No More Glory
After Charlottesville, Baltimore brings down its Confederate monuments
By Brandon Soderberg
As City Council's session on Monday, Aug. 14 passed a resolution to get rid of Baltimore's Confederate monuments, the lawn in front of City Hall was dotted with red tents—part of "Tent City," an action by The Southern Christian Leadership Conference in collaboration with Baltimore Bloc, Food Not Bombs, 300 Gangstas, and others that demands a $2 billion Racial Equity Benefits Agreement (REBA) and provides shelter to the homeless at the same time. They say they won't budge until they get it.
"Many of us who are here today, we are principally concerned not only with those monuments but the systems that really emerged from Confederate thinking," Morgan State University professor Lawrence Brown, who helped draft the REBA, said. The agreement demands, among other things, total lead paint removal, non-violent felony expungement, slashing police budgets, and changes to homeless shelter policy.
Brown also noted that the same council that moved toward ridding the city of its Confederate monuments also voted 8-7 to advance a bill that would require people convicted of carrying a gun illegally for the first time to be fined $1,000—a policy adjacent to mass incarceration, which is itself adjacent to the legacy of slavery.
"We're grappling with this idea of a sort of whitelash that initially comes after the Civil War, comes back after the civil rights movement, and now we're in the third whitelash with Trump after the election of President Barack Obama," Brown said. "So this whitelash that's connected to the war of Reconstruction is sort of the project that's before us: How do we actually reconstruct this nation and have Black Reconstruction for the first time that's not interrupted by white supremacist violence?"
The resolution to remove the monuments had been introduced the night before on Twitter by Councilman Brandon Scott. "Following the acts of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacist terrorist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend cities must act decisively and immediately by removing these monuments," the resolution read. "Baltimore has had more than enough time to think on the issue and it's time to act."
When James Fields' 2010 Dodge Challenger drove into a line of anti-racists and anti-fascists before slamming into two cars, injuring 19, and killing one, Heather Heyer, it sounded like a bomb went off.
It was a bomb, really. An intentional attack on protesters by an attendee of the Unite the Right rally held earlier in the day in Charlottesville, terminating a brief burst of joy among the protesters who had gathered to confront white supremacist groups and had effectively run the racists right out of town.
The anti-fascists came prepared to fight, but you got the sense that that they'd rather be scrubbing beets or doing any of the other work-a-day anarchist activities that assist plenty. This was their duty: to wreck the racists if need be. The racists, meanwhile, a baggy conglomerate of white supremacists, anti-communists, fascists, and militiamen, were there to cause damage long before the terrorist attack that ended the day.
They had sticks and poles, were suited up in makeshift armor, wore baseball and bike helmets, and some had guns. The night before, Friday, Aug. 11, hinted at the violence to come when white nationalists trolled around University of Virginia's campus raising tiki torches—the burning cross of this new leisure class of fascist—and encircled counter-protesters to shout, "You will not replace us," "Blood and soil," and "Jews will not replace us."
By 10 a.m. on Saturday, the fighting was already underway. In front of the First Methodist Church, a cluster of hatemongers in white polos and khakis—the inexplicable outfit of this new fascist movement—one holding a pro-police "Thin Blue Line" flag, many with flags for the white supremacist group Vanguard America—footage from the rally shows attacker Fields with a Vanguard America shield—stared down a group of protesters from the Revolutionary Communist Party. Again they yelled, "You will not replace us," and called the protesters "anti-white." Then they mobilized and brawled. One woman got a pole between her eyes, and another was shoved down onto the concrete, the back of her head cracked. The police pulled one of the bloodied women away but allowed the Nazis, who subsequently swarmed, to escape to the larger rally at Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, which was what this was all allegedly about—the decision to rename the park and soon take down that Robert E. Lee monument.
The next four hours around and inside Emancipation Park were like war. The violence did not let up. Bottles and rocks were thrown, bats and poles were swung, and some members of the far-right militia group the Three Percenters gripped automatic weapons or inched their hand toward their pistols excitedly, shoving protesters along the way. And then, pepper spray and mace and fists and tear gas, repeat, as swarms of Nazis rolled up to the park, got into it with protesters. They left a few bloody, got bopped in the face themselves or covered in piss, and finally entered the rally, with one last cluster of anti-fascists and, yes, Cornel West, staring them down.
State troopers and police posted up far away from it all, behind fences, not all that interested in the screams of "medic!" even—let the anarchists who brought street medics with them handle that, and the street medics did. A number of state troopers stood back in a blocked-off parking lot and watched slackjawed as bottles and tear gas canisters flew back and forth. At one point, as a few bottles whizzed by in succession, a state trooper perked up, pulled out his iPhone, and recorded it, amused.
