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Baltimore Removes Controversial Statues 'Quietly'

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In the early hours of Aug. 16, four statues honoring figures from the Confederacy were moved out of Baltimore parks in front of a small but "celebratory" crowd. The city's mayor said the statues' removal had to be done "quickly and quietly" given the current political climate.

The removal came hours after President Donald Trump gave an off-the-cuff press conference in which he blamed "both sides" for inciting violence in the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of one woman and two police officers on Aug. 12.

Confederate memorials played a key role in the Virginia protests, as torch-carrying protesters chanted discriminatory remarks while objecting to the removal of a statue of Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee in a Charlottesville park.

"Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee," Trump said to journalists gathered at Trump Tower in New York City. "I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

The president's remarks -- in which he also asserted not all of the torch-wielding protesters were white supremacists and that some of the counter-protesters were "troublemakers" -- drew quick condemnation from legislators on both sides of the political aisle.

"The #White Supremacy groups will see being assigned only 50 percent of the blame as a win," wrote Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on Twitter.  

Meanwhile, Republican Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called the president's remarks "repulsive" and said "there can be no moral ambiguity" in how white supremacists are treated.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a Democrat, made the swift decision to remove the statues after getting the unanimous approval of the city council on Aug. 15.

Pugh noted that her decision was tight on legal grounds, stating that the city charter allows her the right to do what's necessary to "keep the community safe" and "protect the public," The New York Times reports.

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"I think any city that has Confederate statues [is] concerned about violence occurring in their city," Pugh said at a press conference. "This is not something that is needed. We should work together and figure out how to move our city forward."

The four statues taken down included a memorial of Robert E. Lee and Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, which was removed from Baltimore's Wyman Park Dell, Reuters reports. According to The Baltimore Sun, protesters who had gathered there on Aug. 13 pledged to tear down the statue on the night of Aug. 16 if the city had not done it by then.

The other three statues were the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the Confederate Women's Monument and the Roger B. Taney Monument, The New York Times reports. Although Taney was not directly involved in the Confederacy, the decision was made to remove him for his Supreme Court ruling in 1857's Dred Scott case, which stripped black Americans of all claim to citizenship.

Several individuals voiced their support for the decision to remove the statues. One group took photos on the pedestal of the dismantled statues that had been spray-painted with the words "Black Lives Matter," The New York Times reports.

Erin Baynham, who works across the street from where the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument stood, told The Baltimore Sun "it feels really good" to no longer have to look at the statue.  

Another resident, Sheila Boone, stopped by the former site of each of the four monuments on her way to work to see them gone.

"This is history," she said.

Not everyone was quick to praise the mayor's decision. Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake criticized Pugh's delay in removing the statues since she had taken office. Rawlings-Blake had ordered a task force to prepare a report on the removal of the statues before she left office.

"11 months after the report. 8 months into the Administration. #Priorities," Rawlings-Blake tweeted. She later deleted the tweet and declined to comment.

Pugh said that while the monuments needed to come down, she did not believe in leaving the areas where they once sat completely empty.

"What should go in their place is a plaque of sorts that tells what was there and why it was removed. You can remove a statue but it is a part of the history of this nation. I don’t know why they were put there -- I wasn’t here at the time -- but I do know they’re offensive to many people in this nation."

Sources: The New York Times (2), Reuters, The Baltimore Sun / Featured Image: Phil! Gold/Flickr / Embedded Images: Scott218/Wikimedia Commons, Frederic C. Chalfant/Wikimedia Commons

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