Black Lives Matter protesters have toppled the only statue of a Confederate general in the US capital and set it on fire on Juneteenth – the day marking the end of slavery in the US.
Cheering demonstrators jumped up and down as the 11ft statue of Albert Pike, wrapped with chains, wobbled on its high granite pedestal before falling backwards.
Protesters then set a bonfire and stood around it in a circle as the statue burned, saying “No justice, no peace!” and “No racist police!”.
Eyewitness accounts and videos posted on social media indicated that police were on the scene but did not intervene.
Donald Trump tweeted about the toppling, criticising DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and writing:
The DC police are not doing their job as they watched a statue be ripped down and burn. These people should be immediately arrested. A disgrace to our Country!
Jubilant protesters read out Trump’s tweet over a bullhorn and cheered. After the statue fell, most protesters returned peacefully to Lafayette Park near the White House.
A source of controversy
The Pike statue has been a source of controversy over the years. The former Confederate general was also a long-time influential leader of the Freemasons, who revere Pike and who paid for the statue.
The statue, dedicated in 1901, was located in Judiciary Square about half a mile from the US Capitol. It was built at the request of Masons who successfully lobbied Congress to grant them land for the statue as long as Pike would be depicted in civilian, not military, clothing.
Racial tensions in the country have hit a boiling point and spilled into the streets after George Floyd’s police killing in Minneapolis late last month. The accused officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder.
Civil rights activists and some local government officials in DC had campaigned for years to get Pike’s statue taken down. But they needed the federal government’s approval to do so. The DC Council tweeted on Friday 19 June:
Ever since 1992, members of the DC Council have been calling on the federal gov’t to remove the statue of Confederate Albert Pike (a federal memorial on federal land). We unanimously renewed our call to Congress to remove it in 2017
A proposed resolution calling for the removal of the statue referred to Pike as a “chief founder of the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan”. The Klan connection is a frequent accusation from Pike’s critics.