Nearly an hour before the rally was set to begin, it was declared an illegal assembly. A state trooper sandwiched between two fences and a whole bunch of cops behind him told everybody to go home via megaphone, sending the Nazis out of the park and back into the streets with the protesters. Then the battle got going for real. Nazis mobilized and charged, and more fights broke out. There were still few police, other than the ones telling people from afar to disperse or face arrest. The police were present mostly for the anti-fascists, it seemed, lined up in riot gear one street down from Emancipation Park near the downtown mall area, where all the shops and restaurants are, to protect property.
A crew of white polo, khaki Dockers types, many holding Confederate flags, walked away shouting insults, followed by a small group of protesters, mostly black, including Corey Long, who had been torching Confederate flags with a doctored can of spray paint.
"Don't be racist if you're scared," one protester yelled at an old guy with a limp holding the Rebel Flag who looked positively shook. Then protesters, including Long, reached for a Confederate flag and the mace came out and the poles too, and there was a beating and stomping that left one protester, DeAndre Harris, with a chipped tooth, a broken wrist, and eight staples in his head.
Police hung back. The Nazis got away.
After the brawl, Harris' friends asked for a medic. It took nearly 20 minutes for police to approach, and when they did, Harris' friends asked for "a black officer" and all put their hands up; there was no one to trust as far as they were concerned. Fighting was in at least four different locations, the shouts and strikes from one echoed into the next—Charlottesville is pretty small, after all.
But the anti-fascists in effect "won." The racist rally was cancelled and the alt-righters ran into hiding, talked of leaving town, terrified that a "State of Emergency" had been declared. A brief celebration in nearby Justice Park by protesters climaxed with the burning of Confederate flags and one Kek flag—the alt-right bizarro internet meme god—and then, because the work is never done, the group mobilized after hearing that fascists were gathering near Section 8 housing at Friendship Court, a truly frightening scenario.
The racists never went there, and so, when two large groups of anti-fascists merged, delighted that they didn't have to enter into another confrontation, they began chanting, "Ah, anti, anti-capitalista" and "Black Lives Matter," loud and throaty. As the partying in the streets peaked, suddenly, brutally, a car weaponized, a loud pop-crash, bodies in the air and then on the ground. In the chaos, cops, medics, street medics, and anti-fascists all worked together to clear the streets, get people help, move the injured into ambulances, and cover them from news cameras with a banner which read, "Against White Supremacy, screw the Klan and the Confederacy."
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, who along with Cornel West was one of those who credited anti-fascists with protecting him on Friday night, encouraged the group to let the cops handle it.
"Although we don't believe in the system," Rev. Sekou got the group chanting, "let [police and medics] do their job."
Later on, noted faces of the self-identified "alt-right" Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler, and Matt Heimbach all blamed the police for the violence, which was not entirely untrue, but the police's failure was not stopping the fascists and allowing them to escape; they didn't control Spencer, Kessler, and Heimbach's crews, who Spencer, Kessler, and Heimbach didn't control. All day, peacenik protesters tried to stop bottles or rocks from being thrown and a few wizened anarchists pulled charged-up protesters back. The fascists had nobody de-escalating. Antifa brought medics, the fascists brought "Oathkeepers" with pistols and automatic weapons feigning "objectivity" and internet goombas with helmets and shields.
There is still a tendency to dismiss these fascists and racists as fringe, as outsiders, and sure there are some "GET AWF MAH LAND" sorts among them who very much fit the profile. But for the most part, these are your white coworkers and neighbors, the reedy I.T. guy who makes $75k, doesn't know what to do with his money or time, doesn't really fuck, and at some point or another, made a hop, skip, and a jump from gaming message boards to men's rights, white supremacy, and worrying about political correctness run amok. So here he is fusing abstract internet-brewed LARP-ing with good ol' boy KKK-derived terror into internet rage gone IRL.
And it killed Heather Heyer.
A few hours after the attack, President Donald Trump infamously condemned violence on "many sides, many sides." Then, in a prerecorded message two days later, spoke out against the KKK and Nazis but made no reference to the "alt-right." And two days after that, blamed both sides again, specifically mentioning the non-existent "alt-left," and defended Confederate monuments, in response to the uncharacteristically speedy conversation about removing them after Charlottesville, and due to Durham, North Carolina, where activists pulled a shoddy white supremacy tribute down themselves, a moment which has finally, it seems, held racists and fascists accountable and mobilized liberals like they haven't been since the election.
The first thing you saw moving east up the subtle slope of 29th Street, on Sunday, Aug. 13, the day after the Charlottesville attack, was two big banners, one that read "Justice for Tyrone West" and the other "Antifasciste Aktion," followed by a group of a thousand or so Baltimoreans marching from the Lee-Jackson Monument in Wyman Park Dell.
