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Man in custody after Capitol-adjacent MLK statue toppled overnight

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Hannah Meisel/ NPR Illinois
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This story has been updated.

A man is being held on $50,000 bond after toppling over a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just across the street from the Illinois State Capitol grounds in Springfield.

24-year-old Fernando Garcia Martinez is in Sangamon County Jail after his arrest for allegedly pushing over the statue on Sunday night, which was caught on video. Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker said the video can’t be released to the public as it’s being used in Martinez’s prosecution.

Martinez has been charged with one count of felony criminal damage to state property. During a brief arraignment Tuesday, Sangamon County Judge Jennifer Ascher ordered Martinez's bond at $50,000.

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Courtesy of Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield)
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The pedestal for the Martin Luther King Jr. statue across the street from the Capitol grounds stands empty on Monday after being toppled Sunday night. A suspect is in custody.

The 300-pound bronze MLK statue has been the subject of debate in the last couple of years as a legislative panel examines the dozens of monuments and art in the Capitol and on statehouse grounds.

Read more: Obama Statue Floated To Replace Monuments To Controversial Illinois Figures At State Capitol

The statue has stood across the street from the Capitol Building at the northeast corner of Second St. and Capitol Ave. for nearly 30 years, but has not been well-maintained and has suffered previous acts of vandalism. Druker said the Secretary of State’s Physical Services division took the statue to a state warehouse to assess the damage, and would likely need to call in experts for evaluation.

Secretary of State Jesse White has previously called for a new statue to replace the current one. which is weirdly diminutive and extremely weathered. White met King while he was a college student engaged in the Civil Rights movement. While at Alabama State University, White got involved locally with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, spearheaded by King.

White has pledged to contribute the first $5,000 to a new statue, but efforts have stalled. Since last year, members of the Illinois House have met several times as the Statue and Monument Review Task Force, but the body has not met in months.

Task force member and local State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said Monday that the tense undercurrent of social upheaval in the last two years gave him reason to worry about a possible motive for the statue’s toppling rising from vandalism to hate crime. But he said he’d wait for the legal process to play out before committing to a definitive narrative.

“I don’t care if it’s Martin Luther King or Stephen A. Douglas,” Butler said, referring to the removal of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln’s political rival on Capitol grounds in the summer of 2020. “The lack of respect for public institutions right now is astounding.”

Butler said it’s disappointing the King statue had not been better taken care of despite the task force having sat for a lengthy discussion on its weathered state and its placement relative to to the Capitol. But he pointed out the task force doesn’t include any members of the Senate, and shouldn’t make any recommendations without input from the other chamber, and further wouldn’t endorse any decisions made by lawmakers anyway, instead supporting a the creation of a non-political process to make any final determinations on changing monuments in and around the statehouse.

Butler is, however, in favor of a new — or at least much-improved — King statue in a more prominent and meaningful location.

“I’ve made the suggestion we put something at the corner of Second and Monroe where he gave an important speech,” Butler said, referring to King’s 1965 appearance at the state Armory building when he spoke to an AFL-CIO convention when he scolded the labor movement for not fully embracing civil rights goals. “Let’s tell that story. There’s an opportunity for us to reimagine it to be so much more.”

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at outlets including WILL-AM/FM, Law360, The Daily Line and a temporary stint at political blog Capitol Fax before returning to the station in 2020.