UPDATED — Protestors who gathered for a demonstration in Linn Park on Sunday night defaced monuments in the park and, as they left, smashed windows and vandalized buildings along downtown streets and set several fires.
Police, who had taken a hands-off stance even as the protestors defaced monuments in Linn Park, moved in after the crowd began its destructive trek through downtown. It was unclear after midnight how many people were still downtown or the extent of the damage.
Several hundred demonstrators had gone to Linn Park after an earlier, peaceful protest in Kelly Ingram Park. Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson, a local comedian, during the first rally had told the crowd he was going to Linn Park to topple the Confederate monument there. That’s what the crowd attempted to do, using a truck and chains. That was after they had defaced it by spray painting messages and taking out chunks with implements such as shovels. But the monument still stood.
Protestors did manage to topple a statue of Charles Linn, for whom the park and the Linn-Henley Research Library are named. Two other military monuments in the park also were defaced.
As the crowd became more rowdy, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin arrived and asked people to peacefully disperse, but the crowd shouted him down.
Woodfin talked with Johnson and Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, who also was leading the protest, Johnson asked people to disperse and the mayor asked the crowd to give the city 24 hours to remove the monument itself.
Taking down that monument could be tricky since the state has a law banning the removal of historic monuments. The city of Birmingham erected a plywood wall around the Confederate monument to obscure the plaques on it in 2017, effectively challenging that state law. The state attorney general sued. Last year, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the law, and later the city was fined $25,000.
The crowd had to rip down that plywood before attacking it.
Police presence was sparse in Linn Park. Police erected barriers at corners around the park but were not interfering with the protest, which grew to about 500 people. Johnson called on people to attack the statue but warned them not to attack or vandalize buildings around the park.
After Johnson talked with Woodfin and asked protestors to begin dispersing, they did so slowly. It was as they walked along downtown streets that they turned violent. Fox6 News broadcast live video of people in the crowd smashing windows of the Wells Fargo building, the Harbert Center and other buildings. It showed people looting the Alabama Power Co. museum and setting fire to buildings at and near the People’s Bank. The Chick-fil-A building on 5th Avenue North appeared to be damaged and the sprinkler system was gushing in the nearby Zoe’s Kitchen.
Protests have been raging every night across the country since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis on Monday. There have been several demonstrations in Birmingham, but Sunday night was the first time protestors turned violent.
A protest in Hoover Sunday resulted in several arrests, as did one held there Saturday.