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With nation in turmoil, Birmingham takes down divisive Confederate statue

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Construction crews remove Birmingham’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Linn Park on Monday evening after the start of the city wide curfew. (Marvin Gentry, For the Birmingham Times)
By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times

Construction crews remove Birmingham’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Linn Park on Monday evening after the start of the city wide curfew. (Marvin Gentry, For the Birmingham Times)

The City of Birmingham on Monday night removed a controversial Confederate statue from downtown’s Linn Park less than 24 hours after protesters defaced and damaged the monument.

The statue was the target of protests Sunday night following peaceful weekend protests in the city after last week’s killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Shortly before 8 p.m. on Monday, a large crane arrived in Linn Park — with the city nearly vacant after Mayor Randall Woodfin earlier in the day imposed a mandatory 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew — to remove the 115-year old monument that had caused a years-long battle between state lawmakers and leaders in Alabama’s largest city.

The Alabama Supreme Court last year ruled that Birmingham violated Alabama’s monument protection law when it placed a plywood screen around the Confederate monument in August 2017, and ordered the city to pay a $25,000 fine.

The plywood was placed there on orders of former Birmingham Mayor William Bell after the state passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act in 2017 in response to calls for removal of Confederate monuments on public property. Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit against Birmingham.

However, Marshall on Monday appeared to de-escalate the situation by saying the city would get a one-time $25,000 fine for removing the monument.

“Should the City of Birmingham proceed with the removal of the monument in question, based upon multiple conversations I have had [Monday], city leaders understand I will perform the duties assigned to me by the Act to pursue a new civil complaint against the city,” Marshall said. However, “In the aftermath of [Sunday] night’s violent outbreak, I have offered the City of Birmingham the support and resources of my office to restore peace to the city.”

Woodfin told AL.com that he was willing to pay the fine to have the statue removed.

Construction crews remove Birmingham’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Linn Park on Monday evening after the start of the city wide curfew. (Marvin Gentry, For the Birmingham Times)

“In order to prevent more civil unrest, it is very imperative that we remove this statue,” he said. “I understand the A.G.’s office can bring a civil suit against the city, and if there’s a judgment rendered from a judge then we should be held accountable, and I am willing to accept that because that is a lower cost than civil unrest in our city.”

On Sunday in Birmingham, 24 people were arrested, 14 businesses burglarized, 12 businesses sustained significant damage and 22 fire calls to which Birmingham Fire and Rescue responded, five of which were commercial, the city said.

The citywide curfew will be implemented until further notice, the mayor said.

“What started out with the best intentions turned into something that none of us deserve, none of our small business owners, none of our corporate community, the people in the media that were physically hurt, no one deserved what happened last night in this city we call home,” Woodfin said. “I want you to know that I 100 percent support civil disobedience, but that is very different from civil unrest and I support activism and the right to peacefully assemble, but I don’t support mobs or people destroying things just because.”