"I don't want anybody to get hurt," Maj. Rich Gibson told Duane "Shorty" Davis and Baltimore Bloc's Payam, who were moving the march along, seemingly out of obligation as the most seasoned protesters there.
"We got this," Payam, who had started the march by announcing to cops he didn't want any arrests, told Maj. Gibson.
The shit felt like April 2015 again, with usually moderate residents ready to go wherever key organizers took them. In this case, through Charles Village and against traffic, a disruption to a part of the city that needed to be disrupted—"just to make the people in the community uncomfortable," Shorty explained.
Soon, a thousand people slinking down St. Paul Street, with chants of "cops, Trump, and the Ku Klux Klan, all of them go hand-in-hand" (later, Baltimore City's Fraternal Order of police tweeted, "FOP condemns the racism & bigotry of the Neo-Nazis in #Charlottesville. We also condemn these losers who equate our police w/the Klan!") and "any time, any place punch a Nazi in the face." One protester in an Orioles T-shirt took issue with the latter, calling such language "inefficient." Organizers were not interested in this guy's take at all, one day after a neo-Nazi drove a car into a protest.
When the march returned to the Lee-Jackson Monument, chants of "Black Lives Matter," "Trans Lives Matter," and "Muslim Lives Matter" persisted for 20 minutes. Then speakers shared contacts with the thousand or so newly awakened or reawakened whites (mostly), and Payam encouraged them to come to City Hall the next day for Tent City—their engagement didn't need to stop tonight, though for most it would.
The night ended with artist Pablo Machioli's sculpture, "Madre Luz," of a black woman, pregnant, fist up, baby on her back, delivered by truck and stuck in front of Lee-Jackson once again (it first appeared in front of the monument back in 2015 amid hearings about the future of the city's Confederate monuments).
Shortly after, Councilman Scott announced his resolution on Twitter. It passed unanimously at council the next day. Mayor Pugh pledged to remove the monuments.
In response, Baltimore Bloc very publicly declared that on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m. they would "Do it like Durham" and pull the Lee-Jackson Monument down themselves, expediting legislative and grassroots solutions to ridding the city of these statues to white supremacy.
Meanwhile, Wyman Park Dell became a site of near constant anti-racist activity and occasional retaliation by racists. Since the "Madre Luz" statue had been placed in front of Lee-Jackson on Sunday night, the monument's pedestal had been tagged with "Black Lives Matter" and "Remember C-Ville." "Madre Luz" was knocked over twice.
Around 5 p.m. on Tuesday Aug. 15, Sean Scott of Owings Mills paced around the Lee-Jackson Monument with a Pan-African flag and a shirt and hat that read "FUCK TRUMP." "Donald Trump is a Nazi scumbag," he chanted, his words echoing through the park and freaking out a few people walking their dogs, bringing two Baltimore Police cars and one undercover car over that way to observe.
"I'm here especially because of the horrible events in Virginia—um, I actually regret not going, but our fake president, Donald Trump, number 45, had a news conference today where he has now equated the opposition, me, with inciters of violence. As you see, I have not incited any violence, I may have used profanity, but I'm peaceful, I'm promising this officer right here I will be peaceful but I need to stand in opposition in outrage," Scott said, shaken, angry at Trump, who earlier in the day conflated white supremacist violence with anti-fascist violence. "These are monuments to white supremacy, not men of honor. They are enslavers, they fought a war to keep black people as slaves."
Scott said he hadn't heard of Baltimore Bloc's plan to "do it like Durham" and preferred it happen legally, but he also felt as though they just needed to come down by any means necessary.
"I intend to be law-abiding, I don't necessarily approve of doing it that way, I think it should be done through the legislative process," he said. "However, if they feel they're gonna do that then I'm not gonna stop them."
In Annapolis, a quieter form of resistance: Somebody put a note on the Roger Taney statue that read, "Maryland values this statue for historical context only. No one is proud of Chief Justice Taney's pro-slavery legacy."
"I wanted to correct a deficiency in the existing plaque. When someone chooses to glorify something that is symbolically associated with racism, they have an obligation to rebut the message that it sends to racists. As events in Charlottesville have demonstrated, we can never take our country's progress against racism for granted and there is still progress to be made," the woman who placed the note on the statue, who asked to remain anonymous, said over the phone. "I was disappointed that the existing plaque did not make it unequivocally clear that Maryland takes no pride in the Dred Scott decision. If statues such as these weren't intended to carry any symbolic meaning associated with racism, then it shouldn't be too much to ask that their plaques say that very explicitly."
