Over the summer, Confederate monuments and graves were desecrated across the South. In July, Confederate monuments located in cemeteries Reidsville, NC and Durham, NC were vandalized with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” The tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC reignited a debate surrounding the prominent presence of the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy around the South. Many frustrated individuals took their anger – about the Emanuel AME Church shooting and the deaths of numerous African American individuals at the hands of police across the country – out on these symbols.
Vandalism in cemeteries raises interesting questions about our reverence for the dead and our outrage at their disturbance. A simple Google search regarding cemetery vandalism turns up countless headlines with tags like “community outrage” and “family outrage.” Our society recognizes that the dead possess a “right” to rest in peace. The families do not deserve the emotional trauma brought on by such vandalism. Grave desecration and vandalism are normally senseless acts that make us wonder why anyone would damage memorials to the dead. Most states have criminal statutes dealing with vandalism and desecration in cemeteries. In June 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted House Bill 552, which added a new section to North Carolina’s criminal statutes making it an offense to deface any real property “including cemetery tombstones and monuments” with graffiti vandalism. First time offenders would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor; repeat offenders meeting certain conditions laid out in the statute, however, could be charged with a Class H felony. This statute makes graffiti vandalism a separate offense from other acts of desecration and vandalism.
But does our view on respecting peaceful repose change depending on whose grave is being vandalized and the purpose behind the vandalism? Do the graves and monuments of the Confederacy deserve less respect than others, simply because of their decision to fight on the side of the South? Do the vandals separate the graves of the dead from the monuments that create a present reminder of slavery and oppression in the antebellum South? Grave desecration and vandalism of cemeteries is not an appropriate way to get a message across. The burden of clean-up falls on the community and the cemetery, causing more harm than good.