Race of culprits in Confederate monument defacing surprises some

Monday, December 17, 2007
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – When vandals sprayed black paint on the faces and hands of statues on the Capitol’s Confederate monument and left a reference to a rebellious slave’s hanging, many assumed it was the work of blacks looking to make a statement.

But the apprehension of three white 17-year-olds raised questions Monday about the motive and whether they should be charged with a hate crime as originally proposed.

“Well, I was dead wrong in my perception that they were black,” said John Napier, a historian and former member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“The fact that they were (white) makes it even more less forgivable because it enabled people to jump to false conclusions,” he said.

The memorial, built on a cornerstone that was laid by Confederate president Jefferson Davis in 1886, features four granite soldiers representing the cavalry, infantry, artillery and navy. Capitol police say the teens hopped over a waist-high fence bordering the monument sometime during the Nov. 11 weekend and painted the hands and faces black.

The letters and numbers “N.T. 11 11 31” were also written in black paint on the monument’s limestone base, an apparent reference to slave Nat Turner who was hanged on November 11, 1831 for starting a bloody rebellion. November 11, 2007 was the 176th anniversary of Turner’s death.

State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, a veteran black politician, said he wasn’t one of those caught off guard by the suspects’ race, but was pleasantly surprised at their swift capture.

“I could have betted $100 million that they weren’t black. Black people don’t do things like that,” he said. “I knew they were white and they were educated whites because of the Nat Turner reference.”

Given the apparent Turner reference, some had thought the culprits would be older – perhaps college students wanting to make a point against the Confederacy – but their motivation is anybody’s guess, said Leonard Wilson, division commander of the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Wilson, whose group provided police with a tip that lead to the teens being caught, said he hadn’t expected the vandals to be white, but he wasn’t shocked they were.

“I tend not to be surprised at anything in this day and time,” he said.

“I haven’t tried to analyze that little scribbling they did. If indeed that was a reference to Nat Turner, it seems quite strange that high school students would know about that and not about their own history,” Wilson said. “There might be some left-wing bozo they’ve been teaching history with.”

Wilson’s group offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the responsible parties and asked for the vandalism to be investigated as a hate crime, though Wilson said Monday that wasn’t a priortiy anymore.

“We mentioned in our press release we think this ought to be investigated as a hate crime, but I sort of said that tounge-in-cheek. Of course every crime has an element of hate in it,” he said, adding that a hate crime designation might carry more weight if the suspects were black.

The 17-year-old suspects’ names have not been released because of their age. They have been charged with 1st degree criminal mischief and were not taken into custody, said Mark Whitaker with they Alabama Department of Public Safety.

Whitaker said the department has not been contacted by any attorneys who might be representing the teens and would not discuss possible motives, saying it was too early to do so.

Napier said there might be a silver lining in the incident and “maybe there is hope for historians after all.”

“That they knew about Nat Turner and the day of his death, that remains the surprising thing,” he said. “They must have learned something in school even though they applied it rather poorly.”

Copyright Associated Press

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