Armed protesters who gathered in Travis Park and again at City Council chambers this month will continue their objection to the removal of a Confederate monument this week ahead of Council’s planned vote on the matter Thursday – armed or unarmed.

“Anyone that votes yes [to remove it] … we will use our full force and power to make sure that these people are not re-elected, because they are not representing the people,” This Is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) Vice President Brandon Burkhart told the Rivard Report on Tuesday.

This week Mayor Ron Nirenberg added an item to Council’s Thursday meeting agenda that triggers a full vote on the removal, expediting the process initiated by Councilmen William “Cruz” Shaw (D2) and Roberto Treviñ0 (D1). Nirenberg’s proposed ordinance would require a change to the City’s Unified Development Code to remove the 40-foot monument erected in 1900 that features a Confederate soldier atop a granite obelisk.

Burkhart and several TITFF members are assisting Hurricane Harvey victims in Port Aransas, Rockport, and Houston, he said, so he and some members will not attend this week’s meetings. Public hearings in front of Council members will be held on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and before the removal item is considered on Thursday after 9 a.m. TITFF organizers will decide on Wednesday and Thursday if the “threat level” warrants another armed escort, he said. TITFF members cited threats against Burkhart as the reason they came armed to a Council session Aug. 16.

Brandon Burkhart (center) is escorted with fellow membetrs of TITFF (This is Texas Freedom Force) following Citizens to be Heard at City Council on Wednesday evening.
Brandon Burkhart (center) is escorted with fellow members of TITFF (This is Texas Freedom Force) following a citizens to be heard session at City Council on Aug. 16. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Police Department has a contingency plan for an armed presence in Main Plaza, said Sgt. Jesse Salame, just as it did last time. There was no violence or attempts on protesters’ lives outside the previous Council session where armed protesters appeared.

“While the rest of us have our hearts and mind and prayers at the coast … [Council members are] focused on a monument,” Burkhart said. “They don’t care about anything but their pet projects.”

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) issued a statement Monday that also outlined concerns about the timing of the vote.

“After this weekend’s events across Texas, it concerns me that we are rushing a divisive issue when we should be concerned with continuing to help Texas,” Perry stated.

Nirenberg said that Shaw and Treviño’s original proposal to send the issue to the Governance Committee would only delay the inevitable unanimous vote by Council to remove the statue that many in the community see as an homage to slavery in the south before, during, and after the Civil War.

“[The previous proposal] has been thoroughly vetted at this point by the entire Council and the public, so it’s just a matter of do we want to go through the formality of taking it to Governance Committee, which will simply be a unanimous vote … or just move it to an A session agenda,” Nirenberg said. A sessions are the Thursday meetings in which Council takes action on various ordinances, contracts, and policies.

When asked if the councilmen were aware of the mayor’s plans to add the monument removal to Thursday’s agenda, Nirenberg said, “we’ve been discussing it for some time – long before there were weather concerns.”

Shaw and Treviño applauded Nirenberg’s move to remove the Confederate monument immediately.

“[Nirenberg made] the choice to take the proposed relocation of the Confederate monument in Travis Park to a vote this coming Thursday,” Shaw stated in a text to the Rivard Report. “In light of recent violence in Charlottesville, it is imperative that we act now to ensure our city is truly welcoming to all. It’s not about politics. It’s not about left or right – but rather it’s about moving our city forward.”

Councilman William "Cruz" Shaw (D2) and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) listen to other Council member's remarks about the outgoing Council.
(From left) Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2) and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) listen to colleagues on the dais. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Treviño echoed his praise.

“I am glad that the process was accelerated yet follows the intent of our request,” stated Treviño in a text. “We strive to be a compassionate and inclusive city, but understanding begins with education, and education begins with conversation.”

On Wednesday, Treviño elaborated in a news release on the “stakeholder conversation to collectively guide where the monument will be placed.”

A decision about where to locate the monument after it is placed in temporary storage will likely be made with input from the community and the City Manager’s Office, which will look into a donation agreement with a “nonprofit involved in historic preservation or education,” according to documents obtained by several sources.  That could include a number of entities, including museums. Most City leaders agree that the statue needs to be placed in an historical context.

“A local partner will be selected to house the monument and display it within the historical context surrounding the Confederacy and the Civil War Era through a process involving the community, the Office of Historical Preservation, the Office of Military Affairs and the Department of Arts and Culture,” Treviño stated Wednesday.

Perry shared Councilman Greg Brockhouse’s (D6) concerns that opportunities for public dialogue and process were being cut short.

“It has become increasingly obvious [that] the Mayor will circumvent the process and change the existing Code to remove and relocate the Confederate Statue at Travis Park,” Brockhouse stated in a press release Monday.

The ordinance, as proposed, would modify the process that requires the Historic and Design Review Commission to review changes to City parks.

“We are doing this according to our [City] Charter and our rules as a council-manager form of government,” Nirenberg said in response to the criticism. “It is time that we take what has been a difficult [two-year] conversation and we close the book on it and take action. … Let’s move on.

“We can’t continue to let this become a monumental distraction for our entire city.”

Cities across the nation are discussing race relations and Confederate symbolism in the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and counterprotest that resulted in the death of one peaceful protester and injuries to dozens more. On Tuesday, the North East Independent School District board voted unanimously to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School, named for the Confederate general.

Two years ago, San Antonio and other cities were considering removing these monuments and flags after a different tragedy: the racially motivated killings of nine black people attending prayer services at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. Photos later emerged of the shooter, Dylann Roof, posing with the Confederate flag.

City leaders, including former Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), wanted to begin the process of removing the monument, but it received little support from then-Mayor Ivy Taylor. Both representatives are black and live in the historically black near-Eastside of San Antonio. Meanwhile, Bexar County removed two plaques containing Confederate symbolism that were on County buildings. The conversation among City leaders faded away.

Before the events in Charlottesville, Shaw and Treviño submitted a council consideration request (CCR) in July to have the statue removed and a citizen committee formed to discuss where the statue should go. The CCR would have been considered by Council’s Governance Committee this week, where the five-member committee would vote on whether or not to forward it to a full City Council vote. Then, according to the CCR, a citizen committee could meet and decide what to do with the monument.

The proposed ordinance on Thursday’s Council agenda does not specify the formation of a committee, but includes opportunities for public and City staff input in the final relocation decision.

On Thursday, Council will vote to immediately remove the monument that honors Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War and place it in storage and allow for up to “$150,000 for the purpose of removing the monument and cannons and transporting them to a storage facility.”

The mayor, a council committee, or the city manager can put items on Council meeting agendas. A CCR is the only official mechanism council members have to place items on the action agenda.

“There is a public process. There has been continued public discussion over the past two years,” Nirenberg said. “That process ultimately has to come to an end so our entire community can move on.”

Burkhart said he never expected an actual dialogue to occur, neither in the Governance Committee or at City Council.

“There never was going to be a long process or dialogue. … These guys have had it in their mind that they were going to remove it from day one,” he said. “This was done on purpose, and we’re going to make sure that the City of San Antonio and the State of Texas know what they’ve done. We’re going to put them on blast and unseat them.”

Nirenberg seems confident that a majority of San Antonians want to see the statue removed.

“Everyone is invited to be part of our process,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report. “But this chapter will close on Thursday.”

If the ordinance is approved, City staff will work on a swift timeline for removal and relocation, he said. “Certainly we don’t want to let it linger.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org