John C. Calhoun monument. Calhoun was a statesman from South Carolina—a long-time US senator and two-time vice president—who championed white supremacy and states’ rights. In the 1830s, he led the faction promoting “nullification,” a precursor to South Carolina seceding from the Union three decades later. Protesters cover the monument with signs, tag it, and throw eggs at it. Police arrest nine people in retaliation.
In Silver Springs, Maryland, vandals target another Confederate memorial, pulling the monument down and leaving a note claiming responsibility:
“Here lies 17 dead white supremacists who died fighting to keep black people enslaved. The Confederacy was and always will be racist. Let this marker be a more accurate depiction of history because the last one was a disgrace. PS—We toppled the Confederate statue at White’s Ferry.”
Silver Springs, Maryland, June 17.
In Vaughn, Ontario, vandals spray-paint a statue of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
On the eve of Juneteenth, demonstrators in Portland, Oregon attack a statue of George Washington. After covering its face in a burning American flag, people pull it down and write “YOU’RE ON NATIVE LAND” and “BLM” on it.
In San Francisco, California, statues of Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, and Junípero Serra are toppled. Key is famous for writing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but also owned slaves and during his work as a lawyer, prosecuted runaways and abolitionists while defending the rights of slave owners. Grant was a Union general and Reconstruction-era president who oversaw slaves before the war and committed genocide against Native Americans after it. Serra was a missionary who established settlements ranging from Querétaro, Mexico to San Francisco, California, forcibly converting, enslaving, and abusing Native people along the way. Over the past five years, a number of Serra statues have been decapitated and covered in red paint.
Overnight in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, vandals cover a statue of John A. Macdonald in red paint. Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister and established the residential school system. In the course of their existence, the schools took over 150,000 Indigenous children from their parents and forcibly taught them European values. Thousands of children were abused and killed at the residential schools.
As of August 2021, 4100 Indigenous children have been documented as having died at Canada’s residential schools. Throughout the summer of 2021, people have defaced and toppled statues of Macdonald, Queen Victoria, and Catholic figures throughout Canada and set Catholic churches on fire in retribution for the Church’s involvement in Native genocide.
A demonstration outside the capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina targets a Confederate monument. After police thwart the first attempt, people succeed in ripping two life-size statues off of the monolith and drag them through the streets. The crowd leaves one statue dangling from a streetlight and the other on the steps of a courthouse. The next day, city employees remove all the remaining Confederate monuments.
In Phoenix, Arizona, protesters dump red paint on a memorial to Confederate troops outside the capitol.
In Washington, DC, protesters tear down a statue of Confederate Brigadier General Albert Pike and set it on fire.
During an anti-police demonstration in Toronto, Ontario, someone writes “BLM” on a police memorial.
A demonstrator flings red paint on a statue of George Washington in Baltimore, Maryland.
In Nuuk, Greenland, a statue of Danish missionary and colonizer Hans Egede is splashed with red paint and tagged “DECOLONIZE.” Egede founded a colony in Greenland in the early 1700s on Inuit land, revitalizing European interest in the island and paving the way for European colonial settlements. Police make an arrest in connection to the vandalism.
Someone writes “BLM” on a Confederate monument in Brunswick, Georgia.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, vandals place red handprints and write “RACIST” and “END GENOCIDE” on a memorial to Union troops who fought against Native Americans. Until protesters chiseled off the dedication in the 1970s, the memorial was dedicated to troops who fought against “savage Indians.”
In Jacksonville, Florida, vandals fling red paint on a statue of Andrew Jackson and write “SLAVE OWNER” on it. Jackson enslaved over a hundred people, led troops against the Seminole People as a general during the Florida Wars, and, while president, ordered the forcible relocation of all Native Americans across the Mississippi River. Thousands of people died from exposure, disease, and starvation as they were forced west along the Trail of Tears.
In Carmel, Indiana, people put red paint on the hands of a statue of a police officer and wrote “IT COULD HAPPEN HERE” (i.e., police could kill someone) on its back.
Amid ongoing protests in Washington, DC, protesters boldly attempt to topple a statue of President Andrew Jackson across the street from the White House. Some write “KILLER,” “RACIST SCUM,” and “BLM” on its pedestal before police prevent protesters from pulling it down. From within his well-guarded palace, Trump threatens protesters with ten years imprisonment.
Vandals in Jacksonville hit the President Jackson statue in their city again, writing “REMEMBER MAY 28, 1830” on it—a reference to the Indian Removal Act.
