As protests against racial inequality and police brutality continue to grow across the United States, statues and monuments that are deemed to be racist have become targets of protesters. In recent weeks, numerous statues have been toppled and vandalized throughout the country. In one case that we reported earlier this week, protesters in North Carolina toppled two confederate statues and paraded them through the streets, before hanging one by its neck from a traffic light.
Earlier this week, protesters outside of the White House in Washington DC, attempted to topple a statue of President Andrew Jackson before they were cleared from the park by police who used tear gas. Before they were cleared by police, protesters managed to spray paint the word "killer" on the base of the monument.
In response to the recent attacks on statues, US President Donald Trump promised to sign an executive order that would prosecute vandals of US monuments with prison sentences of up to ten years.
In a press conference Tuesday, Trump confirmed earlier Tweets where he suggested prosecuting vandals of statues.
“Last night we stopped an attack on a great monument of Andrew Jackson and Lafayette Park. We are looking at long term jail sentences for these vandals, hoodlums, anarchists and agitators. Some people don’t like that language, but that’s what they are: Bad people. They don’t love our country, and they’re not taking down our monuments,” Trump said.
“I will have an executive order very shortly. And all it’s really going to do is reinforce what’s already there, but in a more uniform way. If the state governments, as you see them, all over, Seattle. They’re very weak. And in Minnesota, they might need help. If they need help, the federal government is willing to help them,” he added.
Trump said that that “numerous people” are already in jail after being arrested last night and promised that many more are going “today.” Trump added that he was a “fan” of Jackson, but did not elaborate on his admiration. Jackson's legacy has become surrounded in controversy after modern historians have called attention to the fact that he owned slaves and participated in the Native American genocide. Activists have previously called for Jackson's face to be removed from the $20 bill, and have it replaced with an image of Harriet Tubman.
In tweets before the press conference, Trump said that he “authorized” the federal government to “arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue, or other such Federal property in the U.S.” He even claimed that these terms would apply retroactively, to anyone previously found damaging statues.
Trump said that violators could be charged under the Veterans Memorial Preservation or “such other laws that may be pertinent.”
One section of the act states that a person who willfully injures or destroys veteran memorials or attempts to do so shall be fined and/or imprisoned no more than 10 years. However, some constitutional scholars suggest that it is not possible to charge a person for a crime retroactively.