Confederate monument a focus of debate after graffiti appears People then cover words with tarp, more messages

A statue downtown memorializing Confederate defenders of Charleston was covered up Sunday after being vandalized.

A statue near The Battery memorializing Confederate defenders of the city was found vandalized Sunday with the message “Black lives matter.”

Another message, “This is the problem #racist,” also was spray-painted on “To the Confederate Defenders of Charleston — Fort Sumter.”

The monument was placed at the site by The United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The damage was reported to police dispatchers just after 12:30 p.m. The statue was covered up by residents who wrapped a large tarp around it about 1:30 p.m.

Two signs were placed on the tarp after the graffiti was covered up. One said, “All lives matter #charlestonunited,” and the other said, “Take down racist statues.”

The incident occurred in the wake of the fatal shooting Wednesday of nine black people inside Emanuel AME Church in what police say was an attack by a white supremacist. The church held its first service since the shootings on Sunday.

The attack has led to a nationwide call for South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. At least 1,000 people gathered Saturday in Columbia to call for the flag to be taken down. Numerous petitions also call for the flag’s removal.

The statue caused a stir downtown Sunday as several individuals began arguing about the battle flag. Zachary Gaither of Charleston helped cover the graffiti on the statue and said he did not associate the flag with racism.

“I was covering up something that was demoting our city,” he said of the graffiti, adding, “the Confederate flag is a Southern heritage of pride to me.”

Tighe Berry, who is from out of town but wouldn’t say where, argued for the graffiti to be left up.

“That was a disgusting war that was to separate this country to keep an institution of hatred, racism and violence and slavery,” he said.

Madea Benjamin of Washington, D.C., put up the sign encouraging the statue to be taken down.

“It’s important for this state to say we don’t support white supremacy, we don’t promote pro-hatred groups or symbols,” she said.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.