There have been countless times when I’ve walked by a shapeless, twisting sculpture on public property and shuddered at the thought of how much it cost taxpayers. But it never occurred to me to take a sledgehammer and “cancel” the object d’art. Last time I checked, it was against the law, not to mention disrespectful to the artist and the community that placed it there. This simple bit of self-restraint, practiced by almost everyone, has its roots on the founding principles on which America was built – equality, free expression, and the rule of law.
Over the last few weeks, nine statues have been vandalized or removed across the state, according to a list compiled by Virginia Allen of the Daily Signal. When these monuments were erected, the city residents intended to memorialize these leaders for their extraordinary contributions to California and to the nation, not because they were perfect.
General Ulysses S. Grant, head of the Union Army and later president, played a critical role in ending slavery in America. But a mob of 400 gathered at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to topple his bust because he had married into a slave-owning family and owned one slave for a year. The same mob also knocked over a statue of patriot Francis Scott Key, who penned “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Among Californians, a bronze of John Sutter, a settler and businessman whose employee James Marshall’s discovery ushered in the Gold Rush, was removed by workers at the Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento after it was defaced with graffiti. In Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco, statues of Saint Junipero Serra, a Catholic missionary from Spain who established missions throughout the state, had been knocked down or vandalized.
Staying on the empire theme, lawmakers removed a beautiful and moving sculpture known as “Columbus’ Last Appeal to Queen Isabella” from the rotunda of the State Capitol in Sacramento. The sculpture had been there since 1883.
Another vandal spray-painted the words “[expletive] Colonizers” on the base of a monument known as El Soldado in Sacramento. Mexican American mothers erected the monument to honor their fallen sons and daughters who served during World War II.
Lastly, there was the statue of John Greenleaf Whittier, a 19th century Quaker poet and abolitionist. The Whittier Daily record reported that he was a delegate to the first meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Convention. Nevertheless, the vandal or vandals, spray-painted “BLM” and “[expletive] Slave Owners” on the monument.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, architect of the New York Times’s 1619 Project, told CBS that “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence.” Try explaining that to the baffled residents of Whittier, or South American Pope Francis, who canonized Father Serra; or to the thousands of small business owners across the state and the nation who lost a lifetime’s work.
Spencer Klavan of the Claremont Institute puts it starkly: “Either we believe that everyone, of every color, must be guaranteed the right to his own property both physical and spiritual, or we do not. If we allow ourselves to be gulled by ideologues who despise us into qualifying our national creed, or apologizing for it, or declaring it with anything other than pride, then we will have abandoned our fellow man and forsaken the only remedy for tribalism and injustice known to us this side of heaven. It’s America or bust.”
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of Pacific Research Institute.