Call to remove Confederate statues prompts support, anger

Jacksonville City Council president says she expected response

By Jim Piggott - Reporter , Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter , Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The fight between those wanting to remove Confederate monuments in Jacksonville and those who want them to stay has become more vocal after violence erupted over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, between armed white supremacists rallying in support of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee and counterprotestors.

The discussion escalated in Jacksonville on Monday when City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche announced she wants Confederates monuments inventoried, with the goal of moving them off city property. 

Citizens on both sides spoke loudly, some praising her bold stand other others calling for her resignation.

In Brosche's City Hall office, which overlooks the 119-year-old monument in Hemming Park that is topped with a statue of a Confederate solider that represents Jacksonville's role in the Civil War, she said she's not surprised by the backlash.

"No, it's what I expected. I expect the level of response that I'm receiving," she said. "This is been an issue before council (for) quite some time now. (We've) been hearing it in public comment for some time now."

Excerpts from Brosche's emails from the last 24 hours include comments from several people who were outraged by her announcement.

We would like YOU to be removed from the city grounds."

I see nothing but dark times ahead for America and I will be because of our own actions."

There were also supportive comments from citizens.

I support your statement… It is long overdue."

The false legends regarding the Civil War, confederate 'Heroes' and slavery needs to be corrected."

Brosche believes the division on the issue was there before her announcement on the statues, and she is well aware of what could happen if the statues come down.

"The reality is that JSO is prepared," Broshe said. "They understand what's happening. They've seen what's happening across the country. I think it's important that people have the opportunity to express how they feel about it, to demonstrate if they would like to. I hope that we do so in a civil and orderly manner."

Mayor Lenny Curry is staying on the sidelines of the controversy, but said the process is vital to a peaceful and meaningful decision.

"I'm not proposing we remove these monuments. Certainly, though, if the public wants to have that conversation, and now the council president has said this is her priority to remove them," Curry said. "So I encourage her and the body of City Council to have that discussion and that debate. Whatever they decide, if something lands on my desk, I’ll evaluate it at that time."

Curry said he will remain focused on public safety, which is among his top priorities. 

"There's chatter that these outside groups that were in Charlottesville are already talking about coming to Jacksonville," he said. "We want to keep those groups out of our city. And we want to work together as a community, and have a civil discourse."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was in Jacksonville on Tuesday to talk about a proposed constitutional amendment on tax and fee hikes, said these are local monuments and that the city's representative government should make an independent decision.

"Issues like the monuments, they need to be discussed and they need to be reviewed at the local level," Scott said. "They can make a decision."

Brosche it will take a while for the city to inventory all the Confederate monuments throughout the city. She hopes to be able to introduce a bill to City Council on the issue by the first of the year.

City Council president's proposal prompts demonstration

Brosche's call to remove Confederate statues from Jacksonville parks prompted a peaceful demonstration Tuesday night in Confederate Park, where dozens on both sides of the debate gathered. 

A number of police officer were also at the park to make sure demonstrators and supporters of the Confederate statues didn't physically clash. 

WATCH: Sky 4 captures aerial view of demonstration at Confederate Park

As one side shouted, "Take them down. Take them down," in support of removing Confederate monuments in Jacksonville, counterprotesters shouted, "Keep them up. Keep them up," in support of the statues.

Among those at the demonstration were members of the Take ‘Em Down Jax group and other activist groups, who voiced support for Brosche’s proposal to have Confederate monuments in Jacksonville removed and donated to schools and museums.

“We applaud the president, Anna Lopez Brosche, for her great wisdom, her political courage and having the leadership and moral fortitude to move our city forward," Ben Frazier said. 

The activists also went after Curry, following a comment he made about the monuments not being a priority issue for him.

“It’s good that he wants to have some discussion so we can have some discussion about it, but I feel like he’s taking a negative tone on it," said Mike Todd, a member of Take 'Em Down Jax. 

“It may not be that important to him now, and I understand that, but that’s why we’re here. He needs to understand that a lot of people do have strong feeling about this, and the movement is just going to grow," said Mike Perlmutter, a demonstrator. 

Counterprotester Ryan Barnett said he disagrees with what the activists stand for.

“’I’m denouncing what Take 'Em Down Jax is doing," Barnett said. "It’s racist. It’s sexist. They’re trying to take down the Women’s Monument to the South. They’re against women.”  

Despite the back-and-forth banter between both sides, the event, which lasted 45 minutes, remained peaceful.

According to activists, the city is likely to see more protests as the issue continues to gain steam.

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