Gov. Larry Hogan announced Taney would be taken away soon (in 2015, Hogan referred to demands to get rid of the statue as "political correctness run amok").
And then just like that, early Wednesday morning, Aug. 16, all four of Baltimore's monuments connected to the Confederacy and white supremacy were swiftly taken down. First, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue (recently splattered with red paint and tagged with "Fuck Trump") and the Roger B. Taney Monument in Mount Vernon, then the Lee-Jackson Monument and lastly, the Confederate Women's Monument on W. University Parkway.
Word of the low-key removal quickly spread thanks to Baltimore Bloc, and a crowd gathered at Wyman Park Dell—a mix of activists, punks, reporters, and hey, even Baltimore's brilliant electronic music duo Matmos for a bit—to watch the massive Lee-Jackson Monument get hoisted up, dropped on a truck, and taken away.
The mood was jovial, with the group applauding each step of the removal. The police were feeling it too. Capt. Sean Patrick Mahoney of the Baltimore Police joked with the crowd and gently warned them to be safe.
"Take selfies," he said. "Enjoy it, all right? But be very careful, once that thing starts moving, start taking a walk for me, will you?"
Two black onlookers watched on in glee and mocked those demanding legislative and "reasonable" fixes to these awful fucking statues.
"It gawta go down the raight wayyyy," one of the men said in a mock redneck voice.
A man who refused to give his name—he said it was "up yours"—was the sole voice of dissent. He said that the city shouldn't be spending money to remove these monuments but on fixing the city's homicide rate. He also had some words for local media, including Baltimore City Paper.
"You and your liberal City Paper did this crap, you did false reports and lies," he said. "I'll never talk to City Paper or the Baltimore Scum."
Mayor Catherine Pugh was present, spotted across the street from Wyman Park Dell, dressed casual and briefly standing outside of her car, though she made no gesture to the crowd and refused to give comment.
With Lee-Jackson gone, just a dusty and tagged-up pedestal left, only "Madre Luz" remained standing. Some activists, including Payam and the Baltimore Spectator, posed on top of the pedestal where the statue once sat and took photos—that nervy "Black Lives Matter" tag looked particularly triumphant on this night.
Although Pugh was a non-entity during the removal, she soaked up the accolades into Wednesday morning, appearing on national news and very much framing Baltimore as a city that "get[s] things done." Pundits and hot take generators ate it up, seeing a chance to praise a black mayor for taking on the racists post-Charlottesville. Blavity subtitled its article, "Ain't nobody got time for this white supremacist foolishness," unaware of Tent City's ambitious agreement and encampment all in order to get Pugh, who caved to uber-white Canton on bike lanes and vetoed the $15 minimum wage hike, to seriously commit to racial equity in Baltimore.
Via Twitter, Councilman Scott shared an email he received: "Fuck you nigger!!! Those monuments aren't yours to melt down. Fuck you liberal racist niggers. You Pugh and the rest are all [poop emoji and monkey emoji]."
It was one of many such emails.
Eventually, activists lifted "Madre Luz" onto the pedestal, making it the official unofficial replacement for Lee-Jackson. It would be knocked down and damaged twice more, repaired on Thursday night, the baby on the statue's back fixed, support beams added, and generally patched up and repainted.
By Friday morning, Aug. 18, the Taney Statue in Annapolis was taken down, and by Friday afternoon, Parks and Recreation took "Madre Luz" to a lot in Druid Hill Park and tossed it on its side, away from sight like the Confederate monuments now lounging in a lot on Pulaski Highway, an unintentional though nevertheless troubling false equivalency by the city.
By day five of its occupation, Tent City had endured an atypically rainy Baltimore week, picking up new tents and new residents; establishing its own ways to distribute food, have fun, and get medical attention if needed; and for now, avoiding eviction. But police had been pacing around the encampment and checked in after receiving complaints, they said. "On August 19 at 12:11am, a 911 call was received reporting people fighting at that location," BPD media spokesperson Jeremy Silbert told City Paper.
At night, Tent City gets real quiet, just like your bedroom. Residents zip up their tents and try and get sleep, aware that the city has a history of coming in the middle of the night and shuttering homeless encampments. Many of the organizers at Tent City think Pugh is going to let them stay, and they're organizing like they're going to stay. But eviction and, with it, the dissolution of something utopian, something anarchic, looms.
After all, Baltimore is a city that gets things done as its mayor now claims proudly, and lately, she likes to get things done early in the morning when nobody's watching.
On Sunday, Aug. 20, day seven, a quick logistics meeting for Tent City played out on the steps. The GoFundMe for Tent City was bringing in money and they were using it for food, for security, for port-a-potties potentially, and organizers wanted to be transparent about the funds.
They are seriously building something over there in front of City Hall.