bookmark_borderAppeals court made right decision in Tsarnaev case

On Friday, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the death penalty verdict for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The court ruled that the judge in Tsarnaev’s trial was not thorough enough in screening potential jurors for bias, and as a result, at least two people made it onto the jury without disclosing everything that they knew, or posted on social media, about the case. Tsarnaev has never denied carrying out the bombing with his older brother, Tamerlan, and the appellate court’s decision does not affect the jury’s guilty verdict, only the death sentence. The Department of Justice will need to decide whether to accept a sentence of life in prison for Tsarnaev or whether to re-do the penalty phase of the trial.

In my opinion, this decision was the right one for a simple reason: a woman known as Juror 286, who become the forewoman of the jury, failed to disclose that she had posted online about the case 22 times. She tweeted about being “locked down” with her family during the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers and about her sadness at the death of 8-year-old Martin Richard. Additionally, she retweeted celebratory messages after Tsarnaev’s capture, some including the ubiquitous phrase “Boston Strong” and one referring to Tsarnaev as a “piece of garbage.” The defense team asked the judge to excuse this juror for cause, but prosecutors described her tweets as “innocuous” and the judge apparently agreed.

The fact that someone was allowed onto a jury after calling the defendant a “piece of garbage” is outrageous. It would be difficult to imagine something more disqualifying, and more indicative of bias, than that. Calling someone a piece of garbage is not innocuous under any circumstances.

Making things worse, another individual, known as Juror 138, posted on Facebook that he was reporting for jury duty and repeatedly engaged with people who commented on the post throughout the day. One of the comments urged him to “play the part so u get on the jury then send him to jail where he will be taken care of” and another predicted that Tsarnaev would have “no shot in hell” if Juror 138 made it onto the jury.

Death sentences have been overturned in federal court before for far less. Triple-murderer Gary Sampson, for example, had his death sentence overturned when it was discovered that a juror failed to disclose a domestic dispute with her husband and the fact that her daughter went to jail for drugs.

Former Boston FBI director Richard DesLauriers called the Tsarnaev ruling “an unfortunate example of judicial activism and “a slap in the face” to the jurors. But it’s not judicial activism to logically apply principles of fairness and impartiality. And to be honest, anyone who calls a defendant in a criminal case a “piece of garbage” and then fails to disclose this during jury selection deserves to be slapped in the face. It’s sad that everyone has to go through another penalty trial, but when you look at things objectively, a verdict rendered by a jury whose foreperson called the defendant a “piece of garbage” is not a legitimate verdict and cannot be allowed to stand.

bookmark_borderBullies protest against Confederate flag towel

I thought it was ridiculous when I heard that dozens of people in Minnesota decided to protest against a Confederate flag at their neighbor’s house. But then I saw a news article titled, “Protest calls out white silence after Confederate flag towel displayed on Evanston beach.” I did not think that such a thing was possible, but this towel protest reaches new levels of ridiculousness.

Reading the full story behind these events only makes this incident more appalling. The offending towel was first sighted on Wednesday at Lighthouse Beach in Evanston, Illinois, where a group of beachgoers had draped it over a fence. LaShandra Smith-Rayfield saw photos of the towel posted on social media and decided to drop what she was doing and drive to the beach to confront the towel owners in person. She posted a video of the confrontation on Facebook Live. In the video (since deleted) she reportedly told the towel owners, “I can’t feel comfortable in my own neighborhood. That flag right there is my swastika.” Then, a small group of protesters arrived at the beach and held Black Lives Matter signs until the towel owners left. Another small protest took place at the beach Thursday, followed by one on Friday which was attended by 300 people, including the mayor.

The Facebook event for that protest was titled, “No one is free until we are all free,” which is ironic because the protest seems to have been dedicated to taking away people’s freedom to go to the beach without being bullied and harassed.

Smith-Rayfield’s actions in instigating a confrontation with a group of beachgoers and then organizing a protest against them are utterly despicable. People have every right to possess and use any type of towel that they want. The group of people who hung the Confederate towel on the fence were doing absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever. Yet Smith-Rayfield chose to drop what she was doing and drive to the beach to verbally attack them. Then she and her supporters held not one, not two, but three protests against these people who were doing nothing wrong. In this time of relentless attacks on the Confederate States of America and its iconography, this is one of the most bigoted, intolerant, and aggressive instances of bullying I have heard of yet.

“Me speaking out against hatred does not make me anti-patriotic,” Smith-Rayfield told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It actually makes me patriotic… Every person on that beach walked past it. In my video, you can see people walk on past it. Why is it okay to walk on past it?”

This is one of the most preposterous questions I have ever heard. Not only is it okay to walk past a group of people minding their own business, it is an obligation. Unless, of course, one wants to compliment the towel or ask where the owners bought it, which would be totally justified because in my opinion, a Confederate flag towel is awesome. But when it comes to making negative or critical comments towards a person or people who are doing nothing wrong, that is morally impermissible because it is an act of aggression. For Smith-Rayfield to imply that bullying and harassing innocent people is not only acceptable but is morally required is preposterous. She is not “speaking out against hatred.” She is aggressing against innocent people.

