The Confederate monuments surrounding the state Capitol came down this weekend. Protesters pulled two of them off a 70 foot tall monument on Friday night. Gov. Roy Cooper had two more removed on Saturday and the third statue of the big monument removed yesterday. These relics of the past should have been removed a long ago.
Republicans are fuming that Capitol police apparently stood down and didn’t prevent the protesters from vandalizing the statues. They blamed Cooper for allowing mob rule. They have a point, but, in this instance, it’s a bit overblown. The protesters had a specific targets, the Confederate statues. They weren’t threatening the Capitol, businesses, or even other statues.
Republicans scream that there’s a process to remove the monuments that should have been followed, but they have been moving the goal posts to protect the Confederate statues. They passed a law in 2015 to require the North Carolina Historical Commission, an eleven member board appointed by the Governor, to approve removing of any monuments. Before that, local governments and the Department of Administration could have removed them. Adding bureaucratic obstacles to protect the monuments begged for protesters to remove them on their own.
History is complicated but the Confederate monuments are not. They were put up 50 years after the Civil War in the midst of a white supremacy campaign. They aren’t solemn memorials to boys lost to a senseless war to protect an evil institution. They are gaudy and ubiquitous, extolling the virtue of their cause. Many explicitly praise the cause of white supremacy. One in Mecklenburg County claims “They preserved the Anglo-Saxon civilization in the South.” By placing them on government property at a time when they were passing laws to disenfranchise African Americans, they were telling Black Americans that justice and equality are for white people alone.
In the coming months, weeks and possibly years, we will see excesses. In San Francisco, protesters toppled a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, claiming he owned slaves before the war. They really just couldn’t control their impulse to destroy. Governors and mayors will need to determine where to draw the line. Random property destruction is unacceptable and protests that become mobs should not be empowered. If the public begins to suspect mob rule, people will turn against the protesters, fueling a reaction that could become violent and politically volatile.
The protests and the attack on the monuments could also impact the elections this fall. The GOP’s pro-Confederate base is outraged. They see these incidents as a continuation of the culture war that they’ve been losing. They are coming out to vote for their champion, Donald Trump, in November. The protesters better come, too, or suffer defeat at the ballot box. In 2014, the Moral Monday protests gave Democrats a false sense of momentum. They may have caused big headlines, but they failed to deliver a big turnout. If these protesters go home proud of pulling down a few a statues but ignoring their attempt to take real power, most of their energy this spring and summer will have been wasted.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >