Early Monday morning, vandals targeted yet another monument to George Washington, the first president who is considered the father of America. As The New York Times‘s Charles Blow called for the removal of all statues honoring Washington, President Donald Trump announced that federal law enforcement was tracking down the vandals, defending these symbols of America.
“We are tracking down the two Anarchists who threw paint on the magnificent George Washington Statue in Manhattan. We have them on tape,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “They will be prosecuted and face 10 years in Prison based on the Monuments and Statues Act. Turn yourselves in now!”
We are tracking down the two Anarchists who threw paint on the magnificent George Washington Statue in Manhattan. We have them on tape. They will be prosecuted and face 10 years in Prison based on the Monuments and Statues Act. Turn yourselves in now!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2020
Two suspects — a woman dressed in all white with a white bow in her hair and a man in a black shirt and black shorts — tossed balloons filled with red paint at two statues of George Washington on Washington Square Park’s famous arch celebrating the first president, the New York Post reported. After defacing the statues, the suspects reportedly fled on Citi Bikes, but surveillance video captured the incident, which took place around 3:20 a.m.
The statues depict Washington as the first president and as general of the American colonial army in the Revolutionary War.
New York City’s Parks Department workers scrubbed the arch to remove the paint.
“This does do damage — you can see bits of the statue all over me,” a worker told The Post as he made a third pass at cleaning the marble with a citrus-based solution. “It’s marble — it comes off.”
The vandals also used white spray paint to draw the outlines of 24 people’s bodies around the park’s fountain. They tossed red balloons at the bodies, mainly the heads, to give the impression that the people outlined had been shot.
Vandals across the country have targeted monuments to George Washington. Last week, a man painted “slave owner” on a statue of Washington in Union Square Park in Manhattan. Vandals in Chicago painted “Slave Owner” and “Burn Down the White House” on a George Washington statue in the Windy City.
In Portland, vandals toppled another George Washington statue. They also spray-painted “1619” on it, echoing The New York Times‘s “1619 Project,” which aims to redefine American history by making the arrival of the first slaves in 1619 the focal point, rather than the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The 1619 Project justifies scrapping the entire American project — which has bolstered freedom and prosperity across the globe — in the name of racial justice. Some have suggested that the riots that followed in the wake of the horrific police killing of George Floyd should be termed the “1619 riots.”
As news of the vandalism broke on Monday, The New York Times published a column from Charles Blow entitled, “Yes, Even George Washington.”
“Some people who are opposed to taking down monuments ask, ‘If we start, where will we stop?’ It might begin with Confederate generals, but all slave owners could easily become targets. Even George Washington himself,” Blow wrote. “To that I say, ‘abso-fricking-lutely!'”
“George Washington enslaved more than 100 human beings, and he signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, authorizing slavers to stalk runaways even in free states and criminalizing the helping of escaped slaves. When one of the African people he himself had enslaved escaped, a woman named Ona Maria Judge, he pursued her relentlessly, sometimes illegally,” the Times columnist wrote.
Others have taken issue with Washington’s career as a surveyor. George Washington scoped out land for settlement, pushing Native Americans away.
Even so, George Washington played a key role in the French and Indian War that led to American independence, he led the army during the Revolutionary War, and he set an important precedent for limited republican government by resigning his military commission before taking office and stepping down as president after two terms. Washington was far from perfect, but he helped achieve American independence and he was instrumental to preserving liberty by refusing power, justly earning the title “American Cincinnatus.”
According to Blow, Washington’s monumental achievements must be brushed aside because he owned slaves. “Slave owners should not be honored with monuments in public spaces. We have museums for that, which also provide better context. This is not an erasure of history, but rather a better appreciation of the horrible truth of it,” the Times columnist wrote.
Yet Americans need heroes, and George Washington was undeniably heroic. Every hero has flaws, and his participation in slavery is a black mark on his record, to be sure. But does that require his erasure from public spaces?
Blow has doubled down on his stance, insisting that “enslavement and freedom are binary.”
Enslavement and freedom are binary. https://t.co/uZSr6HUg3R
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) June 29, 2020
Does this require that Abraham Lincoln, who repeatedly said he would have welcomed the Confederacy back into the Union, even at the cost of not freeing a single slave, should have his monuments removed and defaced, as well? Sure, Lincoln freed the slaves, but he did not become an abolitionist until toward the end of the Civil War.
If the memories of America’s founders are to be damned, what of their Constitution? The Declaration of Independence established the ideals of liberty and equality that eventually required the correction of historic injustices such as the abolition of slavery, extending the vote to women, and civil rights. Yet, by Blow’s binary logic, perhaps the foundation of American freedom and prosperity must be excised, too, preserved perhaps in a museum but certainly not allowed to undergird the system of representative government based on the self-sacrifice of a horrific slave-owner named George Washington.
Blow isn’t quite that “woke,” not yet. But remember when President Donald Trump was derided as an alarmist for predicting that the toppling of Confederate statues would lead to the toppling of monuments to George Washington?
2017: @NYTimes: "Mr. Witt called Mr. Trump’s warning of a slippery slope a “red herring.” There have been, after all, no calls to tear down the Washington Monument."
— jerylbier (@JerylBier) June 29, 2020
Who knows where the 1619 riots will end?
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.