President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that anyone caught vandalizing monuments or any other federal property can be arrested and could face up to 10 years in prison under the Veterans Memorial Preservation Act.
The federal statute Trump cites subjects anyone who willfully injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy, any structure, plaque, statue or other monument on public property commemorating the service of any person or persons in the armed forces of the United States to fines, up to 10 years imprisonment or both.
Trump's declaration comes as protesters tried to pull down a monument of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, in a park located near the White House before police stopped them.
Last night, law enforcement stopped vandalism taking place in Lafayette Park.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 23, 2020
A number of protesters broke through a fence surrounding the 168-year-old bronze equestrian statue at the center of Lafayette Square just across the street from the White House.
They climbed atop the sculpture and tied ropes around both Jackson and his horse before attempting to pull the statue from its base, which had been spray-painted with the word "killer."
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Baton-wielding police moved in and forcibly removed protesters from the park, at times firing chemical irritants to disperse the crowds. Some people were seen being taken away in handcuffs.
Besides the Jackson statue, there was also a second incident of vandalism involving St. John's Church. Vandalism has also occurred at the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial since the protests began late last month following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Trump took to Twitter Monday night, calling the efforts to topple the monument "disgraceful vandalism" of a "magnificent statue."
I have authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran's Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent.....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
Image from a stereoview showing a policeman with Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Park, 1866. (Image credit: DC Public Library Commons)
Jackson, a former US Army general who served two terms in the White House from 1829 to 1837, has long been criticized by Native American activists for his role in forcing indigenous tribes off their ancestral lands. Many of them died in what several tribes refer to as "The Trail of Tears" when some of them were relocated to the Indian Territory.
At first, only memorials to Confederate soldiers and officers were targeted, but the demonstrators have moved on to attack other historical figures, including the pulling down of a statue of George Washington, the nation's first president, in Portland, OR, and a monument to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco, CA. Grant was the Union general who defeated Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which led to the end of the American Civil War and also served as the nation's 18th president.