This is an opinion piece.
Not negotiating with terrorists is one of the better known and basic policies of law enforcement when it comes to dealing with kidnappers, actual terrorists or any criminal using force to trade blackmail for their benefit. It’s meant to streamline the response to hostage situations and send a message to all would-be criminals that never shall such actions prosper. Officials can’t negotiate ultimatums without putting their leadership and people in danger. However, that’s just what Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin did when he broke state law and called for the removal of a prominent city monument over fears of further violence from angry protesters.
After standing erect for more than 115 years, the Confederate monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park was slowly dismantled by a demolition crew Monday night. The 50-foot tall sandstone obelisk had been the subject of controversy in recent years, which finally came to a head Sunday night as a mob of protesters, supposedly protesting the recent death of Minnesota man George Floyd, attempted to pull the monument down themselves.
Using sledge hammers, drills and other tools and even at one time a rope attached to a truck’s trailer hitch, the protesters spent hours chipping away at the monument. As tensions mounted, Mayor Woodfin stepped in, not with a show of strength, but cowardice. In an attempt to keep the “civil unrest” from escalating, he made the mob an offer.
“Allow me to finish the job for you,” he said, asking the crowd for at least 24 hours to have the monument professionally removed.
The city had tried to remove the monument before but was unable to achieve their goal due to a state law expressly prohibiting the removal of Confederate statues in Alabama. The consequence of doing so could be a one-time fine of $25,000, for which Attorney General Steve Marshall already promised he would sue the city.
Though he had previously been slow-moving in seeking a resolution to the monumental controversy, Woodfin decided in a moment of trepidation to flaunt the law and eat the fine; anything to placate the threatening masses.
“In order to prevent more civil unrest, it is very imperative that we remove this statue in Linn Park. That has a cost to it,’’ Woodfin later said at a Monday-morning press conference. “I understand the AG’s office can bring a civil suit against the city and if there’s a judgement 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.”
This isn’t about Confederate monuments in general or whether or not this particular one should be removed. Maybe it absolutely should given its contentious history, etc. But if ever there was a time when the city should absolutely not tear the monument down, it would be right after a violent mob, after failing to destroy it themselves, demand they do so.
Paying the fine and demolition crews to remove the monument may end up costing the city less money than the potential millions of dollars’ worth of rioting damage would, but that assumes the protesters will be placated and doesn’t consider similar hostage-like situations inevitably to come in the future now that the mayor has opened that door.
Even after he made his concessions, crowds of protesters continued to vandalize, riot and burn the city Sunday night into Monday morning, causing the mayor to issue a 7 p.m. curfew. But maybe now all that will cease since the ransom has been paid, but something tells me the mob will be back for more.
Daniel Taylor is a staff writer for The Reporter. His email is email@example.com.