Disgustingly, the mayor of Evanston, Steve Hagerty, praised Smith-Rayfield’s “courage and persistence.” But what Smith-Rayfield did was an act of cruelty, aggression, and bullying. This has nothing to do with courage or persistence, and it is disturbing that an elected official would praise such a thing.

Terri Turner, who attended one of the protests, said that she and her daughter were up till 2:30 a.m. “trying to process how heinous that was.” She was not referring to Smith-Rayfield’s decision to attack an innocent group of beachgoers; she was referring to the Confederate flag towel itself. This reaction is bizarre and incomprehensible. There is nothing “heinous” about a Confederate flag towel. It is a towel demonstrating pride in Southern heritage. Smith-Rayfield’s actions in instigating an argument with innocent people, as well as Turner’s own decision to attend a protest condemning these same people, are what is truly heinous.

People have a right to go to the beach and display any type of flag or towel they want without being insulted, yelled at, or harassed. If you think that disliking someone’s towel gives you the right to go up to them, berate them, and organize protests against them, you are not only 100% wrong but you are also a mean, nasty, intolerant bully.

One bright light in this dismaying series of events is that while Smith-Rayfield was verbally attacking the group of innocent beachgoers, an African-American veteran decided to intervene. According to a series of tweets describing the encounter, this man told Smith-Rayfield that “she’s the one causing the problem,” that the towel owners were “minding their business,” and that he “fought for their right to display that flag.” He is 100% right. Interviewed later by the Chicago Sun-Times, this brave veteran said that he personally believes the Confederate flag is wrong but also believes that people have the right to disagree and that he served in the military to protect that right. This guy showed true courage, tolerance, and empathy. If only more people behaved this way towards those with whom they disagree.

bookmark_borderBullies protest against Confederate flag at neighbor’s house

In Cold Spring, Minnesota, bullies are protesting against a homeowner’s decision to fly a Confederate flag.

The leader of the bullies, 20-year-old college student Jayda Woods, said of her neighbor’s flag: “To me, it just looks like a big thing that says ‘I hate you’ on it. ‘Stay away’ kind of thing, and just, ‘You’re not welcomed here.'”

“We’re not going to just stand by and have this flying in our neighborhood, right next to all of these kids, right next to the school where everyone’s driving by,” she added. “That’s just something I don’t want to live with for our town.”

Woods organized two protests, which involved dozens of people gathering with signs outside the offending house. She and her supporters have also written what she describes as “positive messages” in chalk on the sidewalk. These messages include “Black Lives Matter” and “Real Americans don’t fly traitor flags.”

To organize protests against a flag that a private citizen is flying on his/her own property displays a complete lack of tolerance and a complete lack of respect for the rights of one’s fellow citizens. First of all, Woods’s perceptions that the Confederate flag means “I hate you” and “stay away” are baseless. People fly Confederate flags for a variety of reasons, including pride in their Southern heritage or a belief in states’ rights or resistance to tyranny. Additionally, having negative feelings towards something (even if these feelings are valid and understandable, which is not the case in this situation) does not give a person the right to demand its removal, especially if it is located on another person’s private property. People do not have a right to never see anything they dislike while walking, driving, or jogging around town.

The homeowner who is flying the flag is doing absolutely nothing wrong. These attempts to pressure and browbeat this homeowner into stopping something that he/she has every right to do are acts of aggression and bullying. Woods says that she is not going to stand by and allow the flag to exist in her town. But that is exactly what she is obligated to do. What individuals do on their own property is none of her business; she and her supporters do not have the right to decide what other people in their town and neighborhood are and are not allowed to do.

Not to mention the fact that the Confederate flag is not a “traitor flag,” and calling it that is the exact opposite of a positive message.

“It is his First Amendment right, freedom of speech,” said Woods. “But what I would just like is at least a letter from the city of Cold Spring or from ROCORI High School, just asking him to take it down.”

This is contradictory. Woods is essentially admitting that the homeowner has a right to fly the flag while simultaneously asking the government to make him get rid of it!

To their credit, the city council responded to this request with the following statement: “The City of Cold Spring does not condone racial discrimination or the display of racist icons. The city strives to be a welcoming community for all persons regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender identification, age, ability, place of origin, citizenship status and veteran status. All citizens have the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution. The right is fundamental to our democracy and protects us all against tyranny. For that reason, the city can make no laws that abridge any citizen’s right to freedom of speech regardless of how offensive the speech may be.”

Woods has even started a petition to ban display of the Confederate flag, in which she calls the flag “highly intolerable, especially flying next to a school where ALL students and staff should feel welcomed and safe. It is extremely important to me that ALL students and all people who enter the ROCORI community are treated with respect.”

