SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Vandals targeted the bust of a Confederate general at Forsyth Park as concerns of racial injustice prompt protests and the demand for removing monuments dedicated to the Confederacy across the nation.
The statue of Lafayette McLaws was discovered Thursday morning with the image of a black fist, often used as a Black Lives Matter symbol, spray-painted on the monument and a white hood with the eyes cut out placed over the sculpture’s head.
City workers arrived around 8:30 a.m. to remove the hood and paint.
According to Savannah Police, officers responded to the scene around 10:00 a.m. after receiving reports of vandalism. Officials say detectives are currently investigating to see if cameras in the area captured the incident.
“Understanding the sentiment around the city and around this nation, this is still public property and it’s illegal to deface it,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson.
The mayor said he understands that while some view the monument as history, others find it hurtful.
“We have to make sure that we are very measured in how we express our frustration, how we express our disappointment and we have to do that in constructive ways,” Johnson said.
About two years ago the city renamed the park’s monuments the Civil War Memorial and sought input from citizens.
“So the recommendation was to tell the story of everyone, be respectful in regards to everyone because the story is not just isolated in regards to one group of people,” said Dr. Jamale Toure, who was a part of the task force gathering public feedback.
The plan was to remove the two Confederate general statues that were placed in Savannah in 1910 but leave the taller soldier erected in 1875 as a tribute to the dead. Then, interpretive signs talking about slavery were going to be placed.
But the state Senate passed a bill last year stating monuments could not be altered or moved.
“As a Black man, I am certainly respectful of the time that we currently find ourselves in but again, we have to be able to do that through a change in legislation,” said Johnson. “We have state representatives and senators right here that, to me, this should be a mandate to the state to say ‘Hey, we need to be able to make this decision here locally.'”
An online petition is circling in an effort to relocate the monuments to a museum.
The mayor held firm that as memorials once again take center stage, the city has to follow the law.