by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
On Saturday, June 20, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the removal of Confederate monuments from the grounds of the State Capitol “to protect public safety.” In a recent Carolina Journal piece on the subject, Rick Henderson writes:
In a statement issued Saturday, June 20, Cooper said he was “concerned about the dangerous efforts to pull down and carry off large, heavy statues and the strong potential for violent clashes at the site. … Monuments to white supremacy don’t belong in places of allegiance, and it’s past time that these painful memorials be moved in a legal, safe way.”
The legality of this action, however, is not so clear. Henderson writes:
State historic monuments and markers are supposed to be protected from damage or removal by a 2015 law. It says “a monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the State may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.”
It provides an exception if building inspectors or other officials find the object “poses a threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition.”
Cooper did not acquire the approval of the North Carolina Historical Society for the removal of these monuments, and it is unclear whether Cooper’s argument that the “potential for violent clashes” fits the definition of an “unsafe or dangerous condition.”
The order came after protesters unlawfully removed two monuments from the State Capitol Friday night. Henderson writes:
Protesters tried to pull down the statues late Friday afternoon. Capitol Police turned them back and a skirmish broke out. Then the law officers withdrew.
Friday night, without resistance, protesters removed the statues. They hoisted one statue from a lamp post. They dragged the other through the streets, leaving it at the Wake County Justice Center. State Capitol Police then took the statue and dispersed the crowd.
Officials won’t explain why police officers withdrew, or who gave that order.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest commented on the story for Carolina Journal. He stated:
“Last night’s destruction occurred on state property, right next to [Cooper’s] office. It is clear that Gov. Cooper is either incapable of upholding law and order, or worse, encouraging this behavior. … When our elected leaders turn a blind eye to chaos, destruction, and disorder, society begins to unravel.”