But her attempts to force the removal of the Confederate flag are, ironically, disrespectful and intolerant towards those with different views from her. Do people who are proud of their Southern heritage not also deserve to feel welcomed and safe? Do people who see the Confederate flag as a positive symbol of rebelliousness and freedom not also deserve to be treated with respect? Anyone who truly believes in the values of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance would accept and celebrate the right of each person to fly the flag of their choice.

bookmark_borderDemocratic senators demand flag discrimination

A group of 34 Democratic Congressmen and Congresswomen are demanding that Defense Secretary Mark Esper explicitly ban the Confederate flag while allowing other flags, such as the Pride flag and Native Nation flags. Earlier this month, in response to intolerant bullies’ demands, Esper issued a policy banning the Confederate flag from being displayed on property controlled by the Department of Defense, including ships, aircraft, office buildings, porches of military housing, and common areas of barracks. But instead of singling out that flag, the language of the policy simply lists which flags are allowed, a category that includes state flags, the POW/MIA flag, military flags, and the flags of allied countries, effectively banning all other flags. Left off the list were not only the Confederate flag but also the Pride flag, Native Nation flags, the Jolly Roger, and sports teams’ flags.

“While we applaud the department for taking steps to remove the Confederate battle flag from our military bases, the action unnecessarily avoids a clear rebuke of this oppressive symbol while simultaneously limiting how service members can freely express themselves in line with our values,” the Representatives wrote. “We ask that you immediately revise the new policy on flag display, explicitly ban the Confederate battle flag, and ensure that service members can express support for diversity and inclusion through the display of sovereign Native Nations and LGBTQ Pride flags… The department must have the strength and courage to be able to simultaneously stand against a symbol of hate and oppression in the Confederate battle flag while allowing the display of support for civil rights, equity and justice. We do not honor or display the Parteiflagge of Nazi Germany on our military bases, and any decision on the Confederate battle flag must likewise be unequivocal: it must be banned outright.”

Contrary to what is claimed in the letter, the Confederate flag is not a symbol of hate or oppression. It is simply a symbol of the Confederate States of America. Some people fly it as an expression of Southern heritage and some people fly it as a symbol of individuality, freedom, and resistance to government authority. There’s nothing hateful or oppressive about that.

Ironically, banning the Confederate flag is hateful and oppressive. The letter expresses support for diversity and inclusion, but banning one flag while allowing others is the exact opposite of diversity and inclusion. It is particularly disturbing that the Representatives want soldiers to be able to “freely express themselves in line with our values.” The letter appears to be stating that soldiers should only be able to express themselves if their values are the same as those of the letter’s authors. That is not freedom of expression. True freedom of expression means having the right to express one’s views regardless of whether those who hold political power approve of them. Truly supporting diversity and inclusion means not only embracing differences in sexual orientation, gender identity, and race; it also means embracing differences in culture as well as in ideology. We cannot have an inclusive society when Native Americans are able to honor their heritage with flags while Southerners are not. We cannot have diversity without the Confederate flag.

These Democratic Representatives are demanding that only flags that are in line with their values should be allowed. This is the epitome of intolerance and bigotry, and to use the language of diversity and inclusion in the service of such a non-inclusive cause is a perversion of these words. To unequivocally condemn the flag of a small, agricultural nation that existed for four years in the 19th century and happens to be frowned upon by today’s political establishment, as the letter demands of Secretary Esper, is the exact opposite of “strength and courage.” It is bullying.

I believe that soldiers should be able to display any flag that they want, including the U.S. flag, the Confederate flag, the Gadsden flag, the flag of any nation, state, or city, the Pride flag, the pirate flag, or the flag of any sports team. But if the Confederate flag is going to be banned, it is only fair to ban flags favored by those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum as well. Let’s hope that Esper displays true strength and courage by standing up to the Democrats’ intolerant demands.

bookmark_borderCancelling student loans is unfair and unjust

As the country considers various options for helping the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic, several lawmakers are pushing for forgiveness of student loans.

For example, Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar introduced a bill in March to cancel up to $30,000 in student debt per person. Senate Democrats have pushed unsuccessfully for student debt forgiveness to be included in both the CARES Act and the HEROES Act. The group Student Debt Crisis has gathered 1.2 million signatures in support of urging Congress to forgive student loans. Bernie Sanders promised to eliminate all student debt during his presidential campaign, and Joe Biden is proposing forgiving student debt for low-income people, teachers, public service workers, and graduates of public and historically black schools.

Student debt forgiveness is now being viewed as a racial justice issue as well. “Black student borrowers borrow and default more than anyone else because of our inability to build generational wealth,” Pressley said to Yahoo Finance.

Pressley also tweeted, “Cancel rent. Cancel mortgage. Cancel student debt.”

