San Antonio police were investigating an incident of vandalism at the Alamo Cenotaph, where someone used red spray paint to scrawl messages condemning “white supremacy,” “profit over people,” and “the Alamo” on the base of the monument.
The San Antonio Police Department arrested a 25-year-old male suspect Friday in connection to another tagging incident nearby. The Cenotaph vandalism is believed to have occurred late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
“At this time, SAPD does suspect that this individual is involved in other incidents and we are actively investigating each case,” an SAPD spokeswoman said in an email.
No witnesses were found, according to preliminary information provided by SAPD.
“Right now, we’re obviously disappointed but we’re going to focus on making sure that we restore and repair whatever damage is done,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who chairs the Alamo Management Committee.
A state conservator has been alerted to the vandalism, and preservation experts will be involved in the careful restoration process, Treviño said. “It’s not something you can just spray-wash off.”
While the bulk of the Cenotaph is granite, the base is white marble, Treviño said, which is more porous, “softer, and grainy.” Nevertheless, he’s “confident that it will be restored.”
A section of large, white paper secured with blue tape now covers the graffiti on the Cenotaph’s base.
The motive behind the message of the perpetrator was unclear, but the graffiti comes the same week protests and riots around the U.S. took place in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee on the neck of Floyd as he lay on the ground in handcuffs.
The Cenotaph and its planned relocation have been the focus of controversy over a multimillion redevelopment plan of Alamo Plaza. One of the goals of the plan is to bring a broader historical context to the site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo.
“The overall point of the Alamo Master Plan has been to make it a place of healing, to be a place that helps to provide more clarity and understanding of history,” Treviño said.
The Cenotaph, constructed in 1936, honors the defenders who lost their lives during the famous battle and is known as the “Spirit of Sacrifice.” The sculpture, which is cracked and has other structural damage, was already slated to be restored on-site and relocated about 500 feet across Alamo Plaza, where a bandstand was previously located. The monument’s relocation has been the most controversial element of the redevelopment plan, which also includes establishing a perimeter that approximates the historic mission’s plaza walls.
Once the Cenotaph is relocated, Treviño said, “it will be more secure” than it is now.
Plans include a landscaped buffer around the base, lights that will illuminate the structure at night, and “there will be cameras all around it,” Treviño said.
Brandon Burkhart, president of This is Texas Freedom Force, said neither the Alamo Cenotaph or the Alamo itself are symbols of racism.
The perpetrator should be charged with a hate crime and desecrating a historic monument, Burkhart said on a video posted to the activist group’s Facebook page. The group has been the most active in protests against relocating the Cenotaph.
“We are going to come out here and we’re going to protect it at night,” he said. “Armed individuals will be out here each and every night here at the Alamo Cenotaph for the near future.”
Currently, the Cenotaph is surrounded by several large trees and does not have its own lighting system.
“While there are security measures in place including cameras and patrolling, there will be an increased police presence in and around Alamo Plaza moving forward to prevent such criminal activity,” Treviño said.
Bollards have been recently installed in anticipation of restoration work. That work will continue and is expected to start sometime his summer.
“We had hoped to start a lot sooner but the pandemic has put a hold on everything,” Treviño said. “As soon as we know [a timeline] we will be public with that information and let people know every step of the way.”
The Texas Historical Commission is expected to vote on the relocation sometime this year.
This article has updated to clarify that George Floyd died Monday.