UNC professor: Statue vandalism law Trump cites may not cover Confederate monuments

Orange County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – On Tuesday, President Donald Trump threatened arrest for anyone who damages a federal monument.

His tweet comes after protesters tried to topple a statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C. Monday night.

Trump tweeted he “authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent.”

The president went on to tweet “this action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!”

“It’s already a law. Prosecutors already have the option of using it. It’s not clear the president needed to authorize it,” said UNC law professor Rick Su.

Su said the law Trump cites only pertains to federal statues that commemorate someone’s service in the armed forces in the United States.

“This does raise a question about whether Confederate statues really fall into that. They were serving in armed forces, but not in the United States. That was the point of the Civil War,” Su said.

The law also do not apply to vandalism of the federal building on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh on May 30. However, according to Su, other laws could be applied.

“There are a lot of laws about vandalism, about trespass on government property, desecration on government property, vandalism of government property, both federal and state. Although Trump is invoking this particular statute, there is already a lot of laws that would criminalize that behavior,” Su said.

According to State Capitol Police, 27-year-old Conrad James is charged with felony inciting a riot that led to damage done to two monuments Friday night.

James, along with James Sebastian Storelli and two others, incited a riot that led to the statues being damaged, warrants said. Storelli, 28, of Raleigh was arrested June 19 amid the protest and is charged with trespassing.

Su said state and local prosecutors look at the severity of the damage, and the context when deciding whether or not to charge some with this crime.

“It’s certainly a very different situation than someone on their own deciding to vandalize something for fun because this seems to be connected to a political moment,” he said.

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