During the early morning hours, vandals in Worcester, Massachusetts cover a Columbus statue in red paint. This marks the second time in a month that the statue has been defaced.
Vandals in Anderson, South Carolina paint a Confederate monument red.
Overnight in Winnepeg, Canada, vandals dump white paint on a statue of Queen Victoria. Her sixty-four year reign saw the subjugation and murder of countless people around the globe as a consequence of the colonial ambitions of the British Empire. In summer 2021, protesters tear down the Victoria statue along with a statue of Queen Elizabeth I.
Vandals in East Memphis, Tennessee throw red paint on a Columbus statue.
Amid ongoing anti-police protests, demonstrators in Denver, Colorado pull down a statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus.
In Kansas City, Missouri, two vandals are caught defacing a statue of President Andrew Jackson. They succeed in covering the statue in red paint and writing “SLAVE OWNER” on it before police arrest them.
President Trump issues Executive Order 13933, “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence.” The order threatens protesters who target monuments with ten years imprisonment under the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003. It also threatens to withhold funding to prosecutors and police departments that do not make a point of attacking and repressing protesters. Trump’s order reads, in part,
“Over the last 5 weeks, there has been a sustained assault on the life and property of civilians, law enforcement officers, government property, and revered American monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial. Many of the rioters, arsonists, and left-wing extremists who have carried out and supported these acts have explicitly identified themselves with ideologies—such as Marxism—that call for the destruction of the United States system of government. Anarchists and left-wing extremists have sought to advance a fringe ideology that paints the United States of America as fundamentally unjust and have sought to impose that ideology on Americans through violence and mob intimidation. They have led riots in the streets, burned police vehicles, killed and assaulted government officers as well as business owners defending their property, and even seized an area within one city where law and order gave way to anarchy…”
“My Administration will not allow violent mobs incited by a radical fringe to become the arbiters of the aspects of our history that can be celebrated in public spaces. State and local public officials’ abdication of their law enforcement responsibilities in deference to this violent assault must end.”
Later in the day, Trump tweets an FBI wanted poster showing fifteen protesters, exclaiming “Ten year prison sentences!”
In Columbia, South Carolina, a device filled with flammable stump remover is found near the state capitol. The smoldering device was placed at the base of a statue of governor and white supremacist Benjamin Tillman. Police charge two people with felonies.
In Franklin, Ohio, a monument to Robert E. Lee is damaged with paint and eggs. The ground next to it is tagged “NO RACIST MONUMENTS.”
In the early morning hours, vandals throw red paint across two statues of George Washington in Manhattan, New York.
President Trump takes to Twitter with his signature gratuitous use of capitalization:
“We are tracking down the two Anarchists who threw paint on the magnificent George Washington Statue in Manhattan. We have them on tape. They will be prosecuted and face 10 years in Prison based on the Monuments and Statues Act. Turn yourselves in now!”
Over a year later, in September 2021, no one has been arrested for the vandalism.
Meanwhile, in Pensacola, Florida, someone throws red paint across a monument to Confederate soldiers.
Vandals in Frederick, Maryland cover multiple memorials to Confederate soldiers in red and topple two statues. One loses its limbs; the other, its head.
During a protest in Louisville, Kentucky, people extinguished an “eternal flame” dedicated to police officers and wrote “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” nearby.
People removed dozens of Confederate flags from graves in Resaca, Georgia and used them to spell out the words “STOP RACISM.”
In Lothian, Maryland, people topple a statue of Confederate Private Benjamin Welch Owens. It is the second time in a few weeks that the statue has been vandalized.
In Seattle, Washington, people pull down and deface a memorial to Confederate soldiers in Lake View Cemetery.
Overnight in Buffalo, New York, people vandalize a monument to President William McKinley with the letters “BLM.” McKinley was president during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars and sent troops against striking workers. The anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated him in Buffalo in 1901.
Demonstrators in Sacramento, California spray-paint a statue of colonizer and missionary Junípero Serra, then tear it down.
Protesters in Baltimore, Maryland topple a Columbus statue and throw it into Baltimore Inner Harbor.
Overnight, in Waterbury, Connecticut, a statue of Columbus is beheaded. Police later charge one person.
Waterbury, Connecticut, July 4.
Vandals tear down a memorial to Confederate troops at Green Hill Cemetery in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In East Memphis, Tennessee, people cover a Christopher Columbus statue in black paint and feathers. This is the second time in two weeks that the monument has been damaged.
