As 3-year-old Quinley and 2-year-old twins, Madeleine and Lucas, happily played on the base of the Confederate Memorial in Pioneer Park Cemetery Monday afternoon, they had no idea that the monument stands at the center of a bitter debate in Dallas and nationwide.
“To them, it's just a rock to play on,” says Rev. Jeff Hood, the children’s father.
He is an organizer of Friday’s upcoming rally calling for the removal of that monument and other memorials to Confederates.
The memorial, built in 1896, sits not far from Dallas City Hall.
A 60-foot obelisk with a Confederate soldier atop it soars into the sky. Statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis stand at each corner.
“I am a proud southerner,” says Hood. “But to me, this represents division. It doesn't represent the South. A lot of people that we deal with want these things down yesterday.”
Friday’s event will come just six days after another rally drew thousands to downtown. Saturday's rally involved hundreds of Dallas officers and reinforcements from other departments to keep the peace.
It also involved the efforts of firefighters and other city workers who helped out. City leaders are still calculating the final tab of that rally.
“It almost seems like we're going to have a protest every week, and I want to know who's paying the bill for this,” says Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata.
Mata says the rallies put a heavy burden on a short-staffed department that’s still recovering from last July’s deadly ambush attack during another protest rally. The attack claimed the lives of four Dallas police officers and a DART officer.
“I literally don't care who's rallying or protesting on Friday,” Mata said. “My problem is that we're taxing the police resources that are already having a hard time doing their real day to day job of protecting the public.”
On Sunday, many police officers were upset after being told that they would not be paid overtime for working security at the rally. Mata says officers had been promised overtime.
City officials relented after Public Safety Committee Chairman Adam McGough intervened on their behalf.
Mata says denying overtime pay would have been an insult to officers who maintained their calm and professionalism while facing anti-police chants from some of the protesters.
Both Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway and Mata agree that protesters most certainly have a right to assemble. But like Mata, Caraway is also worried about the burden that continued rallies place on the police department.
“It’s a strain on the department,” Caraway said. “It’s a strain on the budget. It’s a strain on the infrastructure and the other important things we need to do.”
In the meantime, Mayor Mike Rawlings is creating a task force to hold public meetings and make recommendations to the council. Under his schedule, the council members would vote on the issue Nov. 8.
There are others on the council – led by Councilman Philip Kingston – and community members who want the process to move much faster. Five council members have signed a memo asking the mayor to set a formal vote on removing the statues by Sept. 27.
They say they are concerned that if a vote does not occur soon, bureaucratic inertia will take hold.
“These statues do not represent history,” says Rev. Gerald Britt of North Texans for Historic Justice. “These are instruments of propaganda, erected during the periods of Jim Crow and segregation to intimidate primarily Dallas’ black community and bolster the KKK and the white supremacy movement.”
They also pointed out that other cities and universities have already taken action to remove Confederate memorials. In Baltimore, for example, four Confederate-era statues were removed after a city council vote.
“Why are we waiting and delaying to take down monuments that never should have been erected in the first place?” Rev. Michael Waters of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal said.
Caraway says he supports removing the monuments, but he says Kingston and others are failing to take into account the practical realities of an anticipated $4 million cost to remove, reassemble, and store the monuments.
He says just removing the Robert E. Lee monument is about $600,000. It’s another $1.2 million to remove the Confederate Memorial at the cemetery, he said.
“There should be no debate about whether the City of Dallas is going to let them stand,” he says. “They will be removed.”
As for Hood, he says, city leaders can expect more rallies until the monuments no longer stand. Hood wants them placed somewhere where they can be seen in historical context.
“I know there are a lot of activists that would love to take a sledgehammer, Berlin-wall style and just destroy them,” he says. “I don’t think that’s necessary.”
As Hood and his toddlers departed, the children ran joyfully through the cemetery completely oblivious to the controversy about those rocks.
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