Police, FBI continue search for protesters accused of vandalism, destroying federal property in Washington DC
By MARISSA J. LANG | The Washington Post | Published: July 4, 2020
WASHINGTON — For the third time in as many weeks, federal law enforcement agencies have sought to enlist the public in identifying individuals police say are responsible for vandalizing a statue of President Andrew Jackson and tearing down a sculpture of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike during June protests in Washington.
U.S. Park Police and the FBI released 34 posters Friday featuring photos of demonstrators — several of whom were depicted in a previous batch of images the agencies released last week — and asked community members to contact law enforcement with identifying information.
Federal officials and protesters have for weeks been at odds over several statues in the nation's capital, which some demonstrators have vowed to bring down. Tall fences and an increased police presence have filled the District of Columbia's parks amid ongoing daily protests over systemic racism and policing in America.
Half a dozen individuals have been arrested and charged with destroying federal property in connection with efforts to bring down statues in the District — a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Demonstrations have been ongoing for more than a month following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis.
On June 19, following a day of jubilant celebration in honor of the emancipation holiday Juneteenth, a small group of demonstrators pulled down the statue of Pike, the only outdoor Confederate statue in the District.
District officials have been calling for the statue's removal for years. According to court documents, the National Park Service estimates that it would cost about $250,000 to repair and replace the downed statue.
The statue, which was erected in 1901, depicted the Confederate officer best known for rewriting the lyrics to "Dixie" so they were more likely to inspire Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
Days later, a group of protesters with ropes and chains descended on the statue of Jackson astride a horse in the center of Lafayette Square. The word "killer" was spray-painted on the pedestal below.
Jackson was an enslaver, U.S. Army general and populist politician who signed the Indian Removal Act — a policy that led to the relocation of thousands of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands and the deaths of thousands more.
Though District police did not intervene as the Pike statue fell, on June 22, District police and federal officers arrested several demonstrators present and cleared protesters from the park using chemical irritants, gas and physical force.
President Donald Trump, who has cited Jackson as one of his heroes, called the protesters' actions "disgraceful vandalism" and decried demonstrators as thugs, traitors and anarchists.
Last month, the U.S. marshals - the law enforcement arm of the federal court system — were told to prepare to help protect national monuments across the country amid nonstop protests, according to an email directive seen by The Washington Post.
As statues honoring Confederate generals and colonialists around the country have been plucked from their pedestals by local officials, art commissioners and protesters, a growing chorus of voices in the District has begun to call for the removal of several other sculptures, including the long-debated Emancipation Statue in Lincoln Park, which depicts Abraham Lincoln standing over a kneeling African American man.
Andrew Clarke, an attorney who represents Jason Charter, one of the protesters charged in federal court this week, condemned Trump's response to the vandalism of Confederate monuments - including signing an executive order calling for any person caught vandalizing or destroying a statue to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"Our federal government showed they value symbols of racism over human rights. Time will reveal who is on the right side of history," Clarke said over email. "All statues which are a symbol of the violent pillaging and degrading of black people need to come down immediately! Vote in November as our democracy erodes each moment Trump remains in office."
Protesters have already begun to shift tactics in response to increased police surveillance and federal agencies' ongoing search for those involved in acts of vandalism.
Several organizers of the more than 20 demonstrations planned for July 4 have instructed participants to wear all black to the demonstrations — a tactic known as "black bloc" that has long been used to create mass anonymity and signal unity among activists.
Many protesters already wearing masks to protect against the still-raging coronavirus have been instructed by organizers to keep them on throughout the day to better hide their faces.