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New bill that would protect Confederate monuments in Jacksonville sparks debate

Proposed bill to keep Confederate monuments in Florida draws backlash from Jacksonville man currently suing for their removal.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Are they honoring the past or celebrating segregation?

That's the question surrounding Senate Bill 1096, which is also called the "Historical Monuments and Memorials Protection Act" that is making its way through the Florida Legislature right now.

"The others in this city will be removed as well," said Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to a crowd in James Weldon Johnson Park in May 2020 after a piece of a Confederate monument was removed.

Not only does the rest of that monument remain in the park, but if SB 1096 becomes law then Confederate monuments like it and The Women of the Southern Confederacy Monument in Springfield Park would stay in place.

Senate Bill 1096 does more than just keep these monuments in place, there's also a stipulation that anyone who damages or defaces the monuments has to pay back three times as money as the cost to repair them.

"This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to protect Confederate monuments on public land in Florida," said Earl Johnson Jr.

Not only is Johnson Jr. opposed to the bill, but he's actively suing Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to prevent tax dollars from being used for the upkeep of Confederate monuments and buildings named after prominent people of the Confederacy.

"These monuments are symbols of white supremacy ideology," said Johnson Jr. "These monuments were put up during Jim Crow and reconstruction times. This isn't about history."

The Historical Monuments and Memorials Protection Act was approved in a 5-3 party line vote by the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. If it becomes law then even street names like Confederate Street in Jacksonville, which intersects with Springfield Park, would not be able to be changed.

"It sickens me because I understand this is about white supremacy," said Johnson Jr. "This is about a message to me as a black man that I am less than human."

Under SB 1096 the only reason a monument would be able to be moved is if the space is needed for a publicly owned building or transportation project. But then the monument must be moved to a site of similar prominence, honor and visibility.

You can read the full text of Senate Bill 1096 here.

For more information on Earl Johnson Jr's organization Take It Down Now, visit this website.

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