Here in San Antonio, the Confederate monument in downtown’s Travis Park was at the center of separate protests this weekend.
Confederate supporters gathered in Travis Park to voice opposition to the monument's potential re-location while those who want it removed held a demonstration of their own. The words exchanged between the two sides were heated, but the protests were peaceful.
Confederate, U.S. and Texas flags decorated one corner of Travis Park as about 250 people – some armed with long rifles and other firearms – sang the song of Dixie.
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Paul Gramling is a commander with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He came to protest from Shreveport, La. He says Confederate monuments across the country are war memorials and symbols of heritage.
“They were put in spots where they are to remember and memorialize the dead soldiers - our dead men - who didn’t come off the battlefield, who never made it home. That’s what these monuments are for,” Gramling said.
The protest was organized by the group This is Texas Freedom Force in response to a request by San Antonio City Council members Roberto Trevino and Cruz Shaw to re-locate the monument; possibly to a museum.
The tall obelisk-like monument features an unnamed soldier at the top. It was erected in the late 1890s by the group Daughters of the Confederacy.
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Across the park nearly another 250 people held a rally of their own in support of removing it, chanting “Take it down, take it down.” Jonathan David Jones is a community activist and often participates in Black Lives Matter events.
“This monument should have been gone a long a time ago. It needs to go now. We don’t care what they do with it. They can put it in one of their homes if they want to, but it doesn’t belong in public space,” Jones said.
Jones feels the Confederacy stood for white supremacy. “They say it’s for heritage, they say it’s for history, but we know what it’s really about,” he added.
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San Antonio Police had the two sides separated with barricades. Police Chief William McManus says it was to prevent physical confrontations. “My issue is keeping the peace during these types of demonstrations, and having had about 28 years of experience with this in [Washington, D.C.], the most effective way to keep these folks separate is putting up fencing,” McManus said.
SAPD estimates at least 500 people were present in the park. The fencing didn’t stop them from taunting each other with wars of words. Travis Park seemed to mirror the mood of the country in recent months.
There were no violent confrontations. At least one person was arrested from the counterprotestors’ side. Police charged 20-year-old Michael Murphy with assault.
The PA systems on both ends dueled with each other. On the side with the statue's supporters, Jeffrey Addicott, a professor at St. Mary’s University, said the group did not stand for racism.
“We’ve got black individuals out here, we’ve got white, we’ve got grey, we’ve got yellow, we’ve got a diversity of people. This is not about racism. And if any of you are racist in here please see me afterwards, I’d love to beat the living daylights out of you,” Addicott said.
On the anti-statue side, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert said this country tore itself apart over the institution of slavery. “We stand together united -- black, white, brown, gay, straight, of every color, Native American -- to say this is our country, we’re united, we’re together, we love each other, we don’t want to hurt each other, we want everybody to prosper,” Calvert said. “This is our America, and we’re not going back.”
Moving the monument is not a done deal. It will take action from the full San Antonio City Council. Councilman Shaw and Trevino are asking for the monument to be placed in an area where it can be integrated into historical context. It’s unknown when the proposal will be heard by a council committee.