Two groups of dueling protesters in St. Louis, Mo., got into a heated debate over the weekend over whether to remove a statue of the city’s namesake.
A crowd of around 200 people gathered Saturday near the “Apotheosis of St. Louis,” the formal name for the bust of King Louis IX of France, which sits atop a hill in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“He’s gonna come down,” said protester Umar Lee. “This guy right here represents hate and we’re trying to create a city of love. We’re trying to create a city where Black lives matter. We’re trying to create a city where there is no antisemitism or Islamophobia … this is not a symbol of our city in 2020.”
Protesters claimed Louis IX held anti-Semitic views and was an Islamophobe. During his reign in the 1200s, he launched two crusades against Muslims, ordered the burning of manuscripts of the Talmud, a sacred Jewish text, and issued orders to expel Jewish subjects, The Times of Israel reported.
Catholics at Saturday’s gathering prayed at the foot of the statue while defending the French ruler.
“We’re here praying for peace, we truly are,” Daniel Koehler told the newspaper. “Christianity has lots of roots in America. What’s wrong with naming the city after a saint?”
Another supporter stepped onto the base to pray and sing religious songs.
“I think he symbolizes deep faith and convictions,” said Maria Miloscia. “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.”
In a series of tweets, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis explained why the Catholic Church canonized Louis IX, citing his work with the poor and sick and his reforms, which were focused on “impartial justice” and “protecting the rights of his subjects.”
The debate over the statue comes as protesters across the world target monuments and memorials of historical figures with racist pasts.
Protest organizer Moji Sidiqi of the Regional Muslim Action Network said the city should be renamed to reflect its racial, ethnic and religious diversity.
“It’s a revolution,” she told the Post-Dispatch. “It’s time for change … right now, our number one 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.”