Do Statues Lives Matter?
There’s been a purge recently and statues all over the world are falling down. It appears that Rome is crumbling and protestors, angered by the senseless death of George Floyd have taken out their ire on the colonial statues of the world.
The statues that are literally falling victim to this new wave of madness depict slave owners and Confederate leaders in America, such as Junípero Serra, Juan de Oñate, Robert Hunter, Howell Cobb, James Lawrence Orr, and Charles Frederick Crisp. Christopher Columbus also tumbled down. A statue of controversial mayor, Frank Rizzo, was also removed.
Frank Rizzo was a brutal cop, police commissioner and mayor who encouraged police to beat up African-American protesters — regardless of how peaceful they were.
Rizzo encouraged police to open fire on anyone they didn’t like and also ordered the police to publicly strip search black men in front of news crews — a complete violation of the fourth amendment and every civil rights law on the books. Moreover, thousands of black people were beaten, tased, murdered and attacked by police K-9 dogs during his watch. Perhaps incidents like these are the reason why some protestors turn to violence to get their point across.
These kind of strong arm tactics are something you would usually associate with banana Republics in North Korea or South America. It was not the first — nor the last time — African Americans would be beaten, sexually humiliated, strip and cavity searched in public by officers of the law. Those exact same practices — all of them — continue to this very day.
Extreme police brutality in Rizzo’s homestate of Philadelphia continues to be a problem. The last few years have seen black people attacked by police dogs while handcuffed, unlawfully cavity searched on the streets, beaten and killed with complete impunity. This is the legacy left by celebrated mayors like Rizzo and other racist tyrants that came before him.
However, regardless of how deplorable most of these historical figures were — removing their statues does not bring an end to racism. All it does is distract from the ultimate goal — which is to make the police more accountable and end the scourge of bigotry that many still try to justify to this very day.
Why Are Protestors Tearing Down Statues?
Statues serve as a daily reminder of the macabre figures that society still honours today. It sends out a very clear message that no matter how many people you kill, rape or humiliate, history will be whitewashed in their favour.
It forces people who live there to walk past their statues everyday knowing that this is who the majority of people in their country glorifies. Those in favour of tearing down statues claim that it is not about erasing history. Instead they argue that remembering history is not the same as celebrating it.
After all, if Eastern European nations removed monuments to Stalin and Lenin after defeating the scourge of communism, then why shouldn’t protestors remove the statues of other pernicious leaders?
It is also important to note that the case for tearing down offensive monuments is not a new one. In 2017, activists argued for the removal of Confederate leader Robert Lee. This later sparked a violent rally by far-right thugs which marched through the city with burning torches.
Another statue that protestors attempted to tear down was of the abolitionist Abraham Lincoln. This is because, despite the fact that he argued for the emancipation of slaves, the statue features a semi-naked, subservient black man kneeling beside him on his hands and knees while Lincoln pats his head like a dog.
The controversy surrounding this particular statue is ancient and started centuries ago.
As early as the 1800s, the former slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglas advocated for the statue to be replaced in the same year it was erected. In a letter first written in 1876, Frederick Douglass stated: “The mere act of breaking the negro’s chains was the act of Abraham Lincoln and is beautifully expressed in this monument”, he wrote, adding: “The negro here is rising, is still on his knees and nude. What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man.
“There is room in Lincoln park for another monument, and I throw out the suggestion to the end that it may be taken up and acted upon”.
He also denounced what he called the “nauseating flatteries” associated with erecting a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
So the rage against the statues is not some new, politically-correct fad. It seems that some of them at least, were as offensive when they were first erected as they are now. But should they be removed?
Why Mob Rule Sucks
Regardless of what your position on removing monuments may be, allowing mobs to simply tear them down or deface them can never lead to positive change.
In the not-so-distant past, mobs have also vandalized African-American or Jewish cemeteries for their own ideological (racist) reasons. If we were to excuse and legitimize the tearing down of statues by BLM mobs, what recourse do we have when anti-BLM mobs do the same? In fact, they have done the same.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the statue of the aforementioned famous abolitionist Frederick Douglas was toppled on July 5th — the anniversary of his famous speech.
It appears his statue was taken down in retaliation for anti-racism activists tearing down Confederate statues.
Statues of Martin Luther King have had such a long history of being targeted by racist thugs that an entire website was set up to document the vandalism. Worse still, there have been media reports of black and Jewish cemeteries being desecrated.
My position is the same as it has always been — this wanton and gratuitous appetite for destruction can never be justified — even if the target of the vandalism is a controversial one.
