There’s never been a worse time to be a statue of an old racist dude.
The global protests against systemic racism and police brutality, in solidarity with the U.S. Black Lives Matter movement as well as individual nations’ own institutional issues, have been spreading and strengthening since the death of George Floyd, who died after an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes on May 25. The protests have already had a tangible effect on policy decisions and public opinion, but one of the most visible achievements of the protests has been the toppling, defacing, and even removal by authorities, of racist monuments and statues.
From former Confederate president Jefferson Davis to Christopher Columbus and Winston Churchill, statues of historical figures have been coming down or getting makeovers — primarily statues of European colonizers, slave traders or owners, and other Great Men whose racist opinions or policies have been airbrushed out of the version of history we learned in school. Some were removed by protesters, others by city authorities. Many others have been splashed with blood-red paint, creatively annotated, or decorated in other ways to indicate that enormous likenesses of known racists towering over people in public spaces are not seen as a neutral invitation to reflect quietly upon the nuances of a violent, racist history, but an institutional refusal to reckon with it.
The push to remove Confederate and other racist monuments from public spaces continues, with the potential for them to be rehoused in museums where they can be displayed alongside other historical artifacts in context. Meanwhile, a 55-year-old woman in Atlanta has been charged with a felony, namely interference with government property for writing “TEAR DOWN” on a Confederate statue plinth with chalk, and Australian authorities are making noise about “tougher anti-vandalism laws” after two statues of British colonizer Captain James Cook were spray-painted by activists.
If you’re interested in the process of bringing down statues, here is a purely hypothetical guide to how it can be done safely. The safest way to get these pompous eyesores out of public spaces, though, is to pressure your local city council or mayor’s office to remove them, and vote for representatives who have no interest in preserving public monuments to oppressors. As Taylor Swift said, villains don’t deserve statues.
In the meantime, please enjoy these striking images of shrines to violence and genocide being treated with the respect they deserve.