Birmingham protests turn violent

Confederate monuments destroyed, businesses damaged

Edited - 6-1-20 8:12 a.m. - Corrected the spelling of Linn Park.

BIRMINGHAM - What began as a peaceful rally at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham quickly escalated into a full blown riot on Sunday night.

By the end of the night and into early Monday morning, one Confederate statue in Linn Park had been completely destroyed, the central monument was heavily defaced and multiple buildings were damaged in downtown.

Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin said early Monday morning that while he sympathizes with people's emotions, destroying their own communities is not the way to handle things.

“Many of you have a right to be angry right now,” he said. “You have a right to be sad. You have a right to demand that policing be better, not only in Minneapolis, but in Birmingham and in the nation. You don't have the right to walk around busting windows, setting things on fire, looting, taking things that don't belong to you. That makes you a hijacker of a peaceful rally. Those types of people aren't welcome in the city of Birmingham.”

The day began when, for the second consecutive day, the city of Birmingham hosted a rally in response to the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white cop in Minneapolis last week. Speakers at the rally included U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D), Birmingham City Council members, local church leaders and celebrities.

One of the celebrities that spoke was comedian Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson, best known for his Alabama football videos on YouTube.

“Too many times we say 'black lives matter,' they say 'all lives matter,'” he said during the rally at Kelly Ingram Park. “We say 'hold the police accountable' and they say 'all police ain't bad.' It ain't always about all, sometimes it's about enough.

“We have enough bad police. We have enough white people upholding white supremacy. You don't need all the points to win a football game, you just need enough.”

Johnson spoke of the history of Birmingham and its lack of a role in the Civil War.

“It served no purpose in the Civil War,” he said. “They didn't fight here. They didn't march here. They didn't do nothing on this land in the civil war. And yet for some reason, three blocks over at Linn Park, we've got a Confederate statue sitting in the middle of our city to remind us 'to stay in your damn place.”

Johnson, saying what he was not allowed to say, said he was not telling people to march over to Linn Park and tear them down.

By 7:30, many of the protestors had migrated to Linn Park, where Johnson emphasized that those involved to not touch anything other than the Confederate statues, but to “bring them down.”

Protestors spent several hours defacing and trying to take down the large, central monument at Linn Park while Birmingham police stood across the street for a time. One statue of a Confederate naval captain was taken down and destroyed.

After several failed attempts to bring down the central monument, Woodfin came and spoke to the protestors, asking them to stand down from their attempts.

“I'm asking you to disengage from the statue,” he said, “and let me finish the job for you.”

Woodfin asked the protestors to give him 24 hours to have the monument removed. While some, Johnson included, were satisfied with that for the time being, many were not and continued their efforts.

As Birmingham police began to try and clear the area, the protestors turned violent, setting one statue on fire and throwing rocks through the windows at the Birmingham Public Library. They were dispersed from the park, but moved to 6th Ave N and proceeded to bust out windows of multiple businesses along the way, including Wells Fargo and Alabama Power offices in downtown.

“Martin Luther King tried talking,” one protestor was overheard saying. “We're tired of talking.”

The protestors at times turned their violence toward media members, including the CBS 42 and AL.Com's news crews. ABC 33/40's Stephen Quinn was attacked and robbed. The Daily Mountain Eagle and CBS 42's reporters were chased by the mob of protestors down the street.

It is another in a string of protests around the country that turned violent in the wake of the murder of Floyd. The police officer that kneeled on his neck for several minutes as Floyd pleaded, saying “I can't breathe,” was arrested last week in Minneapolis and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.