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Law would punish officials who remove historical monuments

Randy Roguski
/
WJCT
A Republican lawmaker from Jacksonville has filed a bill that would allow the state to fine or even remove a City Council member or mayor who takes down a historical monument.

A Republican lawmaker from Jacksonville has filed a bill that would allow the state to fine or even remove a City Council member or mayor who takes down a historical monument.

Rep. Dean Black’s bill does not specify what kind of historical monuments and never mentions those honoring Confederate soldiers or battles, which have been contentious in cities like Jacksonville where groups say they glorify slavery and racism.

The House bill would allow the state to bring civil actions against any local lawmaker who requested or permitted the monument’s removal. It also would provide state funding for restoration of a monument or memorial in certain circumstances.

The bill has led to immediate reaction from Democratic lawmakers as well as a planned protest from Jacksonville groups that have fought for years to remove Confederate monuments from any city site.

Mayor Donna Deegan released a statement to News4Jax, a Jacksonville Today news partner, saying Black’s bill “would be just another slap in the face to our Black community, which has already endured so much. It’s an overreach and unconstitutional.”

Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, wondered why Black is pushing out this bill.

“Now he wants to keep (the monuments) up,” Nixon told News4Jax. “And then not only that, he wants to go further and do what the Republican Legislature continually does in our state, which is overreach, and remove duly elected individuals who the people elected to represent them.”

“By continuing to defend statues that celebrate white supremacy, it emboldens white supremacists to carry out heinous acts such as the killing of three Black citizens here in Jacksonville.”
Wells Todd, a Take ‘Em Down organizer

It has been three years since previous Mayor Lenny Curry ordered the removal of the statue of an unnamed Confederate soldier from its pedestal overlooking James Weldon Johnson Park in front of City Hall.

“It’s gone,” Curry said at the time. “And the others in this city will be removed as well.”

Repeated protests from groups like Take ‘Em Down Jacksonville and The Northside Coalition, held weekly in front of City Hall, demanded the pedestal be removed as well as the Monument to the Women of the Confederacy in Springfield Park. But the monument remains, although the pedestal was ultimately removed as part of a James Weldon Johnson Park renovation.

Black’s 10-page bill, called the “Historical Monuments and Memorials Protection Act,” would allow the state to take “all actions to protect and preserve all historical monuments and memorials from removal, damage or destruction.” It states that the secretary of state and the state historic preservation officer would be responsible for ensuring that nonmilitary Florida monuments or memorials would not be removed, damaged or destroyed.

READ MORE: Key West Park Pavilion Rededicated To Honor 'One Human Family' Instead Of The Confederacy

“A local government may only relocate a historical monument or memorial temporarily due to construction,” the bill states. “And, within a reasonable time but not more than 12 months after the construction project is completed … placed back at the original location or, if that is not possible, as close as possible to the original location in a prominent place for easy and accessible public viewing.”

The bill says any official or member of a local government who allows or votes to do remove a monument would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000, or the actual cost of the removal and replacement of the monument or memorial, including repairs. The fine would have to be paid from their personal funds, with no government reimbursement allowed

There also could be a more serious cost to the official who allows or orders the removal. “An elected official acting in his or her official capacity who knowingly and willfully violates this section is subject to removal from office by the governor,” the bill states.

In reaction to Black’s bill, Take ‘Em Down Jacksonville and The Northside Coalition plan a City Hall protest at 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to Wells Todd, a Take ‘Em Down organizer. Todd said the bill is an attempt to maintain statues that celebrate white supremacy. It also lines up with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ action to restrict the teaching of Black history in schools, as well as the removal of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and initiatives, Todd said.

“By continuing to defend statues that celebrate white supremacy, it emboldens white supremacists to carry out heinous acts such as the killing of three Black citizens here in Jacksonville,” Todd said in a news release, referring to a racist’s gunman’s rampage at a Dollar General store in August.

“The fact that Representative Black, in his legislation, refers to Confederate statues as representing accurate history reflects a miseducation and misunderstanding of the facts. We know this ‘history’ was consciously taught for the purpose of miseducation.”

This story first appeared in Jacksonville Today.

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