Baltimore Mayor Had Statutes Removed in ‘Best Interest of My City’ – New York Times
BALTIMORE — It was “in the best interest of my city,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday, as she explained why she ordered Confederate monuments removed under the cover of darkness, days after violence broke out during a rally against the removal of a similar monument in neighboring Virginia.
“I said with the climate of this nation,” Ms. Pugh said later, “that I think it’s very important that we move quickly and quietly.”
With no immediate public notice, no fund-raising, and no plan for a permanent location for the monuments once they had been excised — all things city officials once believed they would need — the mayor watched in the wee hours on Wednesday as contractors with cranes protected by a contingent of police officers lifted the monuments from their pedestals and rolled them away on flatbed trucks.
After the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., many city leaders and even some governors around the country have urged the removal of Confederate monuments in their jurisdictions — a typically bureaucratic process that, in cities like New Orleans and Charlottesville, have been met with legal delays that helped feed tensions surrounding their removal.
But, in an interview here, Ms. Pugh suggested the tense political climate had turned her city’s statues into a security threat and she said that her emergency powers allowed her to have them removed immediately.
“The mayor has the right to protect her city,” she said. “For me, the statues represented pain, and not only did I want to protect my city from any more of that pain, I also wanted to protect my city from any of the violence that was occurring around the nation. We don’t need that in Baltimore.”
In recent days, cities and resident from Gainesville, Fla. to Lexington, Ky., called for their Confederate monuments to come down on the heels of the weekend’s violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters over a Robert E. Lee statue that is set for removal in Charlottesville.
David Goldfield, a professor of history who studies Confederate symbols at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said the removal of the monuments in Baltimore was likely to be part of a “rolling cascade” of cities and states ridding themselves of, or at least relocating, similar statues.
”You’re going to see another wave of these removals.” Mr. Goldfield said. “The fact that it’s done fairly expeditiously is not surprising because if you do it quickly the opposition can’t build up, and the confrontations that we’ve had, not only in Charlottesville but elsewhere, will not materialize.”
Ms. Pugh said she had spoken with the president of the City Council on Monday, the same day the council voted unanimously to remove the four monuments, and said she intended to take them down “quickly and quietly.” Initially, she also wrote a letter to the Maryland Historic Trust, providing notice of her concerns, but was advised by the city’s attorney that she could move forward without its approval, based on her executive powers to protect the city.
“I think any city that has Confederate statues are concerned about violence occurring in their city,” Ms. Pugh said.
Small, celebratory crowds gathered as the monuments were removed overnight. Residents were seen celebrating by the pedestal of a monument to the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two Confederate generals, which had been spray-painted with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” The mayor had moved so swiftly that even some members of Baltimore’s City Council were unaware.
The president of the City Council, Bernard C. Young, known as Jack, missed a late-night phone call from the mayor because he had taken cold medicine for bronchitis and was asleep.
And Brandon Scott, another member of the City Council, received a text message from a city worker informing him of the removals while he was talking with his neighbors about a shooting in his neighborhood.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen yesterday,” said Mr. Scott, although he was glad the city acted swiftly to stave off any effort by protesters to take them down themselves — like the ones in Durham, N.C.
Members of one activist group, Baltimore Bloc, had announced Tuesday on Twitter that the city planned to take down the statues on Wednesday evening. Instead, at least one of their members watched happily as a statue of Lee and Jackson was hoisted off its pedestal, posting a video on Twitter and writing, “Move Lee, get out the way, get out the way Jackson, get out the way.”
The city had been studying what to do with its Confederate monuments since 2015, when a mass shooting by a white supremacist at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., led to a renewed debate across the South about removing Confederate monuments and battle flags from public spaces.
Ms. Pugh said she had been working on the removal of the statues since June, when she met with Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans to discuss his city’s removal of its own Confederate monuments. By last week, she said she had reached out to contractors to solicit assessments on the feasibility of removing each of the statues in short order, and sped up her efforts after watching the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Ms. Pugh said she did not anticipate a legal challenge but that the city would fight any suit.
“I don’t think it would matter, because I think having consulted with my legal team I acted in the best interest of my city,” she said,
The mayor said she did not know where the statues were moved or where they will end up. She suggested plaques be installed that describe “what was there and why it was removed.”
Maryland never seceded from the Union in the Civil War, but there was popular support for the Confederacy in Baltimore and southern Maryland, where Confederate soldiers are buried. The monuments, here in a majority-black city, are considered widely offensive because of their ties to slavery and the Confederacy.
The monuments, which are now empty pedestals, included the one to Lee and Jackson, a double equestrian statue of the generals erected in 1948; the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, erected in 1903; and a statue of Roger B. Taney, a Supreme Court Justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision, which held that even free blacks had no claim to citizenship, which was erected in 1887.
The fourth statue, the Confederate Women’s Monument, was dedicated in 1917.
On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor here, called for the removal of a second Taney statue, this one from the State House grounds in Annapolis, the state capital.
Some of the empty pedestals, including the one to Mr. Taney in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, drew the attention of passers-by, some who were seen reaching atop the pedestal to feel a sticky black goo left behind.
For a moment, a middle-aged woman pulled up in a sedan and idled next to the site. “Have they taken the monument down?” she yelled out a window to a man sitting on a nearby bench. “All of them?”
He answered in the affirmative, and she responded with a slur before driving away.
Kaylyn Meyers, 29, watched the exchange and said it seemed to sum up the tension gripping the country.
“People are really emboldened right now,” she said, while pausing to smoke a cigarette and look at the pedestal. Regarding the woman in the car who uttered the slur, she said, “That was just completely wrong.”
Mr. Meyers had taken the day off to visit all four monument sites. History could not and should not be erased, she said, but men like Taney did not belong on a pedestal in a nice public park, either.
“Good riddance,” she said.
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