Cancelling debt is fundamentally unfair. There are some people who make tremendous sacrifices to pay for college so that they won’t have to take out loans. Some people work throughout their time in college in order to pay tuition. Some people go without in order to save up for college, and some parents start saving for college when their child is born. Have any of the proponents of student loan forgiveness ever considered how those who saved up for college would feel upon learning that all of their sacrifices were for nothing? That they could have spent their money on other things and gotten a college education for free if they had only waited? Forgiving student loans is essentially making college free… but only for people who borrowed money. People who already paid would be stuck having already paid. A plan to cancel student loans would only be fair if anyone who paid for college got his or her money back as well.

But one also needs to consider that cancelling student loans is unfair to people who chose not to go to college, or chose to go to a less expensive college, because of the cost. Imagine having made the decision years ago to forgo college, or to go to a less prestigious college, only to learn that you could actually have gone to an expensive, prestigious college for free. Additionally, forgiving student loans is arguably unfair to people who earned merit scholarships. Imagine getting to attend college for free (or at a substantial discount) as a reward for your intelligence, talent, and academic achievements, only to find out that people without the same achievements also get to attend college for free, simply because they chose to borrow money.

Forgiving debt is unfair and unjust because it provides a benefit to some people while denying that benefit to other people who are equally deserving.

bookmark_borderSupreme Court got it right on free birth control

The Supreme Court got it right when it ruled earlier this month that employers have the right to opt out of providing health insurance that covers birth control. Not only is this an issue of religious liberty, but it is also an issue of fairness. For health insurance to provide free birth control is unfair for a simple but often overlooked reason: birth control is only useful for people who have sex, and that category does not include everyone!

The purpose of health insurance is to cover medical services and products that people need in order to be healthy. But birth control is not really medical in nature, not is it a need, because if someone is unable to obtain it for whatever reason, he or she can simply choose not to have sex. Some people might argue that being able to avoid unwanted pregnancies affects a person’s health, and I suppose that it can indirectly, but there are lots of other products that affect people’s health more directly yet are not covered by health insurance, such as food, exercise equipment, and sunscreen, to list just a few examples. Plus, birth control is not necessary to avoid unwanted pregnancies, because simply not having sex is always an option. Of course, many people would be unhappy with this option because sex is an activity that a lot of people enjoy. But, at the risk of sounding insensitive, too bad! There are many activities that I enjoy, such as photography, art, and cheering on my favorite sports teams. I would never expect other people to pay for the equipment that I need for these activities. If I could not afford, say, a camera or pencils or sketchbooks or Bruins jerseys, I would be expected to live without these things and forgo my favorite activities. Why should sex be any different? It is not fair for me, either through my taxes or through the price I pay each month for health insurance, to have to contribute to the costs of other people’s sex-related products when other people are not expected to contribute to the costs of my photography, art, or sports-related products.

Another thing that proponents of free birth control get wrong, in addition to ignoring the unfairness towards people who do not have sex, is by framing the debate as a feminist issue. In my opinion, birth control has nothing to with gender at all. Sex and the products and services associated with it involve both genders equally. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times, for example, opines that the Supreme Court ruling and Justice Clarence Thomas’s explanation “betray every woman in this country.” Speak for yourself. I am a woman in this country, and this ruling does not betray me at all. In fact, it benefits me by making it easier for me to avoid having to pay for products that I do not use! The editorial also states, “For anyone to say that preventive care for women does not, de facto, include birth control is disingenuous and sexist.” I could not disagree more with this statement. Actually, to say that preventive care for women does include birth control is sexist. The editorial cites the statistic that 86% of women have used three or more birth control methods by their 40s… but what about the other 14%? Not all women use birth control, because not all women have sex. There seems to be an attitude held by many people in our society that women are somehow more associated with sex and reproduction than men are. This is completely sexist, and as a woman who has never been interested in sex or reproduction, I find it highly offensive.

So to sum up, requiring health insurance plans to provide free birth control is both unfair and anti-feminist. The more companies that opt out of this unfair, sexist requirement, the better.

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues (part 3)

A recent Boston Globe article discusses historians’ opinions in favor of and against removing statues of controversial historical figures. This is a category that includes not only Confederate leaders but in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement has come to include founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as well.

Catherine Allgor, the President of the Massachusetts Historical Society, argued that it is appropriate to take down statues of the founding fathers if they do not fit the values held by most people today. “What were the questions and the issues that these monuments were an answer to?” she asked. “And then you have to say, is it useful for us?… Maybe the answer is we don’t put up statues to people because the problem with people is they’re very complicated. We’re asked to venerate and adore this person, but this person is a person. There is good stuff and bad stuff.”