The other problem is that if we allow mob rule to reign supreme, then the appetite for vandalism will extend to monuments that do not have such a dark legacy. One recent example of this is the damage done to the monument dedicated to Ulysses S. Grant (the general who did more than any other military leader to defeat the Confederacy, and later sought to protect black rights as president). Another curious target was the Boston Common memorial to the 54th Massachusetts, the African-American Civil War regiment made famous by the 1989 film, Glory.
In other words, any monument that is judged harshly according to the latest political whims and standards could potentially be fair game. That’s how these things always start. The first targets are always the brutes — before it threatens the rest of us.
Blind destruction rarely achieves its purpose — in fact it simply gives more ammunition to those that support colonialism, racism and the Confederacy. Moreover, ripping down monuments does not stimulate a healthy conversation with those on the opposite side of the fence. Nor does it persuade those who don’t know what to think. It simply bulldozes the fence and creates more conflict in the process.
Should Statues Be Removed?
Some argue that while wanton vandalism is counter-productive, instead Confederate/colonial statues should be removed by peaceful means. After all, the public debate accompanying these actions has in the past, helped to open people’s eyes to the evils of slavery and racism, and the true nature of the Confederacy. In the US, more than 130 statues have been removed peacefully.
Removing them in this way encourages public debate, obeys the rule of law and erects old or new statues according to consensus — and not by coup.
And yet, I still can’t get behind it. Here’s why:
Statues Are Not Killing Black People
Ok, I’m being a tad facetious here, but hear me out for a second.
Of course, the statues themselves are not kneeling on necks or breaking into people’s homes and killing them for no reason (Amber Guyger I’m looking at you).
Yes, some of the historical statues may well be based upon once celebrated leaders that had a brutal or bloody history. But that history still matters because….
those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Erasing history does not heal the present. Police brutality and institutionalized racism (followed by the impassioned denial or justification of said racism) continues unabated. Ripping apart the pages of history does not make the world a better place. We saw this in 2017 with the violent protests in Charlottesville that occurred as a result of protestors targeting Confederate monuments.
We’re seeing it again with the pro-confederacy, anti-BLM militia marches across the US, where armed groups of alt-right white thugs went hunting for protestors.
The same is true in the UK where gangs of hooligans formed counter-protests to defend the British statues. Those hooligans threw rocks and bottles at the police and some were even caught peeing on the very statues they claimed to defend!
I also think it is fair to say that most of those in favour of removing offensive monuments are left-wing or left-leaning. I would argue that anyone in favour of removing colonial statues should be equally as tolerant of removing the statues of left-wing perpetrators of historical atrocities. These include tyrants such as Vladimir Lenin — a brutal mass murderer who founded a regime that killed tens of millions of people and inspired similarly oppressive dictatorships across the world.
Similarly, if you are in favour of keeping statues to preserve history, you should similarly be in favour of keeping them all — including those that celebrate leaders you are not a fan of. One of the reasons I’m against any kind of statue removal is that confirmation bias usually means that people change their stance depending upon which monuments are toppled and who is tearing them down.
In other words, people may condemn the hordes of BLM protestors toppling statues, and yet use that as a reason to justify tearing down statues of black civil rights leaders in retaliation. Hypocrisy at its finest.
Ultimately, removing any statue is merely a distraction away from the real issues. It does not create any real dialogue or understanding. Any dialogue that occurs as a result is hijacked by the pro-statue and anti-statue camps that usually just end up yelling over each other. Meanwhile nothing changes.
It’ll take more than a black lives matter monument to change ideas anyway. Pandering to the whims of pent-up frustration does little to solve the real problems, in much the same way that corporate pandering does not cure racism (as I highlighted in my article on Useless Pandering which you can see here).
Moreover, removing statues simply encourages people to hold on more fervently to whatever the diminished memorials meant to them in the first place.
Look, I understand why people are mad.
When you see police officers blatantly kill an incapacitated and unresponsive, handcuffed man in cold blood, you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be entire armies of people that rush to defend them. I’ve encountered many such comments on my own Medium articles.
It’s difficult not to get frustrated at the canned “but what about black-on-black crime?”, “black people can be racist too”, “I’m sick of hearing about racism”, and other whataboutery responses that are always regurgitated no matter what.
But when you take that frustration out on inanimate objects, I’m afraid all you really succeed in doing is changing the conversation. Suddenly, we end up sparking new debates on whether statues lives matter, instead of talking about why black lives *should* matter.
So for the love of God, leave the statues alone.
Besides, it’s not the tyrants made of stone that we have to worry about. It’s the ones made of flesh and blood.
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