Mayor Girtz calls for the removal of Confederate monument

Confederate monument in downtown Athens
Photo by user Chuck on (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mayor Kelly Girtz has called for the removal of the Confederate monument on Broad Street.

On Tuesday, he instructed ACC Attorney Judd Drake to find “the most effective plan” for its removal, which will be implemented sometime this year.

If you’re wondering why this task was given to a lawyer and not a moving crew, the reason is SB 77, a law passed by the state legislature last year.

This law was designed to stop progressive local governments in Georgia from doing exactly what Girtz is now planning to do, and it was supported by four-fifths of Athens’ own delegation (Representative Spencer Frye being the only no vote).

The text of the law states, “No publicly owned monument… shall be relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.” However, it does have an exception for “preservation, protection, and interpretation of such monuments.”

Commissioner Russell Edwards
Commissioner Russell Edwards

This is the loophole Girtz believes he can drive an obelisk through, and he seems to have the support of the entire commission. “That monument has to come down, immediately,” Commissioner Russell Edwards said.

Protesters spray painted the monument late Sunday night, which may be reason enough to support moving it for its own protection, in accordance with SB 77.

It is also serving as a focal point for daily protests, making the idea that it could be in imminent danger more plausible.

Both tear gas and bean bag rounds fired upon protesters

The monument’s defacement followed the May 31 March for a World Without Cops. Protesters remained late into the evening.

ACC Police ultimately dispersed them using tear gas and “bean bag” rounds, something which Commissioners Mariah Parker and Tim Denson sharply criticized.

Commissioner Tim Denson
Commissioner Tim Denson

“There is never an excuse for us to tear gas our own people, sitting peacefully protesting,” Denson said.

Denson also described the “terrible pain” that tear gas inflicts, saying he saw high-school and college-age students “throwing up in parking lots, crying.”

“This was done by the hands of our own police,” Denson added.

Commissioner Mariah Parker
Commissioner Mariah Parker

“I stand with the non-violent protesters who were tear gassed,” Parker said. “I am here for you in supporting whatever it takes for you all to heal from the harm that this local government did to you.”

Parker then repeated the plan they unveiled at the protest, calling for a 10-year transition plan to convert half of armed police officer positions to unarmed social workers, mental health professionals and counselors.

Jesse Houle for CommissionCOVID-19 Updates

Also at this meeting, the mayor and commission extended the local state of emergency related to COVID-19 to August 11. While no longer having any effect on business operations or movements of individuals, this order does allow the continued deferment of occupation tax and some regulatory fees. In addition, it allows for continued to-go sales of beer and wine for local restaurants.

As our economy begins to reopen, the commission is urging that everyone wear a mask and to maintain social distancing as much as feasible. Wearing a mask is essential to stopping the spread of this deadly disease, especially when in closed off spaces around other people. The commission passed a resolution urging masks to be worn in enclosed areas and when outside in heavily-traveled areas such as sidewalks, public parks, parking lots, when on public transit and in other areas as recommended by the CDC.

The local government will purchase almost 50,000 masks and other supplies to help stop the spread of COVID-19 using $145,000 in federal grant money approved by the commission at this meeting. These masks will be handed out for free to riders of Athens Transit and visitors to the courthouse, which has reopened.

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