Visitors approaching Travis Park on Saturday afternoon had to navigate police officers on alert, lines of barricades, and a question: Which side of this protest are you on?
One group of demonstrators saw a monument commemorating Confederate military veterans and the pride of Southern heritage. Another group saw a glaring symbol of white supremacy and a marker for efforts to maintain slavery. Between them were lines of San Antonio Police Department officers trying to direct individuals to one corner or another, or out of the park entirely.
“This is not the place or the time to have a debate about what you think,” said SAPD Officer A. M. Zeldes, pointing a group of men toward the barricaded corner of the park where bright red Confederate battle flags waved above the This Is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) rally.
The rally drew around 300 demonstrators demanding that the Confederate monument in the center of Travis Park remain standing there as it has for the past 118 years. Armed men carrying assault rifles, shotguns, and sidearms patrolled the perimeter of the corner, granting or denying entrance to the event at their discretion.
Across from the TITFF rally, in a separately barricaded corner of the park, was an SATX4 led counter-protest where around 100 protesters demanded the removal of the monument from the park.
Nearly two weeks of concerted action from City Council to have the monument relocated preceded Saturday’s demonstrations. City Councilmen Roberto Treviño (D1) and William “Cruz” Shaw (D2) filed a council consideration request on July 31 asking for full council consideration of the matter, and fellow Council members Rey Saldaña (D4), Ana Sandoval (D7), and John Courage (D9) signed in support.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg posted a statement on social media Saturday evening praising the efforts of residents and the police department to keep the rallies peaceful.
“I’m proud of San Antonio because of our kindness, of being neighbors who help neighbors, and our ability to come together to move our city forward,” he said. “We will always seek to be the best versions of ourselves, a city that learns, grows, and transcends the past.
“… We are committed to remembering the past, while replacing oppression with justice, and building equity where there was once segregation.”
Nirenberg expressed confidence that the city’s residents can come together to find a solution “that continues to honor our American free speech traditions.”
In a statement sent before the demonstrations on Saturday, Treviño said the CCR “to create a more inclusive and welcoming Travis Park” has been submitted to the Council’s Governance Committee.
While Councilmen Treviño and Shaw didn’t attend the protests, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) spoke in favor of removing the monument inside of the SATX4 corner.
“The institution of slavery is an ugly, terrible, most horrific thing you can do to a person,” Calvert declared through the speakers. “But they want to honor and glorify and lift up slavery and the Confederacy. We’re not going back there.”
Yet it is exactly that part of the Confederacy’s history that groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) believe eclipse any other histories about the Southern movement in the Civil War.
“We’re never going to say that ‘No, slavery didn’t have an issue in it,’ because it did have an issue in it,” said Festus Allcock, one of the Sons of Confederate Veterans at the rally. “But it was a minor issue. It was taxes and trade tariffs that was the primary cause of the war. The fact of the matter is they were fighting for their farms, their families, and their state.”
Verbal confrontations could be heard throughout the park as demonstrators walked toward designated corners. With the atmosphere tense and weapons on open display, SAPD sought to limit any smaller factions of demonstrators from protesting outside the two established camps.
Officers directed a small group of Proud Boys, a pro-Western fraternal organization identifiable by their Fred Perry polo shirts, out of the SATX4 corner.
“It sucks being separated,” said a Proud Boy who gave his name as Ian. “We’re here for conversation and discussion. Everyone’s with different groups, and it’s really disheartening when you hear people, especially police officers, say this is not the time or the place for any kind of discussion. Well, I couldn’t disagree more.”
Other encounters required more police force. Anti-fascist demonstrators, covered in black with helmets and makeshift shields, were physically corralled into the SATX4 corner.
That encounter resulted in the arrest of Mike Murphy for disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer, according to officials at the scene.
“I have other things that I would like to be doing,” said TITFF President Robert Beverly. “But I can’t afford to. Not just for statues, but for the inequities that we’re going through as a society. And you’re not going to mess with my Texas without me giving you a fight.”
Speakers at the TITFF rally stated the importance of remembering history, heritage, and respecting the memory of all veterans. They also encouraged individuals to appear at upcoming City Council meetings.
TITFF formed in June to rally around the Sam Houston statue in Houston, according to TITFF Vice President Brandon Burkhart. The group had heard rumors that the monument was going to be removed or vandalized.
Burkhart feels that there’s a real possibility that the monument in San Antonio could be relocated. He wanted Saturday’s rally and speeches to focus on educating passersby.
“We want to educate them so they can stop and think, ‘We know the Ku Klux Klan and others have taken that Confederate Flag and given it a really bad reputation,’” Burkhart said to the Rivard Report over the phone Friday afternoon. “But there’s so much more history to that than that. At some point we’re going to have to stop these guys from flying that flag, because that doesn’t belong to them. That belongs to the veterans.”
During the demonstrations in San Antonio, concurrent rallies involving groups of white nationalists, some bearing Confederate flags, in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to a fatality after a car drove into a group of counter-protesters. The white nationalists had gathered to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In San Antonio, groups on either side of the Confederate monument issue are prepared for a protracted fight over the statue at Travis Park. A monument relocation vote is not currently an item on a City Council agenda. TITFF has stated they will seek to legally fight any measure to move the monument and recall councilmen Treviño and Shaw.
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