More than 130 people gathered at City Hall on Wednesday night to speak in favor or against the proposed removal of a Confederate monument in Travis Park.
The City Council is expected to vote on the issue during its A session Thursday morning. ?But on the eve of the vote, Council members heard passionate testimony from residents in a three-hour-plus citizens to be heard session.
Visitors arriving at City Hall saw a significant police presence outside the Council chambers as law enforcement prepared for the potential of a confrontation between groups favoring the removal and those opposed.
Ten heavily armed people showed up at the Aug. 16 citizens to be heard session to discuss the issue, escorting members of a group called This Is Texas Freedom Force that wants the statue to remain.
But there were no reports of confrontations Wednesday, and no one outside City Hall appeared armed. Dozens of people who support removal of the monument stood outside City Hall before the meeting, with some chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racist cops have got to go.”
Inside, a majority of people who packed the Council chambers called for removal or relocation of the statue. Meanwhile, a group of statue defenders said briefly they have sought to file a temporary restraining order in a federal court to delay removal.
TITTF used its Facebook page to rally local statue defenders to City Hall on Wednesday. But 11 local groups posted a Facebook event titled “San Antonio Stands Against White Supremacy” to rally supporters of the statue’s removal.
The meeting had its share of interruptions. Mayor Ron Nirenberg repeatedly reminded individuals they had only two minutes to talk and they could not cede time to anyone else. Groups had five minutes to speak.
Occasionally, those wanting to remove the statue spoke up from their seats while a statue defender talked at the podium. Other times, statue defenders exchanged words with opponents.
Many who spoke in favor of removal said the statue symbolizes a dark period in U.S. history, and its removal would be a progressive move in a forward-thinking city.
“These statues perpetuate our history, but they are a dark reminder and aren’t to be celebrated,” said Tracy Talavera.
Pharaoh Clark said the statue is “a stain in our city, a stain to our culture. It doesn’t stand for our heritage, it doesn’t stand for our culture.”
Florence Harris said she does not take her child to Travis Park because of the statue’s presence.
“A lot of us don’t feel united at that park,” she said.
Sean Rivera said the United States fails its citizens when there are “statues and icons standing for racism and slavery.”
A small group of young people calling itself Uniting America Through Wisdom showed a brief video instead of making a comment. Set to Ray Charles’ rendition of “God Bless America,” the video showed images, some graphic, of slavery and institutionalized racism.
A few other speakers, such as veteran Jeffery Clark, said Germany has no prominent memorials or monuments dedicated to its Nazi past. “They seem to have more solidarity there than we have here,” he said.
Eric Moore said that if America represents justice for all people, it is unfair to keep in a prominent place a statue that “honors traitors who chose secession.”
People against removing the statue said the monument should remain as a history lesson for the community, and that the statue is a tribute to Confederate troops. A couple of defenders explained how local women played a significant role in erecting the statue.
Some people who want the the monument to remain said they are not racists and feel wrongly portrayed by opponents and the media.
Paul Gescheidle said San Antonio is a historic city that pays homage to a variety of historical figures, and the statue deserves to stay. Amy Jo Baker said that as a retired history teacher, “I’m appalled by tearing down of monuments that reflect a shared history.”
“History isn’t always pretty,” she said.
Kerrie Hillyer said Southerners seem to be symbolically apologizing for racism and slavery, but that removing a statue will do nothing to calm today’s debate around Confederate memorials.
“What more is the South supposed to do?” she asked.
Others said it would cost the City too much money to remove the statue and felt the public should vote on its fate. Rebecca Perez said she does not want her tax money used to help pay for removal and that she has never felt slighted by the statue’s presence.
“That statue hasn’t bothered anybody before, why is it bothering people now?” she said.
Yvonne Perez said it’s unfair to cast all Southerners and defenders of Confederate memorials as racists stuck in the past.
“I don’t feel we should erase this history,” she said.
Sandra Ojeda Medina said most Southerners who lived during the Civil War were common people unable to own slaves.
“The statue honors the common Confederate soldier,” she added.
Benito Acovio echoed Medina’s sentiment, saying the statue is a memorial to everyone who served with the Confederate Army, “but that many were drafted, they didn’t have a choice.”
John McCammon, president of the Confederate Cemetery Association, said an injunction had been filed against the removal of the statue but provided no details or confirmation. He also expressed disappointment that no City officials have approached his or other local Confederate historical organizations about solutions to the monument debate.
“None of you have asked us,” he said.
Robin Terrazas, board president for the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, denounced racism.
“We want the best for San Antonio. We’re not racists. White supremacists — they are criminals and need to be dealt with,” she said. “But moving that monument doesn’t fix the problem.”