Confederate Statue Debate Hits Manatee

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY AUG 18, 2017

Protests about the location of a Confederate monument in Bradenton will take place Monday, less than two weeks after similar demonstrations led to deadly clashes between rival activists in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

“What does it mean for a young black person who has been told they are created equal to see a statue in front of their courthouse which celebrates and symbolizes a part of society that did not want them to exist as free and equal humans?” says Shakira Refos, co-leader for the Black Lives Matter Manasota Chapter. BLM, along with The Rodney Mitchell Foundation, Indivisible Bradenton Pro-gressive, Answer Suncoast and Action Together Suncoast, will protest at Riverfront Park at 6:30pm on Monday.

The protests were announced the same day President Trump tweeted remarks supportive of keeping Confederate monuments in place, and the pro-Trump America First-Team Manatee announced it will host a counter-protest on Monday at the same time as the liberal protests. “Memorials were put where they are for a reason, so that people will not forget the sacrifice that was made by the soldiers,” reads an email announcing the protest. 

The moves have prompted a special Manatee County Commission meeting today to discuss public safety concerns. While all sides have committed to non-violent protests, similar conflict in Charlottesville turned deadly this weekend after white nationalists and neo-Nazis flocked to the city, then clashed with Antifa protestors. Police say a white nationalist ran into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one woman and injuring others, and two law enforcement officers died in a crash while patrolling the protests.

But conversation about the Bradenton statue has been taking place since before that. Shortly after Snooty, Manatee County’s animal mascot, died at South Florida Museum, Anthony Pusateri began a petition that went viral calling for the Confederate memorial in front of the courthouse to be replaced with a monument to the late mammal. “I knew we had a Confederate monument and it seemed very out of place,” Pusateri says. “It’s not about tearing it down or destroying it, but about relocating it to a better, more appropriate location and replacing it with something people could get behind besides a political or social agenda.”

But veterans in the area say it’s a mistake to conflate a memorial to soldiers to any political cause. Rich Swier, who previously organized veterans to support the Unconditional Surrender statue staying in Downtown Sarasota, says the Bradenton monument is about soldiers, not a cause. “These men were brothers, fathers and sons. They fought against one another, believing what they thought was right,” Swier says. “In my opinion, the right side won.” To take down historic monuments, though, is akin to what many communist dictators have done, Swier says, noting that on a recent trip he took to Cuba you couldn’t find statues that predated the revolution in 1959.

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