Why I Introduced the Baltimore Council Resolution to Remove Confederate Statues
Brandon Scott is a member of GMF’s Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders’ Network (TILN), which supports young, diverse elected leaders from the United States and Europe.
The events on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, displayed a leadership vacuum at the highest level of U.S. government. At the local level, cities such as Baltimore, Maryland, have been debating the issue of Confederate monuments since the tragic Charleston church massacre in 2015. However, following the white supremacist groups’ acts of domestic terrorism carried out in Charlottesville, it became crystal clear that the time for discussion had ended and immediate action would be required.
With the need for action on my heart and mind, last Sunday, August 13, I introduced a Baltimore city council resolution at our scheduled council meeting, calling for the immediate deconstruction of all Confederate monuments in Baltimore. The Council unanimously approved the resolution the following day, with Mayor Catherine Pugh promising swift action. Mayor Pugh rapidly removed all four statues in question, further displaying a great level of leadership by removing these statures in the cover of night to ensure the safety of our citizens and prevent any clashes. Baltimore’s unified and decisive action should serve as a model for the world.
Our work builds also on the leadership and eloquence of the Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu. As more cities come on board, Confederate statues are now in the process of being removed across the United States.
For our peers across the Atlantic, the events in Charlottesville are rekindling debates in countries such as the U.K. and Belgium about colonial history and the need to consider the removal and/or further contextualization of statues glorifying colonial rule and its accompanying race-based oppression. Young leaders from the German Marshall Fund’s alumni network are also consulting across the Atlantic, speaking up on these topics, and offering recommendations.
Preserving the safety of citizens is the most important responsibility of any government, and that begins with leadership.
Preserving the safety of citizens is the most important responsibility of any government, and that begins with leadership. Elected and public safety officials need to make it clear that, while free speech is protected, violence of any kind will not be tolerated. Officials should emphasize that groups who are looking to protest or demonstrate must not only obtain a permit but also agree to a memorandum of understanding. Failure to adhere to the agreed memorandum of understanding should result in immediate law enforcement action. Local civic leaders cannot be afraid to take such action in order to prevent violence but, such action must only been taken when absolutely necessary in order to protect and preserve rights. Officials must also use all available technology (e.g. social media, email, text alerts) to communicate with and alert citizens during events. It also critical that law enforcement agencies identify liaisons with groups leading demonstrations so there is a constant flow of information before, during, and after these events. However, the most important thing that civic leaders can do is make it clear that racism, sexism, or any kind of bigotry will not be tolerated in their jurisdictions.
Across the globe, racially-motivated nationalist movements seem to be moving in a synchronized fashion. Resistance to these hate-driven movements needs to be carried out in the same manner. This begins with consistent and open communication. Moreover, across these movements there is a common theme not limited to hatred for blacks, but also hatred of immigrants, Jews, and women.
Though long overdue, it is time for countries to get serious about enacting policies and practices that work toward equity. What better way to fight back against these hate-driven groups is there than by uplifting the very people they fear? The opportunity for true change has presented itself — but will we seize the opportunity? Or will we again simply just go back to our normal lives until the next tragedy?
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.