For many of us, the spasm of vandalism of public art and history has been painful to watch as mobs destroy a vast array of statues around the world, including such bizarre anti-racism vandalism like defacing Abraham Lincoln’s statue in London. The arrest of Derrick Garforth in Rhode Island is particularly disturbing after he allegedly vandalized a statue of Columbus. Garforth is a social science teacher in Middle School who teaches history but sought to destroy a historical monument. It is a powerful lesson for his students but not one that you would expect from a history or social science teacher.
I have long opposed the sweeping efforts to dismantle or destroy historical monuments and statues. (Here and here and here and here and here and here and here) While I recognize that there are some statues that should be removed, my primary objection is to the lack of a public debate over how we should address these calls. Instead, mobs have been destroying or defacing statues.
Arrested with Garforth, 34, were Charlotte Whittingham, 28, and Mackenzie Innis, 26.
What has been chilling is the role of teachers like Erin Thompson, a professor of “art crime” at the City University of New York’s John Jay College. Thompson actively advised how to best destroy art in a tweet thread.
According to news reports, Garforth was charged with felony desecration of a grave or monument over the vandalizing of a statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence, Rhode Island. Police say that Garforth and two others ran after police spotted them splattering the statue with paint.
The question is how the middle school will respond. We have often discussed how schools have react in vastly different ways if they agree with a teacher’s criminal actions. For example, universities continue to honor Feminist Studies Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young with pro-life advocates on campus. Miller-Young led her students in attacking the pro-life display, stealing their display, and then committing battery on one of the young women. Thrin Short, 16, and her sister Joan, 21, filed complaints and Miller-Young was charged with criminal conduct including Theft From Person; Battery; and Vandalism. Miller-Young was convicted and sentenced for assault. She was not fired for her assault and instead she was supported by faculty and students including some who insisted that she was “triggered” by the pro-life activists. Some called pro-life activists as effectively terrorists.
Rhode Island General Law requires that anyone hired directly by the private school or public school department, contractual employees of the private school or public school department, and those individuals, who may have direct or unmonitored contact with children or students, must undergo a state criminal background check. Under the statute, the state criminal background check is valid for one year. However, state law confines “Disqualifying information” to those “offenses listed in §§ 23-17-37, 11-37-8.1, 11-37-8.3, 11-9-1(b), 11-9-1(c), 11-9-1.3.”
It is not clear that destruction of public property is a de facto disqualifying crime. The second provision, 11-37-8.1, involves sexual assault and the third provision, 11-37-8.3, is attempted sexual assault. Section 11-9-1(b) and 11-9-1-13 concern child pornography.
The first provision, 23-17-37, actually deals with health care facilities but give a list of offense:
§ 23-17-37. Disqualifying information.
(a) Information produced by a national criminal records check pertaining to conviction for the following crimes will result in a letter to the employee and employer disqualifying the applicant from employment: murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, first-degree sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, third-degree sexual assault, assault on persons sixty (60) years of age or older, assault with intent to commit specified felonies (murder, robbery, rape, burglary, or the abominable and detestable crime against nature) felony assault, patient abuse, neglect or mistreatment of patients, burglary, first-degree arson, robbery, felony drug offenses, felony larceny, or felony banking law violations, felony obtaining money under false pretenses, felony embezzlement, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation of adults with severe impairments, exploitation of elders, or a crime under section 1128(a) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7(a)). An employee against whom disqualifying information has been found may provide a copy of the national criminal records check to the employer who shall make a judgment regarding the continued employment of the employee. An employee against whom disqualifying information has been found may provide a copy of the national criminal records check to the employer who shall make a judgment regarding the continued employment of the employee.
So what does Jenks Middle School do now that Garforth has been placed on leave pending an investigation? This is not just a criminal act but a lesson to children that they should destroy symbols and art that they oppose. I expect many will come to support his case but it is the very definition of mob action. It is the rejection of intellectual discourse and debate that defines education. He is a social science teacher who wants to destroy monuments and art so that others cannot enjoy them, or reach their own conclusions on its merits of their worth. Unlike our prior discussion of social media and blog controversies, this is a case involving conduct not speech.