Vandals in Cornelius, North Carolina tag a Confederate memorial with “RACIST” and “BLM.” Police charge three people.
Protesters in Greensboro, North Carolina topple a Confederate monument.
A person is arrested in Columbia, Missouri while writing, “SAY HER NAME: SALLY HEMINGS” at the foot of a Thomas Jefferson statue on the Mizzou campus. Hemings was enslaved to Jefferson and had six children with him. It is likely that Jefferson initiated a sexual relationship with Hemings when Hemings was only fourteen years old.
Vandals in Haverhill, Massachusetts take action against a monument to Hannah Duston that depicts Duston holding Native scalps, writing on the statue, “HAVERHILL’S OWN MONUMENT TO GENOCIDE.” In early May, demonstrators had used red paint to target another statue of Duston in Boscawen, New Hampshire, also depicting her holding scalps. The Alnôbak (Abenaki) took Duston captive in 1697 and killed her infant daughter during her captivity. Duston eventually escaped, but not before killing the Alnôbak family she was bound to and scalping them. She later received £25 for the scalps, a considerable sum.
In Savannah, Georgia, people break the arms off the Confederate monument known as “Silence,” stenciling “SILENCE NO MORE” on it in large letters and splashing red paint on it.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, people cover a Confederate memorial in tags, including “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “POWER TO THE PEOPLE,” and “STAY DEAD.” Later in the week, police make one arrest.
Overnight, four statues are vandalized throughout New Orleans. People push over a statue of John McDonogh and a bust of Confederate officer and state legislator Charles Didier Dreux. Vandals also cover a bust of Confederate Brigadier General Albert Pike in paint and write “DIE PIG” on it, then write “BLM” on a statue of Sophie B. Wright. Wright was a proud member of the Daughters of the Confederacy in the later 1800s. The bust of Dreux had its nose chiseled off in 2017 and “FUCK THIS SHIT” written on it in 2018.
Overnight, vandals damage a Confederate monument outside the Sampson County Courthouse in Clinton City, North Carolina.
Another person is arrested at the statue of Thomas Jefferson in Columbia, Missouri, accused of throwing red paint on it.
Vandals in Cape Town, South Africa use an angle grinder to decapitate a bust of Cecil Rhodes.
In the 1890s, Rhodes was an incredibly powerful British colonizer. As prime minister of the Cape Colony in present day South Africa, Rhodes oversaw the theft of Indigenous land and the tripling of the amount of wealth one was required to possess in order to have the right to vote. As owner of the De Beers diamond company, Rhodes made a fortune on the exploitation of Black Africans. Rhodes is also the namesake of Rhodesia, later renamed Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Cape Town, South Africa, July 13.
A statue of Ronald Reagan in his boyhood home, Dixon, Illinois, is vandalized with the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
In New Orleans, someone throws red paint on a statue of George Washington and writes “BLM” on its base.
Following a rally in Grant Park—the site of horrific police violence during the Democratic National Convention of 1968—hundreds of demonstrators outwit and outfight police officers, winning an opportunity to try to topple a statue of Christopher Columbus. They do not succeed in pulling down the statue, but their effort makes nationwide news, and the statue’s pedestal is left covered in graffiti and paint. Afterwards, both protesters and police require hospitalization.
Someone defaces a police memorial in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey with red paint.
Overnight in Savannah, vandals once again target the “Silence” monument in Laurel Grove Cemetery. Red paint and a swastika appear on the Confederate memorial. Nearby Confederate headstones are also defaced.
The police headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri is vandalized during a demonstration against federal agents being brought to town to investigate violent crimes. “FUCK FEDS AND COPS” is written on the headquarters’ front doors and “FEDS GO HOME,” “NO ROOM 4 FASCISTS,” and “ABOLISH KCPD” appear on a police memorial.
Demonstrators in Toronto, Canada target a statue of John A. Macdonald, throwing paint on it and draping it with a banner that reads, “TEAR DOWN MONUMENTS THAT REPRESENT SLAVERY, COLONIALISM, AND VIOLENCE”.
A monument in Nashville, Tennessee to Confederate and Union troops is vandalized with “BLM” and “EAT ASS AMERICA.”
Overnight, vandals push over a statue of Robert E. Lee in Roanoke, Virginia.
By order of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, town employees remove the statues of Christopher Columbus from Grant Park and Arrigo Park.