But in my opinion, this is exactly why we should have statues of people and why these statues should not be removed, even if the majority of people today dislike them. Historical figures are complicated, with good stuff and bad, and that is part of why I love history and why I love statues. I love learning about people from the past and discovering their quirks and eccentricities, their good points and bad points. It is entirely appropriate to have statues of important people from the past, even if they were deeply flawed and even if the majority of people today consider them bad! The existence of a statue in a public place does not necessarily mean people are being asked to venerate and adore the person (and no historical figure is going to be venerated and adored by everyone); it just means that those who do venerate and adore the person have an awesome statue to enjoy. Because everyone admires different historical figures, it’s important for cities and towns to display a wide variety of statues so that everyone, and not just those who share the views of the majority, can find a statue that they like and admire. To completely give up on having statues of historical figures, just because these people were not perfect, is not the answer.

I also think that Allgor is overcomplicating things. Monuments do not need to be an answer to any question or issue. Perhaps they simply signify that the sculptor, or the person or organization that commissioned the statue, thought that the historical figure was cool. What’s wrong with that? Nor do monuments need to be useful, per se, to people today. Monuments are inherently valuable as historical artifacts and works of art. That is reason enough for them to be left in place. A city’s statues are part of its character and its identity, and a community that tears down monuments and builds new ones based on what is popular in the moment is a community without any character or identity.

Robert Allison, a professor of American history at Suffolk University, expressed different sentiments. “The Founders are always fair game for reassessment,” he said. “But that is not what is happening now. We are watching a concerted effort to remove history, not to reinterpret it… It does seem we have reached a moment where we want to remove historical figures because they do not live up to our high standards.”

I completely agree with these observations. Instead of thoughtfully considering the good and bad points of various historical figures, too many of today’s protesters are aggressively and mindlessly destroying statues for the sake of destroying statues. Their automatic response to any depiction of a white person in old-fashioned clothing seems to be to tear it down and burn it, regardless of the story behind the statue or even the identity of the person it depicts. For example, mobs in Madison, Wisconsin tore apart a statue of Union soldier and abolitionist Hans Christian Heg as well as a statue called Forward, which was a tribute to women’s suffrage. There is no logical reason why either statue would be objectionable to the Black Lives Matter movement; the barbaric mobs must have just seen a Civil War soldier and a woman in an ancient Greek style robe, and decided to destroy them.

Allison suggested building new statues, for example to abolitionists Lewis Hayden, Harriet Hayden, and Prince Hall, as opposed to destroying existing ones. And he pointed out that if the current trend of anti-statue violence continues, the only statue that will be left in Boston is the statue of a pear in Everett Square.

This is spot-on. And who knows, perhaps someone who hates pears will come along and deem the pear statue offensive as well. After all, mobs in Portland, Oregon set that city’s elk statue on fire, demonstrating that not even statues without political or ideological associations are safe.

Miranda ADEkoje, who is writing a play about Crispus Attucks, suggested that society “put these figures in a Museum of Painful History. What will we put back in place of these statues? Fill that space with a balm of equity and empowerment.”

I’m not sure what type of art this balm of equity and empowerment would be. But, as is often the case with people who advocate removing statues, this statement ignores the rights and feelings of people with opposing views. To those who like Robert E. Lee, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Christopher Columbus, the removal of these statues inflicts tremendous harm and pain. To take away something that people cherish, because it is disliked by whatever group happens to hold the most political power, is the opposite of equity and empowerment. No replacement could possibly be adequate to heal the wounds of those whose favorite statues have been torn down in the name of political correctness.

Limiting statues to those historical figures admired by everyone will result in no statues except, possibly, for a giant piece of fruit. And only allowing monuments to those historical figures approved of by the majority of people is no better. This will result in statues constantly being torn down and replaced and is unfair to those with minority views, who will be deprived of the chance to visit and admire statues of their favorite historical figures. Leave statues be, and add more if some groups are not adequately represented.

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues (part 2)

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote a column last month entitled “Statue-toppling, right and wrong,” in which he gave his opinions on how to determine which statues deserve to be taken down and which do not.

First of all, Jacoby is 100% right that decisions about statues should not be made by mobs who take the law into their own hands.

But unlike Jacoby, I don’t believe that these decisions should be made through the democratic process, either. Jacoby argues that decisions about which statues to remove should be made by people acting through their government. He suggests the following criteria to decide whether a statue should stay or go: “(1) Was that person honored for unworthy or indecent behavior? (2) Is that person known today primarily for unworthy or indecent behavior? When the answer to both is no, the statue or monument should stay.”

But different people will have vastly differing opinions on what constitutes unworthy or indecent behavior. Jacoby mentions Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi as people who deserve to be honored with statues according to his criteria. He considers Christopher Columbus to be somewhere in the middle. And when it comes to Confederate monuments, he writes:

“By that test, every memorial that glorifies leaders and generals of the Confederacy should be hauled away. The cause for which they struggled was the vilest cause in American history: the perpetuation of African slavery. They were extolled because they went to war in defense of human bondage. Monuments to such men should have no place in our public square.”

I completely disagree. In my view, the Confederacy went to war not in defense of human bondage but to form an independent country, while the Union fought to force people to remain part of the United States against their will. I consider the Union’s cause to be vile and the Confederate cause to be honorable and correct. The majority of people in the U.S. probably don’t share my views, and I don’t expect them to. What constitutes unworthy and indecent behavior is in the eye of the beholder. 

