Nationwide anger over police brutality and systemic racism has turned toward symbols of America’s troubled past still scattered across the country: statues honoring Confederate figures and colonizers that have long invited heated debate.
In Portsmouth, Virginia, protesters covered a large Confederate monument dating to the 1800s with trash bags and spray paint on Wednesday. A crowd of largely celebratory demonstrators later took bolt cutters and sledgehammers to the heads of the statues, removing them as a marching band blasted triumphantly in the background.
In Richmond, Virginia late Wednesday, demonstrators removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis:
Outside the Minnesota state Capitol, a statue of Christopher Columbus was pulled down with ropes as protesters cheered. And in other cities this week, similar monuments were beheaded, toppled into lakes, spray painted or ordered removed by local lawmakers.
The demonstrations began after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month. But they’ve since grown to nationwide and global calls for change and an end to violent policing tactics.
The destruction of the controversial monuments adds to an ongoing reckoning with America’s fascination with symbols long affiliated with racism. On Wednesday, NASCAR, which has a loyal fan base of largely white, Southern viewers, banned the Confederate flag at its events and properties a day after the racing body’s only full-time Black driver said it should be prohibited.
“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” the company said.
The U.S. Marine Corps also banned its troops from displaying the flag earlier this month, saying the symbol had often been co-opted by “violent extremists and racist groups.”
Lawmakers have treated such calls with vastly different levels of support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday she supported the immediate removal of 11 Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol, calling them “monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end.”
“Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage,” she wrote in a letter.
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, said he would “not even consider” renaming a slate of Army bases that honor Confederate generals amid reports the Pentagon was open to doing just that.
“My Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”