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Commission votes to move Confederate monument from courthouse

The Manatee County Commission decided to move the Confederate monument from historic courthouse grounds into storage Tuesday after an evening of protests and marches.

The motion was carefully crafted out of concern for the safety of Manatee County residents and to ensure the statue would be moved to an “equally prominent and respectful place” that would be determined in a later public meeting. The Veterans Memorial Park in Bradenton and Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton were offered as suggestions.

Just before the end of the sometimes-contentious meeting, commissioners voted 4-3 to move the statue, with commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Robin DiSabatino and Stephen Jonsson dissenting.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore indicated that her vote was for a matter of public safety, not because she wanted the statue moved. Others voting in favor of moving the statue were Betsy Benac, Priscilla Trace and Charles Smith.

“After all of this is over, we’re taking back our county,” Whitmore said.

Until the estimated $10,000 is raised to move the 22-foot-tall obelisk monument, it will remain in place, shrouded by plywood. Commissioner Charles Smith contributed $500 to the fund, and other commissioners indicated they would chip in. He added that checks from the public would be accepted, written out to the Board of County Commissioners with a subject line relating to the statue. The checks would be forwarded to the clerk and placed in an appropriate fund.

Benac said the board has been in “limbo” after deciding Friday to cover the statue ahead of Monday’s protests.

“People don’t want to see their history hid. I understand that,” she said “But is there a more appropriate location?”

Law enforcement and monument protesters alike said Monday’s protest was peaceful, with only three arrests of people who came in from out of town.

Sheriff Rick Wells said the protests cost his department about $20,000 to $30,000 in overtime pay for his deputies.

Smith attended the protests and commended law enforcement for being there. Deputies in riot gear, on horseback and atop buildings were present.

“It would have been a bloodbath, I can tell you that,” he said, adding that some people were agitating others to fisticuffs, and he heard at least one person use racial and anti-Semitic slurs. “It was well worth the resources that were used.”

Before the vote Tuesday afternoon, a dozen members of the public came to the commission meeting to speak about Monday’s events.

Gregory Cruz, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Tampa, said he made sure the event was nonviolent because the group’s name was associated with it.

“In order to be effective, we would have to be peaceful but assertive at the same time, because this is what we really believe in,” Cruz told the commission Tuesday morning.

The success of the protest has sparked the planning of six more in the next six weeks, Cruz said. He indicated the first could be on Monday.

“We’re not creating public event pages for these events. They will be private event pages,” he told commissioners, before he was removed for interrupting Baugh’s comments. “Nobody will know when these marches are coming.”

His comments piqued the interest of Sheriff Wells, who called commission Chairwoman Benac in the middle of the morning meeting to ask if the board, after hearing there would be more protests, had made a decision about the Confederate monument.

“I’m just waiting to find out what the decision will be,” Wells told the Bradenton Herald in a phone call Tuesday afternoon, “so we could plan for those marches.”

David McAllister, who the Tampa Bay Times has reported is with the Tampa chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans, criticized the event and did not want the monument to be moved.

“Veterans in this county and all over know this is not about Confederate veterans, it’s a war on all veterans,” he said. “As President Trump said the other day, ‘Where will it end?’ 

Commissioner Smith said the vote to move the monument was “the right decision.”

“When you look at the economic ... effect that it had on law enforcement, you have to make the best decision in the name of public safety for our residents,” he said.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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