At 1 a.m. Friday police, media, and bystanders watched construction crews in Travis Park take down the Confederate monument and remove two cannons on orders from San Antonio City Council, which voted 10-1 Thursday afternoon to have the statue removed.
Cheers and jeers rang through a couple of downtown blocks as trucks and cranes slowly mobilized to dismantle and relocate the statue that most City Council members agreed was an out-of-context homage to a bygone era of black slavery. First, the cannons where removed, then crews prepared to take down the main obelisk.
Around 2 a.m., the statue was finally removed, according to media reports.
Dozens of police officers patrolled the fenced-off park. Streets surrounding the park were closed to vehicular and, in some cases, pedestrian traffic.
“We don’t anticipate [any violence], but we plan for the worse-case scenario,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told reporters. “And we don’t want to end up like Charlottesville.”
Protesters and supporters of the removal of the 40-foot tall monument, topped by a statue of a nameless Confederate soldier and bearing the inscription “Lest We Forget Our Confederate Dead,” lamented and praised the swift action that the City took to move the statue to a secure location. The new home for the Confederate statue will be considered with input from a community stakeholder group, then finalized by City staff.
Several Council members stopped by the park during the hours-long removal process to see their vote in action. Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) was surprised that the monument was removed so soon after the vote.
“Nobody expected it – certainly I didn’t,” Pelaez said. “If anything, this is a testament to how efficient City staff is. Once they receive direction from City Council they move at lightning speed.”
This is the culmination of years of dialogue and hours of work, he said as trucks drove back and forth on adjacent streets. “Nobody should be surprised that [removal] happened swiftly.”
Speed is a precautionary measure, he said, as many people threatened prolonged protests over the monument’s removal. For Pelaez, “the threat of a recall did not calculate into my algebra that I was doing when I made the decision to vote for [removal]. …. I can tell you that none of the other Council members really considered that.”
Cliff Healey is a self-described “three percenter,” or a member of a paramilitary group that pledges armed resistance to attempts to restrict rights to guns and freedom of speech. Healey and his family are from Conroe, but happened to be in San Antonio on vacation when the state came down.
“Shouldn’t we teach our children about that [history]? It’s a public park,” Healey said, a handgun was visible in his front pocket. He does not want the statue to be put in a museum “where people would have to pay to see it.”
Vanessa Sanchez, a member of the local chapter of Our Revolution, joined in the impromptu debate outside the perimeter SAPD had set up around the park.
“You can teach slavery without having a monument in a public park,” Sanchez told Healey.
“We are supposed to be an all-inclusive, peaceful city,” Sanchez told the Rivard Report afterward. “If there is a black child or Mexican or Native American child or anyone of color playing in the park where the Confederacy is literally on a pedestal, are we having a peaceful playtime? No.”
Another in-depth debate occurred later between Healey and Gylon Jackson, a black man in favor of the statue’s removal.
“That monument needs to go,” Jackson said.
Though heated at times, the conversations did not escalate into violence.
Others, including The Texan II bartender Chris Muñoz, didn’t have a strong opinion about the statue.
“I never even knew it was a Confederate statue,” Muñoz said, echoing the comments of several people the Rivard Report ran into on streets near Travis Park. Most, however, were well aware of the downtown controversy.
The people that are talking about it at the bar, Muñoz said, think it has to do with William Barret “Buck” Travis, a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army who died in the Battle of the Alamo.
McManus did not disclose how many officers were deployed to the scene, as is typical for security reasons, but he did say “we have enough to deal with a very, very large crowd.”
The size of the crowd was likely diminished due to the late-night removal.
“I’m beyond arguing about semantics about what the Confederacy stood for,” Johnathan-David Jones told City Council earlier that day. Jones is a member of SATX4, a group that pushed for the statue’s removal. Jones described being cursed by white nationalists during recent protests in the park. To him, the statue is a symbol of the racism that he experiences every day.
With a son on the way, Jones said Council has “the opportunity to place a direct hand” in determining what the landscape will look like for the next generation.