On Monday night, in the midst of a nationwide wave of protestors taking down statues of slaveowners and Confederate leaders, demonstrators in Lafayette Park outside the White House attempted to remove a statue of President Andrew Jackson. Using ropes attached to the top of the head of the 167-year-old figure, the demonstrators were interrupted by police before they were able to bring down the 15-ton statue.
Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, is Trump’s favorite executive and a natural candidate for crowd action in the current moment. A slaveowner, Jackson ordered the forced removal of tens of thousands of Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nation members from the American southeast in order to clear the land for plantations run on slave labor. The statue, cast in 1852 by Clark Mills, also involved the labor of enslaved craftsman Phillip Reid, who aided in the casting of the Statue of Freedom on top of the dome of the U.S. Capitol building.
Lafayette Park was a site of police violence against protestors in the early days of unrest following the police killing of George Floyd — including an incident in which police and the National Guard reportedly used tear gas on demonstrators so that the president could take a staged photo with a Bible. On Monday night, police again appeared to use tear gas to dispel the demonstrators, despite the emergency bill signed by the D.C. Council banning officers from using pepper spray as a crowd deterrent.
Tensions were high within the White House as well. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported that the press corps was required to leave the premises. Later in the evening, the Secret Service stated that the agency was “looking into allegations that some members of the media were asked to vacate the White House complex.” The normal procedure in an emergency is for reporters to relocate “into the press briefing room.”
While the massive demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality against Black Americans have remained mostly peaceful over the past few weeks, police have still used substantial force against protestors, including LAPD officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets into a retreating crowd in Compton, California, on Sunday.