That is why decisions about which historical figures to honor should not be made through the democratic process. To make decisions this way is to treat the views of the majority (or the group that happens to hold the most influence over the political process) as more important than those of the minority. This is wrong. Just as the majority should not get to take away the rights of a minority, the majority should not get to deprive a minority of the statues and monuments they love and cherish. There are all sorts of different views about which actions are honorable and which are not, and therefore which people from history are worthy of admiration and which people are not. The government should not take a position one way or another on this issue, because to do so would be to discriminate against those who hold other views. The only thing that is fair and inclusive towards everyone is to have a wide variety of statues representing a wide variety of historical figures. That means that all statues that currently exist should stay exactly where they are. Any statues that have been destroyed by vandals should be repaired and restored, and any statues that have been removed should be put back. If it is determined that the existing collection of statues is lacking in racial, gender, or some other sort of diversity, then the solution is to add statues from underrepresented groups, not to remove existing ones.

“History’s verdict is not immutable, and society is entitled to change its mind about whom to celebrate,” Jacoby writes. But society as a whole is never going to agree on whom to celebrate. There are always going to be people (such as myself) who do not share the views of the majority, and it is not fair to us to give the majority the power to determine which statues are allowed to remain standing and which are not. I don’t think statues of Lincoln or Union generals should be taken down, even though I don’t think it was right of them to forcibly make the South remain part of the United States. By the same principle, those who believe the Confederacy fought for dishonorable reasons have no right to demand that monuments to Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson be taken down.

So no, not even people following the democratic process and acting through their government have the right to remove statues. All statues and monuments should stay. All of them. 

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues

As statues are unjustly being criticized and removed all across the country, there are various ideas for what should be done with those statues deemed unfit for public display.

For example, an article by Murray Whyte in last Sunday’s Boston Globe asks, “Toppled by a historical reckoning, should statues to our past be locked away or put on view elsewhere to decay in an act of public neglect?” The toppled monuments discussed in the article include not just statues of historical figures disliked by the politically-correct crowd, such as Confederate leaders and European explorers, but also works of art that depict minorities in ways that some people find offensive, such as the statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History in New York, flanked by a black man and a Native American man, a statue in Boston depicting a newly freed slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln, a statue of a Native American outside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and even Boston’s 54th Regiment Memorial, which honors the first African-American volunteer infantry unit in the Civil War (some people don’t like that it shows Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who was white, on horseback, with the rest of the soldiers marching on foot).

The most objectionable of the options mentioned in the article is to round up the unwanted statues and put them in a park where they will be left to decay. This is what happened in Lithuania and other eastern European countries as they gained independence from the Soviet Union and also in India after it won its independence from Britain. To leave beautiful, historic statues to gradually fall apart and rot is not a suitable option, in my opinion. This is disrespectful to the people depicted in the statues, as well as to the artists who painstakingly sculpted them. I would hope that even people who dislike certain statues would recognize that historical, irreplaceable works of art should not be left to be destroyed by the elements, with no one maintaining or taking care of them.

Another option discussed in the article is to give statues and other works of art to museums. This would at least allow the statues to be displayed and appreciated, although in a less prominent place than a city street or public park. Those who like the statues could still visit them, those who are interested in history could learn about them, and those who hate them could simply avoid the gallery where they are located. But it is unclear whether or not museums would be willing to accept statues that society considers undesirable. “Museums are not the dumpster for racist art,” said Jami Powell, associate curator of Indigenous art at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College. “It costs money to store and care for these things. Those are resources being taken from other opportunities.”

The possibility of adding explanatory signage, either while leaving the statues at their original sites or as part of moving them to museums, is also mentioned in the article. This signage can be physical or virtual. In Boston, for example, the Friends of the Public Garden have created an app that displays stories and information related to public monuments such as that of Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment. This organization has also installed interpretive signage near the monument while it is being restored (a planned restoration project by the way, not a result of vandalism by protesters).

The article also mentions the possibility of leaving statues in place, but building additional statues to provide balance. For example, a massive bronze statue of a black man wearing a hoodie and dreadlocks, in a heroic pose on horseback, was installed on Monument Ave in Richmond last year. “I think that the best thing to do is to respond to them with more statues,” its creator, Kehinde Wiley, said of the Confederate monuments that until recently dominated that street. “What I’m saying is, the answer to negative speech is more speech, positive speech.”

