In St. Louis, Missouri, there’s a growing movement to tear down a statue of King Louis IX of France — a monument that’s stood in Forest Park for more than 100 years. And over the weekend, things turned violent.
A group of Black Lives Matter protesters held a rally at the base of the years-old statue on Saturday, calling for its removal, something with which St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson (D) disagrees, according to KMOV-TV.
Umar Lee, the organizer of the Black Lives Matter rally, told the local news outlet Louis IX “was anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and an anti-black crusader,” adding, “He does not need to be on public property overlooking our city.”
Lee also helped start a petition calling for the statue’s removal as well as the renaming of the city of St. Louis. According to the petition, the name is a sign of “outright disrespect” to Jewish and Muslim communities.
Moji Sidiqi of the Regional Muslim Action Network described what’s happening as more than a flash in the pan. Speaking to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she called the ongoing turmoil and uprising “a revolution.”
“Right now,” she explained, “our No. 1 mission is to take this thing down and sit down with people who want to see positive change take place and continue to heal our country.”
During the rally, a group of Catholic people gathered around the monument to pray for peace, to protect the statue, and to clean up any damage done to the memorial.
One woman named Beverly told KMOV-TV the statue is “a religious symbol of everything I hold dear,” calling Louis IX a “citizen of heaven.”
Conor Martin, who said he arrived at Forest Park before sunrise, asked Black Lives Matter protesters not to write at the base of the statue out of respect for Louis IX “and they did it anyway.” Once they left, he began cleaning it up.
Daniel Koehler, who was with the Catholic group, told the Post-Dispatch he and those with him were on the park grounds “praying for peace.”
“Christianity has lots of roots in America,” he told the newspaper. “What’s wrong with naming the city after a saint?”
None of these actions were greeted well by those attending the Black Lives Matter rally. According to videos posted Martin, toward the end of the rally, some protesters began attacking the group of Catholic people.
Martin said he and other Catholics gathered around the statue “were peacefully praying” and “did nothing in retaliation” when agitators began physically assaulting them.
“We allowed them to spit on us, call us names, put their fingers in our faces, push us, and antagonize,” he claimed. “But we did not retaliate. We continued to peacefully pray.”
Based on the photos and Martin’s description, it appears as if rioters targeted an elderly man. Martin said they “poured an unidentified liquid” on him.
As all this was going on, one Catholic woman, 25-year-old Maria Miloscia, stepped onto the base of the statue of Louis IX and began quietly praying and singing hymns for about an hour. To her, the statue of the former king of France represents her faith. She also fears defacing and destroying public property could easily devolve into even more property damage as well as harm toward other people.
“I think he symbolizes deep faith and convictions,” Miloscia said of the monument. “I stand for him. And I stand for those Catholic virtues and those Catholic values that I think are important, like courage, faith, and love. But ultimately, I’m here for Christ the King.”
As for Martin, he tweeted Sunday he “will be pressing charges against the attackers.”
Missouri state Rep. Nick Schroer (R) called on St. Louis officials and the police department to “prosecute these criminals,” writing, “This is not peaceful protesting; it’s a criminal attack … upon peaceful protesters. This must not happen in our country and they must be held accountable.”