In Richmond, Virginia, a march expressing solidarity with Portland demonstrators in response to local and federal police violence in the Northwest pivots toward the headquarters of the Richmond Police Department. Someone splashes red paint across the giant “big brother” installation representing the head of a police officer, adding a giant message reading “ACAB” beside it. Shortly after, a dump truck is set ablaze. Though police attempt to disperse the crowd with tear gas, the march regroups and continues moving through the city.
During an anti-police protest in downtown Los Angeles, California, demonstrators attack the federal building, breaking its glass doors, tagging the interior and exterior of the building, and defacing a memorial case holding the badges of deceased officers. Police respond in riot gear, leading to injuries on both sides.
In Fort-de-France, Martinique, demonstrators tear down statues of Empress Joséphine and Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc. Joséphine was born on her family’s sugar plantation in Martinique, and when her husband Napoleon Bonaparte took power in France, Joséphine had slavery re-established on the island. Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc founded the first permanent French settlement in Martinque in 1635. The Joséphine statue in Martinque has been headless since 1991 and regularly covered in paint since.
Previously, in May, Martiniquais protesters had torn down and destroyed two statues of Victor Schœlcher, known for writing the decree that abolished African slavery in France’s colonies in 1848. According to the protesters, “Schœlcher was undeniably against slavery, but when it was necessary to negotiate reparations, he only offered freedom to Blacks and gave financial compensation to the slavers for the loss of the free work of their captives!”
Fort-de-France, Martinique, July 26.
People vandalize a police memorial in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Police say the memorial had been attacked already in May 2020 and twice in 2016 before that. One of the previous vandalisms involved someone beating on it with a crowbar, breaking off large chunks of it.
In Huntsville, Alabama, vandals fling red paint at a Confederate monument outside the county courthouse.
A police memorial in Chicago, Illinois is vandalized with black paint.
Police report damage to a police memorial in Colorado Springs, acknowledging that they have had to clean graffiti and other vandalism from the memorial a number of times since it was unveiled two years ago.
A Confederate memorial outside the county courthouse in Jackson, Tennessee is spray-painted with “TEAR IT DOWN.” In 2017, vandals tagged the memorial with “NO NAZIS” shortly after the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville.
Vandals in Vaughn, Ontario once again spray-paint the statue of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Vandals in Darien, Connecticut fire paintballs at a police memorial outside the Darien Police Department.
Vandals in Buffalo, New York dump a bucket of blue paint onto an Abraham Lincoln statue.
Someone writes “ACAB” and “FTP” on a police officer memorial in Springfield, Massachusetts.
In Madison, Wisconsin, someone beats the police memorial outside the capitol with a sledgehammer. Later in the week, police make one arrest. The memorial was previously defaced with paint in 2017.
Vandals in Victoria, Canada douse a statue of Captain James Cook with red paint. In summer 2021, protesters tear the statue down and toss it in the harbor.
During an anti-police march in Montreal, Canada, protesters pull down a statue of John A. Macdonald.
During the early morning hours, someone once again defaces the scalp-holding statue of Hannah Duston in Haverhill, Massachusetts, dumping red paint on it.
Overnight in Little Rock, Arkansas, people deface police vehicles outside the North Little Rock Police Department, lighting one SUV on fire. Across town, “DANIEL PRUDE, SAY HIS NAME” and “DEFUND THE POLICE” are written on the Little Rock District Courthouse. Vandals also write “DEFUND THE POLICE” and “BREONNA TAYLOR” on a police memorial at a third location. The following morning, passersby yell at the Little Rock Police Chief during a news conference.
After an anti-police rally in Detroit, Michigan, vandals tag a statue of US General Alexander Macomb with “SLAVE OWNER LAND THIEF.”
Two people in Charlottetown, Canada spontaneously knock over a John A. Macdonald statue and drag it through the street. The two are arrested.
Indigenous Misak protesters in Popayán, Colombia tear down a statue of conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar. In the 1500s, Belalcázar established Spanish settlements in Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, and Ecuador, enslaving Native people and committing genocide in the process. The statue had been built atop El Morro del Tulcán, a Misak pyramid and holy site.
Vandals hit the McKinley monument in Buffalo, New York—for the third time in a few months—writing “WARDEL DAVIS” on the monument and splashing red paint across it. Wardel Davis was a young black man killed by Buffalo police in 2017. The officers who killed him were later cleared of any wrongdoing. Police arrest one person in relation to the vandalism.
A monument to Confederate Major General Lafayette McLaws in Savannah, Georgia is defaced a second time. Vandals write “JUSTICE 4 B. TAYLOR” and “BLM” on it.