What struck me about this article is that the option of doing nothing and simply allowing the statues to exist is not even mentioned. It is assumed that the statues are bad. For example, Whyte characterizes the calls to take down statues as “necessary conversations.” When explaining that most statues that have been removed are currently in storage, he writes, “for now, it’s enough that the monuments are gone.” The possibility is not even mentioned that people might consider it a bad thing for the monuments to be gone; it is just assumed that making them gone is everyone’s goal. Nor is it acknowledged that to some people, Confederate monuments are not “negative speech” but positive! The article briefly mentions the lawsuit against the removal of Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue and the fact that defenders of such statues consider them to be heritage, but it derisively puts the word “heritage” in quotes. Efforts to halt statues’ removal are treated as impediments to achieving the desired outcome, not as actions taken by actual people with feelings, thoughts, and opinions who are trying to achieve their goal of preserving the statues.

Jami Powell, the museum curator, is quoted as saying: “I think that people have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen. There’s been this wave of support that I think demonstrates that public institutions don’t need to be fearful of doing the right thing.” Did it ever occur to her that to some people, removing magnificent statues is not the right thing, but the wrong thing? To say that people “have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen” presumes the truth of what Powell is trying to prove, namely that our society ought to get rid of all art that is not considered politically correct by today’s standards. But some people strongly disagree with this contention.

In my opinion, the best option is the one not acknowledged in the article: letting statues be, regardless of whether or not they meet the politically-correct crowd’s standards of acceptability. Let’s repair the statues that have been vandalized, put back those that have been taken down, and guard them to make sure no one harms them again. What is wrong with that? If governments insist on removing statues from from public streets and parks, which they should not, the statues should be relocated to places where they will be lovingly cared for and appreciated. This could mean a museum, a library, a cemetery, or a site owned by a private organization or individual. Adding more statues to increase racial and gender diversity is not a bad thing, but it is important to note that ideological diversity is equally important, if not more so. For this reason, the existence of Confederate statues is crucial. The ideology of authoritarianism and government power won in the Civil War and is dominant today in terms of public opinion and government policy, so it is particularly important for the sake of diversity to ensure that the values of rebelliousness and states’ rights are represented in our country’s public art.

One criticism of monuments in the article that I found particularly interesting is the fact that they are static as opposed to dynamic. In Whyte’s words, the problem with statues is “exactly their immutability in a world in constant flux.” Powell, the museum curator at Dartmouth, said, “that’s the thing about traditional monuments – they don’t really allow us that space for growth.” And another curator quoted in the article, Jen Mergel, expressed criticism of “single statements to last in perpetuity.” In my opinion, these things are precisely what make statues and monuments so awesome. Statues are supposed to be immutable and to last in perpetuity. They are not supposed to grow or change. When I look at a beautiful statue, I feel a connection to the past. Seeing magnificent monuments of generals, explorers, presidents, and other leaders makes me feel connected to these historical figures. The present is always changing, from clothing styles to music to social norms to government policies. The ideologies and values that are popular today are no more likely to be correct than those popular hundreds of years ago or those that will be popular hundreds of years in the future. That’s why it is so important to have some things in the world that do not change. It is a beautiful thing to know that no matter how much the world changes, monuments to heroes from long ago, wearing the clothing of their time periods and representing a wide variety of ideologies and values, will always be there. But now, because of some people’s intolerant actions, lovers of history both today and in the future will be deprived forever of the monuments that we cherish. To alter or obliterate statues in order to conform to the predominant values of the present completely defeats their purpose.

bookmark_borderStatues matter

All across the country and world, statues have been under attack. Statues of explorers, saints, Confederate leaders, founding fathers, generals, and pretty much any historical figure who does not meet today’s strict standards of political correctness. And occasionally statues that do not represent historical figures at all but were targeted for no apparent reason other than that someone wanted to destroy a statue. Sometimes, the attacks on statues are carried out by lawless mobs who spatter paint and graffiti all over them, tear them down, and/or set them on fire. Sometimes the attacks are carried out by state and local governments that hire work crews to remove them and put them in storage. Some of these anti-statue actions are more barbaric than others, but they are all morally wrong.

As someone who loves both history and art, I love statues. I love studying historical figures and learning cool facts about them. Statues are essentially the physical manifestation of historical figures in today’s world, and as such, I cherish them. I love to visit and photograph statues in my native Boston and everywhere I travel. Every statue represents a person who walked this earth at some point in time, a person with both positive and negative attributes. Each one is a beautiful work of art. In short, statues make the world a better place.

Like everyone in the world, I like and admire some historical figures more than others. Therefore, I like some statues more than others. I would never tear down, vandalize, or ask my local government to remove a statue depicting a historical figure I do not like, and I do not understand why so many people feel that they have the right to do this when it comes to the historical figures they do not like. Each person has his or her own opinions about what makes a historical figure admirable, or not admirable. Each person has his or her own ideas about which flaws are forgivable and which flaws make a historical figure unworthy of being celebrated or honored. What is so disturbing about the recent trend of vandalizing and removing statues is that it prioritizes one set of views above others. Those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum and those aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement are allowed to destroy statues that they dislike with relative impunity, and local officials are bending over backwards to remove any remaining offending statues that have somehow managed to escape destruction. The feelings, wishes, and opinions of those who like these statues are not taken into account at all. In other words, in today’s society, one group of people enjoys the ability to have its preferences with respect to historical figures and statues enacted into public policy, while the preferences of other people are completely ignored. To say that this is unjust is an understatement.

