SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – For nearly 30 years, the statue of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. stood across the street from the State Capitol. But now, the pedestal remains empty.
The 24-year-old suspect Fernando Garcia was arrested Monday and charged with one count of criminal damage to state property. Garcia appeared in court Tuesday; his bond is set at $50,000.
“It’s terrible,” State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said. “I think we put these statues up for a reason: to honor significant people in the history of our state and our country. Somebody like MLK Jr. obviously had a significant impact on our country [and] a significant impact on Illinois.”
The damage to the statue has renewed a conversation about getting a new statue and finding it a new home, one that would better honor King’s legacy.
“I’d like to see it over on … 2nd [Street] and Monroe [Street], because that’s where he gave a very famous speech in the 60s, at the armory and I think that’d be a great location to honor not just him, but the speech that he gave as well,” Butler said.
Black Lives Matter Springfield co-founder and co-president Sunshine Clemons supports the idea of a new statue and said the statue is hardly noticeable at its current location at the corner of 2nd Street and Capitol Avenue.
“Sometimes, especially with a large tree over, you can drive past this corner and not even notice it even though it’s right here on the corner,” Clemons said. “So I do think something that is a little more prominent would be nice.”
For this reason, Secretary of State Jesse White and a bipartisan group of lawmakers called for a new statue last year.
Butler, who also serves as the minority spokesperson for the House Statue and Monument Review Task Force, said money needs to be raised towards building a new statue but believes public funds shouldn’t be used towards building it.
“I think we should raise private money for it,” Butler said. “I think that would be the best avenue for it.”
In addition to funding, Butler said a better process is needed to memorialize historical figures including Martin Luther King Jr., one that would involve input from the public as well as experts with knowledge on the matter.
“I think we could have a larger process that sets out some goals on how you memorialize someone on the grounds that could be very robust, and really give a more open, transparent process with people as to how we would do this,” Butler said.
While it’s unclear if a new statue will come, Clemons believes more can be done to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.
“We need racial healing, racial equity, there’s so much more,” Clemons said. “All the messages that Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.] fought for, we’re still fighting for now. So the best way to honor his legacy is to do what he was fighting for and to come together as a community.”
For now, the statue is in the Secretary of State’s warehouse where experts are assessing the damage and how much it will cost to repair it.