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Can I Be Arrested For Pulling Down Statues?

Can I be arrested for pulling down statues?
By Ashley Ravid | Last updated on

As protesters pull down statues across the world, many people are wondering about the legal consequences of removing these monuments. The likelihood of being charged with a crime for taking part in removing statues depends on the case, but the short answer is that you can be arrested and charged with a crime for removing statues or otherwise defacing them.

What Could I Be Charged With?

Depending on the exact circumstances of the situation, the charges for defacing and removing statues can vary.

Two protesters in New Orleans were recently charged with inciting a riot, possession of stolen property, and theft under $1,000, among other things. They allegedly took part in a protest which removed a statue of a slave owner and were the drivers who took it to be dumped into the Mississippi River. Both demonstrators were released without bail the day after the incident.

In Miami, seven people were arrested after demonstrators spray-painted statues of Juan Ponce de León and Christopher Columbus. They were identified through the use of surveillance footage and charged with various crimes, including inciting a riot, resisting police, and assaulting a police officer after the protest allegedly turned violent when arrests began.

Others who were uninvolved in actually removing or defacing statues were arrested as well. The president and vice president of the Portsmouth, Virginia, NAACP, as well as another chapter's vice president, were detained and charged with trespassing before they even attempted to remove a nearby Confederate monument. They say that their permission to demonstrate peacefully by the statue was suddenly revoked before their arrest.

There are a variety of charges that protesters involved with advocating for the removal of a statue or removing it themselves can face. Your degree of involvement in the action can change, but not guarantee, the likelihood of your arrest. For example, being one of the main actors in removing or dumping a statue may mean you are more likely to be arrested than a spectator to the removal.

What You Can Do Before You Go

If you are attending a protest in which a statue or monument may be damaged, there may be things you can do to mitigate the chance of your arrest. You could:

  • Obtain permission from local authorities for the demonstration
  • Petition local authorities for the removal of the monument
  • Know your rights before you go, as well as how to assert them if you are arrested 
  • Research a local lawyer to call in case you are arrested

If you or someone you know has been arrested at a protest, a lawyer can help you defend against the charges.

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