When Broward County state Rep. Shevrin Jones protested in Hollywood, Florida, to demand the city rename streets honoring former Confederate generals and a Ku Klux Klan leader, a group of counterprotesters shouted racial slurs at him, calling him a “nigger” and a “monkey” and telling him to “go back where [he] came from.”
Jones isn’t going anywhere. Today he announced he plans to formally file a bill to remove every Confederate statue, sign, or name from public property in Florida after a white supremacist murdered a woman during a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday.
“I feel, as diverse as our state is, it’s important that we take the lead in showing that we’re a country of one people,” Jones told New Times via phone. “My colleagues always like to claim that Florida is taking the lead in this or that category. I think it would be great for us to take the lead ending hatred and bigotry.”
Jones, a Democrat, is a Hollywood native whose 101st District covers portions of that city plus Hallandale Beach, Miramar, and Pembroke Pines. He says he plans to introduce the bill in time for the 2018 legislative session and does not think Gov. Rick Scott necessarily needs to call a special summer meeting to vote on the bill immediately.
According to multiple news reports, there are more than 30 Confederate monuments in Florida — but not all of them sit on state-owned land. The most prominent — a statue honoring dead Confederate soldiers — stands at the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. New Times noted yesterday that Governor Scott, the legislative equivalent of the bald, child-eating demon from Pan’s Labyrinth, has repeatedly refused to take a stand on whether he thinks the monument should stay or go. Today he yet again deflected, arguing the monument is under the control of the state Legislature. However, Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout noted there is nothing in state law that prevents Scott from ordering the statue’s removal.
Moreover, Scott has the power to call a special session of the Legislature tomorrow to force Tallahassee to remove the monument if he really wanted to. He’s simply choosing not to take a stand on a monument that commemorates the Rebel soldiers who fought in the Battle of Olustee, which ended in the butchering of as many as 50 black Union soldiers solely because they were black. The monument also misspells the name of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and also claims the city is in Virginia. This monument has no reason to stand.
Elsewhere in Florida, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, who previously offended the state’s black legislative caucus by fighting against building a monument to the victims of slavery, confirmed to New Times this week that he will speak at a pro-Confederate group’s banquet September 2. That same group doxxed 113 civil rights activists last Thursday by publishing their private home addresses and phone numbers online. The activists said the group is harassing them. Another lawmaker, George Gainer, has also refused to apologize for filing a bill that would have legalized “accidentally” ramming a car into protesters.
Governors across the nation have either called for Confederate monuments to come down in their states or explicitly ordered their removal in the week since 20-year-old white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. was arrested for killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others after slamming his car into civil rights activists and leftist anti-racism organizers.
New Times asked the Scott administration Monday whether he would commit to removing state monuments to the army that fought to preserve slavery. By Thursday morning, his administration had not given an answer. New Times again asked a Scott spokesperson yesterday evening why the governor has not called for the monuments to come down, but has still received no response.
Jones has stepped up to lead where the governor has not. He stressed to New Times today that he didn’t fault any of his colleagues, and he praised Scott, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and other Republicans for condemning white supremacy when President Donald Trump didn’t have the guts to do it.
“I was happy to see so many of my Republican colleagues not stand with Number 45,” he said, referring to Trump. “They made statements that I believe 45 should have made, and he did not. That’s why Florida has a prime opportunity to take the lead. The leaders within our state — Democrat, Republican — we can take the lead on that.”
Jones told New Times he believes the statues should be moved to museums, where people can learn about the nation’s history in the proper context. He said that the monuments have “no place on public property” and that they belong in a museum if they’re “sowing such discord.”
“William Faulkner once stated that ‘the past is never dead,’ but I’m here to tell you that it can damn well be buried,” Jones said in a statement emailed to reporters.