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Florida Senate Bill Would Ban Removal of Confederate Monuments

Historians have noted that such monuments were erected as a means of subjugating Black people in the 20th century.

A Confederate monument featuring an 8-foot statue of a Confederate soldier is seen in Lee Park on August 20, 2017, in Pensacola, Florida.

A bill advancing in the Florida state Senate would forbid the removal of memorials related to Confederate figures or events, and ban the addition of text on or near monuments to provide added historical context.

The proposal would also impose steep fines on individuals who damage historical memorials, including Confederate statues, plaques, and other sites glorifying people who fought to preserve slavery in the Civil War.

Senate Bill 1096 would fine a person “treble damages” — or three times the actual amount of repair costs — if a person is found guilty of damaging a public monument in the state, including Confederate monuments. A person could also be subjected to punitive damages in addition to the treble damages.

The bill would provide Florida residents with the means to sue individuals or groups who they believe have damaged or removed a monument, or added items that change the monuments’ original meaning. Under the terms of the bill, a monument could only be removed if a public works project required its relocation.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee forwarded the Republican-backed proposal on Wednesday by a party-line vote of 6-2. A state House of Representatives version of the bill passed last week. The Senate bill still has to pass the Rules Committee before it can undergo full Senate consideration.

Racial justice advocates have disputed state Sen. Jonathan Martin’s (R) claim that the bill aims to preserve the state’s history, pointing out that the statues glorify Confederate figures without providing context on their role in the fight to uphold slavery.

“What I like about these memorials in public places is that everybody has the opportunity to see who we were,” Martin said. “The older the monument, the more important it is, because it provides a starting point for what our country began as, who led our country.”

In spite of Martin’s purported concerns about preserving history, the bill would forbid adding any historical context on or near existing statues or memorials. A statue honoring Confederate soldiers in front of Putnam County Courthouse, for example — which states that “The Principles For Which They Fought Will Live Eternally” — could not have a plaque placed next to it recognizing that those “principles” included the continued enslavement of Black people.

State Sen. Rosalind Osgood (D), who is Black, said passage of the bill would be a mistake.

“I’m hoping that we’ll get to a point where we can have some real tough conversations to understand why different groups feel different ways about certain things. People that look like me really are offended by a lot of the Confederate monuments,” Osgood said.

The lawmaker also pointed out that many of the memorials honoring Confederate-era figures or ideals weren’t put up during or immediately after the Civil War, but during the 1950s and ‘60s in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement.

Indeed, according to Lecia Brooks, former chief of staff and culture at the Southern Poverty Law Center, such monuments were intended to remind Black Americans of their subjugation under Jim Crow laws and other discriminatory policies during most of the 20th century.

“I know what this statue means,” Brooks said to FiveThirtyEight, speaking about Confederate monuments as a whole. “It’s a reminder to stay in my place.”

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