Meeting on St. Augustine's Confederate monuments gets heated

Hundreds pack St. Paul AME Church for discussion on removing monuments

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A nationwide debate on whether or not to remove Confederate monuments has spilled over into St. Augustine. 

Rev. Ron Rawls, who wants two Confederate monuments removed from the center of the nation's oldest city, invited city leaders and the public to come to St. Paul AME Church on Monday night to take part in an open discussion about the statues. 

Hundreds of people packed the church, and some of them demanded the monuments be removed immediately. But St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver said she refused to be rushed into making a decision. 

The monuments in the center of the controversy are placed in the Plaza de la Constitucion, located in the heart of historic St. Augustine.

They include a memorial with the Confederate flag on it, near the west end of the plaza, which honors Confederate Gen. William Loring and his service in the Civil War. The monument has been up since 1920.  The other Confederate monument is on the east side of the plaza and honors men who died serving the Confederate states.

Before the meeting, Rawls said he'd received support and backlash, which was expected for the controversial issue.

"I call upon the leadership of the city of St. Augustine to redefine this city and make an expeditious but correct decision to no longer revere the shameful cause of these symbols by removing them from public spaces,” Rawls said.

During the community meeting, one veteran was so passionate about removing the monuments, he didn't need a microphone to get his point across.

"I bled for this country and this Constitution. That monument out there is an insult to guys like me and my seven buddies who are now dead," he said. "Those names on it, they were traitors. Where's the monument to us out there?"

At least one person who doesn't support removing the monuments had a chance to spark. 

"I do believe the Confederates were on the right side," that person said. "This may shock you, but this book called the Holy Bible does not condemn slavery."

At one point, several people who were against the removal of the monuments stormed out of the church in protest. 

Shaver also attended the meeting, at which people put pressure on her and the City Council to immediately have the monuments removed. 

"I'm not a big fan of someone saying, 'You got to do this and you got to do this now,'" Shaver said. "This is a community that has a very tight fabric. We saw it after Hurricane Matthew. This, to me, is the beginning of a dialogue."

Supporters of the monuments gathered in the plaza, where they were met by a few people and some words were exchanged, but police quickly intervened. 

People in support of removing the monuments have vowed to show up at City Council meetings and make their voices heard until they're taken down. 

In Jacksonville, the city's Confederate statues have also been a topic of conversation.

The JAX Chamber released a statement, which reads in part: "We support the effort to inventory all of Jacksonville’s public monuments and conduct a swift, honest and thoughtful look at who we honor, and more importantly, who is missing from our public landscape."

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez-Brosche said she's expecting this to be a hot topic at the next council meeting.

"This will be meeting No. 3 and especially in light of what's taken place last weekend and this week, we do expect for this continue to continue," said Brosche.

The meetings follow a week in which cities all over the country have removed or announced intentions to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces.

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