The mobs that destroy statues have been referred to as protesters, rioters, anarchists, and even domestic terrorists. Senator Ted Cruz called them the “American Taliban.” I don’t think any of these terms are harsh enough to fully convey how morally repugnant these attacks on statues are. The mentality of these excuses for human beings seems to be that only things that they personally like should be allowed to exist. Their goal seems to be to destroy for the sake of destroying, to obliterate everything that is beautiful or glorious, and to make the world as bad a place as possible. Those who destroy statues are bigots and bullies. They practice complete intolerance for anyone different from them. It would not be inaccurate to say that they have no souls.

Some people consider statues unimportant. They argue that statues are just stone or metal objects, and we should focus on protecting and improving people’s lives. They do not care one way or the other about whether the world and its cities and towns have beautiful statues. I do not feel this way. As someone on the autism spectrum, I tend to be drawn to inanimate objects more than to people. Because I love historical figures, I love statues. I have a visceral reaction when reading about or watching a video of the destruction of a statue, more than I do when reading about bad things happening to living people. Fighting back against the destruction of statues is incredibly important to me. Statues may not be necessary to have a functioning world. People can go about their daily lives and have their basic needs met without the existence of any statues in public spaces. But the world would be immeasurably worse. The feeling that I get when I see a statue of a brave general on a horse, or an explorer from a long-ago era, is difficult to put into words. The inherent value that statues and monuments bring to our public spaces is difficult to quantify or explain with logical reasoning, but that does not make it any less real.

Without a doubt, every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world is made worse. Every act of destruction against a statue is disgusting, disgraceful, dishonorable, repugnant, reprehensible, and any other negative adjective that can be imagined. Every news report of a statue being vandalized, torn down, or removed is painful and heartbreaking. The videos of workers removing the statues of Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and J.E.B. Stuart from Monument Avenue in Richmond. The images of graffiti covering the magnificent statue of Robert E. Lee. The Christopher Columbus statue in Boston, a statue that I walk past almost every day, with its head brutally knocked to the ground. The footage of mobs pulling down a Columbus statue in Baltimore, causing it to smash into pieces as it hit the ground. The Junipero Serra statue in San Francisco toppled, brutalized with a jackhammer, its hands severed. The statue of philanthropist Edward Colston in Bristol, England being dragged through the streets and thrown into the harbor. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson splattered with red paint. The iconic elk statue in Portland (yes, an elk) set on fire.

I could keep listing examples until this blog post became as long as a novel, but the bottom line is that actions like these are among the most morally wrong things someone could do. Therefore, they need to be punished severely. Police departments need to prioritize arresting those who vandalize statues, and district attorneys need to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Laws should be changed to make punishments harsher; life in prison is not an excessive punishment, in my opinion. At the absolute least, cities and towns should never, ever take down statues that have been the targets of vandalism. This condones vandalism and rewards its perpetrators. Every statue that is vandalized needs to be repaired and then guarded around the clock. In some cases it will be impossible to catch the culprits who destroy statues – sometimes these acts take place in the middle of the night with no witnesses or cameras nearby – but restoring and protecting the vandalized statues punishes the culprits without even needing to know their identities. Even better, whenever a statue is vandalized, local governments should build ten more statues of the same historical figure. A message needs to be sent that intentionally damaging statues is unacceptable. Those who do this cannot be allowed to win under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, contrary to what is depicted in the above picture, statues cannot defend themselves. It is up to governments and if needed, private citizens, to protect them. One of the few pieces of good news that has happened in the world recently is that unlike most mayors and governors, President Trump is taking a stand in defense of statues. On June 26, he signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice to enforce federal laws that authorize up to 10 years in prison for anyone who vandalizes a statue or monument on federal property. On July 3, during his speech at Mt. Rushmore, he condemned the “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.” And on the same date, he signed another executive order creating a task force for building and rebuilding monuments and ordering the creation of a national statue park. It is for this reason that unless something drastically changes between now and November, I will vote for Trump. This will be the first time that I have not voted for a third-party candidate. I have considered the Libertarian Party to be the party that comes closest to matching my beliefs, and I agree with its presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, on most issues. However, Jorgensen has not, as far as I know, expressed any outrage about the destruction of statues. The statue issue is so important to me that I will support the candidate who most agrees with me on this topic, and right now that’s Trump.

People around the world need to take a stand against the destruction of and removal of statues. Enough is enough. Every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world becomes a worse place. No statue should ever be removed, unless for the purpose of replacing it with an even more magnificent statue of the same historical figure. If there are concerns about the racial and gender diversity of statues, the way to address those concerns is to build additional statues, not to take down existing ones.

Statues matter. All statues.