BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) — Alabama’s attorney general sued the city of Birmingham on Tuesday, demanding that it pay a fine of $25,000 for tearing down a 115-year-old obelisk dedicated to Confederate soldiers.
Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, told Birmingham’s mayor on Monday that he was duty-bound to enforce a state law that prohibits the removal of any monument older than 40 years old.
Like many cities across the nation, Birmingham has seen protests over the death of George Floyd. A proclamation by Mayor Randall Woodfin declaring a state of emergency on Monday said a Sunday protest held in the park in which the Confederate monument sat morphed into unrest that resulted in 13 damaged businesses, 22 fires and 24 arrests.
Before Birmingham removed the monument, protesters tried to remove the 42-foot marble shaft themselves and Woodfin said the cost of paying the fine outweighed the cost of continued unrest.
“The Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument … was completed and dedicated in 1905 as a memorial to soldiers and sailors who died in the Civil War in what is now Charles Linn Park in the City of Birmingham. The Linn Park monument was over one hundred years old and of independent historical and cultural significance,” the attorney general’s 5-page complaint states.
Assistant Attorney General Brad Chynoweth filed the complaint in Jefferson County Circuit Court Tuesday at 5:19 p.m. It asks the court to declare that the city violated the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act by removing the monument and to impose the $25,000 fine.
The City of Birmingham did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is not the first time the city — founded years after the Civil War and whose churches and streets were sites of some of the most pivotal moments of the Civil Rights movement — squared off with the Alabama attorney general over the monument.
In August 2017, months after the state passed the law prohibiting the removal of old monuments, the attorney general sued the city because it placed a black, plywood screen around the monument. Initially, the Jefferson County Court sided with the city, saying the law on monuments violated the city’s right to free speech. But the cause was lost at the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled in November 2019 that the city was a political subdivision of the state and was subject to the law.
“However, the Court held that any violation of the Act was punishable only by a one-time fine of $25,000 per violation. Though legislation was filed in the 2020 session seeking to amend the penalties provision of the Act in response to the Court’s ruling, that legislation failed to become law,” Marshall said in a statement.
By Tuesday evening, a GoFundMe campaign started by a group called White Clergy for Black Lives Matter to pay the fine and remove the monument had garnered more than $60,000 in donations.
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