President Donald Trump is threatening those who vandalize statues with jail time in response to Confederate and historically problematic landmarks being desecrated in recent weeks.
What We Know:
- Amid the current protests that erupted following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, a separate long-running debate over American history has resurfaced. There has been a push to deface, remove, or outright topple monuments of historical figures as it is debated whether the country should continue to honor Confederate generals and historically significant figures who were slave owners.
- Since 2015, more than 70 Confederate monuments have been taken down, but more than a third of those monuments were forced down in the weeks following the death of Floyd. The most recent statue protestors attempted to remove was of Andrew Jackson, located outside of the White House. The push came to remove the statue as Jackson instituted policies that led to the systematic and forced removal of Native Americans two centuries ago. In response, Trump took to Twitter on behalf of his “personal hero”.
- Trump vowed via Twitter on Tuesday morning that anyone who vandalizes “any monument, statue or other such federal property” will be arrested and face up to 10 years in prison, citing a little-known 2003 piece of legislation.
…..This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
- Passed in 2003, the legislation is known as “‘Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act” which states that a person who “willfully injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy, any structure, plaque, statue, or other monuments on public property commemorating the service of any person or persons in the armed forces of the United States shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.” The Act passed with bipartisan support following vandalism at various veterans’ cemeteries.
- Trump told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he plans to sign an executive order to “reinforce what’s already there, but in a more uniform way”. He did not elaborate on what that means. “We are looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators and call it whatever you want,” Trump said. “Some people don’t like that language, but that’s what they are. They’re bad people. They don’t love our country. And they’re not taking down our monuments, I just want to make that clear.”
- Chad Williams, chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University, calls Trump’s plan for an executive order problematic. “How an order like that would actually be enforced remains to be seen,” he said. “But what this thing speaks to in a really problematic way is the president’s desire to tamp down, to crush any forms of protest and dissent and to weaponize the various apparatuses of the federal government, including the military, National Guard, Secret Service, to act as agents of enforcement.”
- The debate about what to do with confederate monuments have spread through all levels of government. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for the removal of statues of Confederate soldiers and officials from the U.S. Capitol grounds while opponents argue the monuments should remain in place as a reminder of this country’s history. Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas penned a letter to Attorney General William Barr in support of Trump’s announcement, saying, “It’s past time to stop the mob; these vandals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Congress authorizes prosecutions for crimes under federal law, not the president, so it is unclear what effect Trump’s assertion will have.