BALTIMORE — The mayor said Wednesday that she was acting in the “best interest of my city” when she ordered the removal overnight of statues dedicated to Confederate heroes, just days after violence broke out over efforts to take down a similar monument in neighboring Virginia.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Catherine Pugh said that given the current political climate, it was important to move “quickly and quietly” as a matter of public safety.
“The mayor has the right to protect her city,” Ms Pugh said later in an interview. “For me, the statues represented pain, and not only did I want to protect my city from any more of that pain, I also wanted to protect my city from any of the violence that was occurring around the nation. We don’t need that in Baltimore.”
Beginning shortly after midnight on Wednesday, a crew, which included a large crane and a contingent of police officers, began making rounds of the city’s parks and public squares, removing the monuments from their pedestals and carting them away.
Small crowds gathered at each of the monuments and the mood was “celebratory,” said Baynard Woods, the editor at large of The Baltimore City Paper, who documented the removals on Twitter.Continue reading the main story
At the news conference, Ms. Pugh said she had spoken with the president of the City Council on Monday, the same day the council voted unanimously to remove the four monuments.
“I thought that there’s enough grandstanding, enough speeches being made,” she said. “Get it done.”
The removals came as other community leaders around the country, in cities from Gainesville, Fla. to Lexington, Ky., called for their Confederate monuments to come down on the heels of the weekend’s violent clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters over a Robert E. Lee statue that is set for removal in Charlottesville, Va.
“I think any city that has Confederate statues are concerned about violence occurring in their city,” Ms. Pugh said.
The city had been studying the issue since 2015, when a mass shooting by a white supremacist at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., prompted a renewed debate across the South over removing Confederate monuments and battle flags from public spaces.
Ms. Pugh said she had been working toward the statues’s removal since June, when she met with Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans to discuss his city’s removal of its own Confederate monuments. By last week, she said she had reached out to contractors here to solicit assessments on the feasibility of removing each of the statues in short order.
On Monday, after watching the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, Ms. Pugh said she arrived at City Hall with the intention to redouble her efforts. She sought legal counsel from the city solicitor, who signed off on the removal, and notified members of the City Council of her intention to move forward.
On Tuesday, with a contractor in place, she decided to move ahead after nightfall.
Ms. Pugh said she did not anticipate a legal challenge but that the city would fight any suit.
“I don’t think it would matter, because I think having consulted with my legal team I acted in the best interest of my city,” she said,
The mayor said she did not know where the statues were moved or where they will end up. She suggested plaques be installed that describe “what was there and why it was removed.”
By 3:30 a.m., three of the city’s four monuments had been removed. They included the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument, a double equestrian statue of the Confederate generals erected in 1948; the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, erected in 1903; and the Roger B. Taney Monument, erected in 1887.
Taney was a Supreme Court chief justice and Maryland native who wrote the landmark 1857 decision in the Dred Scott case, ruling that even free blacks had no claim to citizenship in the United States. Although Taney was never part of the Confederacy, the court’s decision was celebrated by supporters of slavery.
The fourth statue, the Confederate Women’s Monument, was dedicated in 1917. Pictures showed that it too had been taken down early on Wednesday.
One Twitter user, James MacArthur, live-streamed the removal of the Lee and Jackson monument as it was unceremoniously torn from its pedestal and strapped to a flatbed truck. At street level, lit by the harsh glare of police klieg lights, the two generals appeared small.
Residents were seen celebrating on the pedestal, on which someone had spray-painted “Black Lives Matter.”
A team of police cars escorted the statues away. Ms. Pugh suggested on Monday that the statues might be relocated to Confederate cemeteries elsewhere in the state. (Although Maryland never seceded from the Union during the Civil War, there was popular support for the Confederacy in Baltimore and southern Maryland, where Confederate soldiers are buried.)
One city councilman said the statues should be destroyed, not just moved.
“These people were terrorists. They were traitors. Why are we honoring them?” Councilman Brandon M. Scott said at a meeting on Monday.
A group of protesters made up of so-called alt-right activists and white supremacists demonstrated against the removal of a Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, clashing with counterprotesters. One woman was killed when a driver rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters; the police have charged an Ohio man who has expressed far-right views. Two state troopers monitoring the event were also killed in a helicopter accident.
Tensions were further inflamed on Saturday when President Trump refused to clearly denounce the protesters, some of whom carried Nazi banners and Confederate battle flags. Although he condemned the Ku Klux Klan, “neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups” in a statement on Monday, Mr. Trump said Tuesday that parties on “both sides” of the debate were to blame for the deadly violence.Continue reading the main story