Police fired chemical agents to clear Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., Monday night after protesters attempted and failed to pull down a huge statue of Andrew Jackson located there.
The famous statue of the seventh president on a rearing horse sits opposite the North Portico of the White House. The park has been the scene of anti-racist protests since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Protesters removed a chain link fence which had recently been placed around the statue and climbed its base to tie ropes around the neck of Jackson and his horse, according to The Associated Press. Efforts to pull the statue off its pedestal were unsuccessful.
Jackson’s likeness is the latest statue of a historic figure associated with racism to be targeted by protesters. A Tennessee slaveholder, President Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act in 1830 which led to the expulsion of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River. The Cherokees’ forced march to Oklahoma, during which thousands died, became known as the Trail of Tears.
Jackson, known as a populist and the first president who did not come from the nation’s East Coast elite, is a favorite of President Trump, who has Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office. In a tweet, the president called attempts to pull down the statue “disgraceful vandalism” and said “numerous” arrests had been made.
According to the AP, the incident began around dusk as scores of protesters, many wearing masks because of the coronavirus, surrounded the statue. “Killer scum” was spray-painted on the monument’s pedestal.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters attempting to pull the statue off its pedestal with ropes and police pushing protesters out of Lafayette Square.
Dozens of officers, led by U.S. Park Police, cleared the square swinging batons and firing chemical agents, according to the AP.
NPR’s Tim Mak reports from the scene that officers pushed protesters back to H St. N.W., close to St. John’s Church to the north of Lafayette Square. Mak described the crowd as peaceful and jubilant, with pop music playing into the night.
Last week, protesters toppled the statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike, the only public statue of a Confederate figure in Washington, D.C. There are a dozen statues of Confederate figures inside the U.S. Capitol, placed there by Southern states. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for their removal.