Protesters demanding justice for George Floyd attempted to remove a Confederate monument from an Alabama park Sunday before being ushered away by the Birmingham mayor, who promised to “finish the job.”
A group gathered at Linn Park in Birmingham Sunday afternoon shortly after a nearby rally held in honor of Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died in police custody on Memorial Day after a police officer was seen in the now-viral video with a knee to his neck for several minutes.
People used a rope to pull down a statue of Charles Linn, the park’s namesake who was a captain in the Confederate Navy and later one of the founders of Birmingham. The toppled bronze statue was also covered in graffiti, Fox 6 Birmingham reported.
A crowd unsuccessfully also tried to use rope and chain attached to a pickup truck to pull down a large, granite Confederate monument across the park. Though the rope broke, and the monument remained erect, protesters pulled away the plywood barricade covering the monument’s base. They chipped away at the writing etched into the stone and further vandalized the monument with spray paint.
Comedian Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson seemed to inspire the destruction during his speech at the rally beforehand.
“We’ve got a lot of cities around the country. They’re tearing down Target. They’re tearing down city hall. We can’t do that. We gotta protect our city,” Johnson began, according to AL.com.
“We can’t tear down 16th Street Baptist Church. We can’t tear down the civil rights museum. We can’t tear down Carver. We can’t tear down A.G. Gaston Plaza,” he continued, naming areas of the city commemorating the black community and civil rights movement.
“But what I’m not telling you to do is walk to Linn Park,” Johnson said. “I’m not telling to walk to Linn Park after this rally. I’m not telling you to tear something down in Linn Park. I’m not telling you that I’m going to be over there after this rally.”
An unidentified man walks past a toppled statue in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday, June 1, 2020, following a night of unrest. People shattered windows, set fires and damaged monuments in a downtown park after a protest against the death of George Floyd. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)
Police at Linn Park looked on and did not intervene until Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin arrived at the park to address protesters using a megaphone. Woodfin, who is black, directed the protesters to disperse to avoid being arrested once he sends the police in.
“I understand the frustration and the anger that you have,” he said. “Allow me to finish the job for you.”
Though Woodfin did not go into detail Sunday, the City of Birmingham’s earlier efforts to remove the Confederate monument have been blocked by a legal fight with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Johnson said he would give the mayor until Tuesday to have the monument removed before encouraging protesters to take further action themselves, AL.com reported.
“This past Tuesday, like you, not as a mayor, not as a son, not as a leader, not as a citizen, but as a black man, I saw another black man’s life taken, snatched from him by an officer putting his knee on his neck for well over seven minutes,” Woodfin said in a video statement Sunday evening. “It bothered me. It made me angry. It hurt. And, it was the heaviest I felt in being a black man for a very long time.”
“Many of you all have a right to be very angry right now. You have a right to be sad. You have a right to demand that policing be better not just in Minneapolis but in Birmingham and the nation and the world,” the mayor continued. “Let me tell you what you don’t have the right to do. You don’t have the right to walk around busting windows, setting things on fire, damaging people’s property, looting, taking things that don’t belong to you. That makes you a hijacker of a peaceful rally. That makes you a hijacker of peaceful protesters. And those types of people aren’t welcome in the city of Birmingham. I’m appalled by what I’ve seen tonight.
“We support peaceful protesting. We do not support what has happened here. It’s unacceptable,” he said. “Stop destroying your own community. Stop destroying our community. We deserve better. And, if you want policing reform, this is not the way to do it.”
After being ushered out of the park, crowds swept past the adjacent Jefferson County Courthouse, shattering several windows and damaging a statue of Thomas Jefferson, setting fire to its base. A group set fire to an American flag hanging at a Wells Fargo down the street, and, as nightfall came, spray painted windows and broke glass walls of the ground floor of one skyscraper, entering the building.
Firefighters were putting out a blaze at the California Fashion Mall store around 2 a.m. Monday, AL.com reported.
The Confederate monument in Linn Park was erected in 1905 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, according to Newsweek. The now toppled statue of Linn was put in place in 2013 by a local organization honoring the Birmingham founder’s descendants.