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Violence again spurs cities to remove Confederate monuments, but many find hurdles to doing so

Cities across the country are stepping up efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces. (Video: Reuters)

In the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville last weekend, officials in cities across the country have acted swiftly to remove Confederate monuments. Many officials hope that removing the statues will prevent their cities from becoming flash points for violence as white nationalist groups plan more rallies. In many cities throughout the South, the removal of statues has been in the works for years, and many more have already fallen.

The violence in Charlottesville may have reawakened the national debate over these commemorative monuments, but it is not the first time monuments have come down in the wake of violence. After the June 2015 shooting in Charleston, S.C., in which Dylann Roof murdered nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, officials throughout the South grappled with what to do with the controversial figures.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh earlier this week ordered that all four memorials to the Confederacy be taken down to ward off more violence. The city had been considering removing them for more than 18 months. In 2015, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for a commission to review the future of the statues. With the Charlottesville violence in the background, Pugh decided it was time to take the statues down. Pugh had the statues removed in the middle of the night to avoid further conflict.

Officials from big cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, to smaller towns, such as Gainesville, Fla., and Stone Mountain, Ga., have all moved to take down or change locations of monuments celebrating the confederacy following the violence in Virginia.

Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams (D) took to Twitter to address the monument's removal, noting that the statues were paid for by the Ku Klux Klan and, therefore, celebrated racism, divisiveness and terror.

But many do not agree with Abrams's interpretation of the monuments. Christopher Ingraham reported for The Post's Wonkblog results from a survey by the Economist and YouGov conducted earlier in the week that “found that, by more than 2 to 1, Americans believe that Confederate monuments are symbols of Southern pride rather than of white supremacy.” On Thursday, as removal of the statues made national news, President Trump sided with the public sentiment and called the decision to remove the statues “foolish.”

In Annapolis, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan changed course and vowed to remove a statue of Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dredd Scott decision that barred black people from citizenship, from the State House. Hogan noted that the statue sends the wrong message about the country's past.

“While we cannot hide from our history — nor should we — the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” Hogan said in a statement.

Soon after the South Carolina shooting, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) approached the city council to ask for the removal of the city's four confederate statues. CNN reported in 2015 that “Landrieu said the church slayings in Charleston, South Carolina, moved him to take action.” In December 2015, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove all the confederate monuments from public display. And in May 2017, all four monuments had come down.

The shooting in Charleston sparked Birmingham, Ala.'s parks and recreation board to look for legal means for removing an obelisk commemorating the Confederacy in Linn Park.

“The tenor of the times has changed in Birmingham and the country after Charleston,” board member and former mayor Bernard Kincaid told the Daily News. “It’s created a tidal wave of opposition to such things as the rebel flag and the 110-year-old monument.”

But officials in Birmingham did not get as far as New Orleans. The obelisk's removal is now the focus of a legal battle between the state of Alabama and the city of Birmingham. In May, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law that required a committee to sign off on any modifications to historic structures. After the violence in Charlottesville, officials in Birmingham covered a prominent Confederate monument with wood. Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement that he had no choice but to file a lawsuit against Birmingham, citing a violation of the law.

Similar battles have also taken place farther north. In June, St. Louis moved a granite and bronze statue depicting “the angel of the spirit of the Confederacy,” from public display in a park to the Civil War Museum. In 2015, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (D) announced he wanted the statue to be removed from the park. Removal of the statue was delayed while the city and the Missouri Civil War Museum battled over who had jurisdiction over the statue and which entity would fit the bill for its move.