A group of about 400 protesters tore down statues of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the U.S., Spanish missionary Junipero Serra and Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The group arrived at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park Friday night and after defacing the statues with red paint and writing “slave owner” on the platforms they were on, they toppled them using ropes and dragged them down grassy slopes amid cheers and applause.
Grant led the Union Army during the Civil War and thus was a key figure in the fight to end slavery. However, like Key, he once owned slaves.
Video shows people knocking down the statue of Serra, an 18th century Roman Catholic priest, founded nine of California’s 21 Spanish missions and is credited with bringing Roman Catholicism to the Western United States. He is also blamed by many Native Americans for the destruction of their culture and the decimation of several tribes.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed acknowledged “the very real pain in this country rooted in our history of slavery and oppression, especially against African-Americans and Indigenous people,” but said she didn’t condone the damage done to Golden Gate Park by dozens of protesters who defaced and tore down statues.
“Every dollar we spend cleaning up this vandalism takes funding away from actually supporting our community, including our African-American community,” Breed, who is Black, said in a statement. “I say this not to defend any particular statue or what it represents, but to recognize that when people take action in the name of my community, they should actually involve us. And when they vandalize our public parks, that’s their agenda, not ours.”
Breed said city officials will work with community members to evaluate public art and make sure it reflects San Francisco’s values.
Besides the toppled bust and statues, the park’s old museum concourse was widely spray-painted, including commemorative benches, drinking fountains, pathways and balustrades.
Heavy equipment operators and cleanup crews arrived late Friday and worked through the night to remove damaged statues, paint over the graffiti and power wash the area, the parks department said.
On Thursday, the Christopher Columbus statue at San Francisco’s Coit Tower was removed by the city after protesters threatened to take it down and throw it into the Bay.
Friday night, President Donald Trump encouraged police in Washington, D.C. to “immediately” make arrests after the statue of Albert Pike, a Confederate officer, was taken down by a crowd of people in Judiciary Square.