Man charged with felony for toppling MLK statue near Illinois Capitol

Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 5:04 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - A 24-year-old man is being held on a $50,000 bond for reportedly vandalizing the Martin Luther King Jr. statue across the street from the Illinois Capitol. Fernando Garcia Martinez is charged with one count of felony criminal damage to state government property.

Garcia Martinez allegedly toppled the statue around 11 p.m. Sunday, according to a spokesman from the Secretary of State’s office. Dave Druker explained Secretary of State Police found the statue on the ground at approximately 3:15 a.m. Monday.

People frequently come to Freedom Corner to sit on the benches and honor the civil rights leader. However, the 300-pound MLK statue is now in a warehouse for experts to evaluate the damage and possible repairs needed after the incident.

Druker said the office doesn’t know of a motive behind the vandalism. Still, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling the incident malicious.

“No matter what your political views are, we shouldn’t be vandalizing memorials to obviously significant people in our country,” said Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield). “Someone like Martin Luther King Jr. certainly does not, his pedigree does not allow him to be disgraced like he was here.”

House Deputy Majority Leader Mary Flowers is also disappointed that anyone would destroy a statue of the powerful leader.

“That pedestal that’s empty can really reflect an emptiness that a lot of us are experiencing right now for various reasons in regards to our civil rights, in regards to education, in regards to jobs and protection,” Flowers said.

The statue at Freedom Corner has come under scrutiny over the past few years for not properly depicting MLK. Many lawmakers and advocates want a new statue made with a more prominent role near the statehouse.

Flowers wishes this didn’t happen, but she is glad people are renewing the conversation about having a new MLK statue at the Capitol. She plans to work with Butler to have an appropriations bill called during veto session to allow anyone to donate money for future statues and monuments. Flowers noted that her bill was drafted by her close friend, Secretary of State Jesse White.

“I’m sure Secretary White may have mixed emotions about this situation. We are all very upset that this young man vandalized the statue of such a historic figure,” Flowers said. “But, Secretary White wanted another statue up there. He didn’t think the statue was really reflective of the Martin Luther King that was his minister. He knew Martin Luther King probably better than all of us.”

White has been very active in conversations with the House Statue and Monument Review Task Force. The 86-year-old announced in May of 2021 that he would personally put $5,000 towards a fund investing in a new MLK statue. White met King while playing basketball at Alabama State University. White also went to Rev. King’s church and participated in the Montgomery bus boycott with Rosa Parks.

The statue of Martin Luther King Jr that stood at Freedom Corner in Springfield, Illinois.
The statue of Martin Luther King Jr that stood at Freedom Corner in Springfield, Illinois.(Mike Miletich)

“I’ve seen Dr. King 75 times, close to a hundred times,” White said on June 9, 2021. “And that didn’t look like him. This gentleman had his coat slung over his shoulder and he looked like a sharecropper. Dr. King never looked like that. He always was a dapper fella, always had a suit and tie on.”

Butler said Sunday night’s incident is another reminder that lawmakers need to protect the statues and monuments outside and inside the Capitol Complex. He admitted that the state can’t have people outside guarding statues 24 hours a day. Butler feels a lot of the responsibility should be on people doing the right thing.

“People should have common sense and not damage these statues. I think there’s probably some measures that you could take to make sure that people are not vandalizing them. Having videos and photos is certainly helpful,” Butler said. “And it was helpful in this case.”

The Secretary of State’s office used video from the Illinois Library and the Capitol building to see how the statue was vandalized. The video also helped identify Garcia Martinez. Druker explained that video will not be released to the press as prosecutors are using it as evidence for the court case. Meanwhile, Druker said White’s team is still trying to figure out how much repairs will cost and whether the original statue can even be put back up.

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