The mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, is vowing to remove a 115-year-old Confederate monument from a public park after protesters attempted to tear it down.
Demonstrators at Linn Park took aim at the Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument, dedicated in 1905, on Sunday during a protest over systemic racism and police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
As some attempted to tear down the 52-foot-tall obelisk, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin arrived at the scene. He pleaded with demonstrators to disperse before police came to make arrests, saying that he understood their anger and would have the monument removed.
“Allow me to finish the job for you,” Woodfin said in video captured by CNN affiliate WIAT.
The park is home to memorials including the veterans monument and a statue of Confederate sailor Charles Linn, installed in 2013. The former has been the subject of a lengthy legal battle between the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama.
The demonstration began as peaceful rally in downtown Birmingham, eventually moving to Linn Park after comedian Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson suggested during a speech earlier that day that protesters meet him there.
Protesters in the park toppled the statue of Linn and spray-painted and chiseled the base of the obelisk monument, according to AL.com.
Some protesters pressed Woodfin by calling on him to remove the memorial the same night. Chants of “no justice, no peace” continued after Woodfin’s pleas.
After protesters eventually dispersed from the park, riots erupted downtown and resulted in property damage and fires to businesses, WIAT reported.
Mayor declares state of emergency
The chaos prompted Woodfin to declare a state of emergency on Monday and a institute a nightly curfew until further notice, becoming one of at least 40 cities across the US in implementing curfews amid protests.
“Birmingham, this is not us,” Woodfin said at a news conference on Monday. “This is not who we are. This is not how we taught the world how to protest.”
“Violence, looting and chaos is not the road to reform and anybody that’s doing the looting, anybody that’s breaking things just because, anybody that’s setting fires just because, I want to make this very clear to you. You’re not doing that in the name of reform or George Floyd. You’re on a different agenda that the City of Birmingham will not tolerate.”
Woodfin also addressed plans to remove the Confederate monument, although he did not specify when exactly it would come down.
“In order to prevent more civil unrest in our city, I think it is very imperative that we remove this statue that’s in Linn Park,” he said.
In 2017, Alabama enacted a law directed at local governments that bars the removal, renaming, removal and alteration of monuments, memorial streets, memorial buildings and architecturally significant buildings located on public property for 40 or more years.
Woodfin said he recognized that the state attorney general’s office could bring a civil suit against the city for taking down the monument, but that the costs would be worth it.
“If there’s a judgment rendered from the judge, then we should be held accountable,” Woodfin said. “And I believe I am willing to accept that, because that is a lower cost than civil unrest in our city.”
The city of Birmingham had previously tried to cover up the inscription on the base of the Confederate monument by building a black wooden box it, resulting in a lawsuit brought by the state attorney general.
Alabama’s Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the city’s actions violated state law and hit the city with a $25,000 fine.