Two cyclists biking along Schuylkill River Trail in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania rip a Thin Blue Line American flag from a police memorial and throw it into the nearby bushes. The memorial’s bench was already defaced earlier in September.
Vandals in Louisville, Kentucky dump red paint onto a statue of George Rogers Clark, writing “STOP WHITE WASHING BLACK HISTORY” at its base and hanging a banner on a nearby overpass reading “LMPD WILL KILL AGAIN. RISE UP.” Clark, the older brother of explorer and governor William Clark, was a slave owner and military officer who fought on the frontier during the Revolutionary and Northwest Wars. In the latter, he guided troops as they killed Native Americans and eventually drove them from their homes in the Ohio River Valley.
A statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Nashville, Tennessee is vandalized with the word “MONSTER.” Before the Civil War, Forrest was a plantation owner, cattle dealer, and slave trader. During the war, he worked his way up to become a general in the Confederacy. Under his command, at Fort Pillow, Confederate soldiers massacred hundreds of surrendering Black troops and white Loyalist troops from Tennessee. After the war, Forrest was the First Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan from 1867-1869. The statue of Forrest had pink paint thrown on it in 2017.
A state trooper memorial is defaced in Dennis Township, New Jersey.
Police arrest six people in Collierville, Tennessee, accusing them of vandalizing a Confederate memorial in the town square. Police claim they caught the six while spray-painting the monument and dumping glue and feathers on it.
Overnight in Pueblo, Colorado, vandals splash red paint on a bust of Christopher Columbus.
Amid ongoing protests in Portland, Oregon, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day (also known as Columbus Day), demonstrators tear down statues of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Someone writes “Dakota 38” on the Lincoln statue, a reference to Lincoln approving the execution of 38 Dakota people following the US-Dakota War of 1862. Roosevelt was an enthusiastic expansionist in the late 1800s who helped push for America to get involved in the Spanish-American War, which resulted in America claiming possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippine islands, and Hawaii.
Following a three-day occupation, a memorial once dedicated to US troops who fought “savage Indians” is toppled and destroyed by protesters in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Police arrest two.
Overnight in Chicago, someone puts red paint all over a statue depicting the Native American mascot of the Blackhawks hockey team. Vandals write “LAND BACK” and “DECOLONIZE” at the statue’s base.
In Vallejo, California, vandals destroy a police memorial.
Vandals in Ridley Township, Pennsylvania dump detergent into a police memorial fountain. Hey, everybody starts somewhere.
To mark Thanksgiving, protesters and vandals target monuments across the country. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a monument to pioneers is tagged with “NO THANKS,” “LAND BACK,” “DECOLONIZE,” and “NO MORE GENOCIDE.” People also tear down and tag a statue of George Washington.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 26.
In Chicago, Illinois, vandals throw a rope around a statue of President William McKinley and attach it to a truck. Though the vandals do not succeed in toppling the statue, they write “LAND BACK” on its pedestal.
In Portland, rioters smash windows of banks and businesses, tagging “LAND BACK” as they do. In a separate incident, across town in Lone Fir Cemetery, a memorial to the veterans of the Civil, Mexican-American, Spanish-American, and Indian Wars is torn down and covered in red paint. In Spokane, Washington, a statue of Abraham Lincoln is splattered with red paint.
Spokane, Washington, November 26.
In the course of researching this article, we found reports regarding a number of arrests in which people were accused of taking action against these monuments. However, we have not been able to find much information about the current status of most arrestees. Please direct support to defendants and prisoners!
- When You Topple the Statues, Don’t Forget to Uproot the Pedestals
- Tearing Down the Monuments to Thieves—How the Confederate Statue Came Down in Chapel Hill
- Accounts from the Fall of Silent Sam
- “Each Crueler Than the Last”—On Statues of Christopher Columbus and the Men Who Raised Them
- Accounts from the Battle of Grant Park—How Chicago Demonstrators Pushed Back the Police and Nearly Toppled a Statue
- Statues and Reclaiming Space-Time—A Focus on One Aspect of the Revolt in Richmond: Do Statues Actually Matter?
- Statues and Reclaiming Space-Time, imposed zine PDF for printing
- Escaping Washington for Freedom—Let’s not Celebrate George Washington, but the Slaves Who Escaped Him
- “Beware Lest a Statue Slay You“—A reflection by Thomas Martin regarding whether we need statues at all
In 2020 alone, police in the United States shot to death over 1000 people. Without including those choked and beaten to death or run off roads, police killed two to three people a day. ↩