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Editorial, June 26, 2020: Protesters shouldn't be tearing down statues

Editorial, June 26, 2020: Protesters shouldn't be tearing down statues

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One week from Saturday is Independence Day. But things will be different this year. In many states, the fireworks displays, the parades and parties normally held in countless towns and cities have been canceled due to the continuing threat of COVID-19. The insidious virus will not go away. This July 4, much of the country will be celebrating in small, subdued gatherings.

But while most Americans will not be enjoying the traditional red, white and blue fanfare, plenty of them will be engaging in another popular American pastime — protesting. Since the Boston Tea Party in 1773, demonstrations ranging from peaceful sit-ins to violent riots have been a part of the American fabric. This July 4 will be no exception. There are hundreds of marches, rallies and demonstrations planned from Washington, D.C. to California’s Bay Area and points in between. Most of the events will be peaceful. But it would be Pollyannaish to pretend there is not a real possibility of violence erupting in some areas.

We hope we are wrong. There has been enough vandalism and destruction already. The damage done to small businesses and public infrastructure has ruined lives and been incredibly costly.

And while pulling down unpopular statues dates back as far as July 9, 1776, when the Sons of Freedom tore down a statue of George III in New York, the destruction today has gotten out of hand. No longer are vandals focusing on Confederate memorials and racist figures, they have turned their sights on other historical figures and national monuments that have little to do with the demands for equality and justice.

In Richmond alone, five statues have come down recently. Two of them — one dedicated to the First Virginia Regiment and the other to Christopher Columbus — were not Confederate memorials. In other cities, statues of Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, St. Junipero Serra and Francis Scott Key have been toppled by raging mobs. While protesters say these historical figures had ties to slavery or other racist practices, the contributions each of these men made in their lifetimes are so much greater than just that one sin.

In an August 2017 interview with The Associated Press, David Blight, a Yale University historian and an expert on slavery, cautioned about the sudden removal of statues: “I am very wary of a rush to judgment about what we hate and what we love and what we despise and what we’re offended by.” That concern is as valid today as it was three years ago.

The argument over the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue is over. Debated for years, the calls for their removal following the killing of George Floyd have become a roaring crescendo.

Bring them down but leave that to the professionals. Mobs tearing down statues with ropes and chains is not only dangerous, the practice speaks to a frightening, violent anger that does little to effect the real change so desperately needed.

— Robin Beres

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