The protesters shouted in unison: “Take it down! Take it down!”
Some shouted back, “It’s history!”
The hundreds gathered before the Confederate monument beside the Manatee County Historic Courthouse on Monday evening argued and yelled back and forth for more than two hours about the fate of the 93-year-old statue.
Tensions flared early on. And when they started to rise again later on, law enforcement was quick to act and eventually sent in horses to break up the two sides.
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Those protesting the monument and demanding its removal were led by the Black Lives Matter Alliance Sarasota Manatee Chapter, Indivisible Bradenton Pro-gressive and Answer Suncoast. Most of the protesters gathered at the South Florida Museum and marched to the Manatee County Historic Courthouse where both sides converged.
Protesters in support of removing the monument drowned out those in favor of keeping it once the marchers arrived.
At times they chanted, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
At times they sang in unison, and other times they listened as leaders from their organizations spoke on a megaphone.
Law enforcement also had a strong presence at the demonstrations and were spread throughout the scene. Manatee Avenue, Old Main Street and 9th Avenue West were shut down near the courthouse with city and county trucks used as barricades.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said he was pleased with the way law enforcement handled the event.
“It was peaceful for the most part, but we did have a couple of arrests and they were from out of town, one from Jacksonville who just wanted to go fight,” Wells said. “We want people to be able to express their opinions without fear of violence.”
Wells said that although such a large protest is fairly unique to Bradenton, “It’s something our guys train for a lot and we send deputies to large-scale events, so they were technically sound and knew what to do. No one got hurt and that was ultimately the goal.”
There were three total arrests, according to Wells. Deputies dressed in riot gear quickly took each away into the Manatee Judicial Center.
Savannah McKenna arrived from Cocoa Beach. She used to live in Sarasota and has friends in the area. McKenna said it was the events at Charlottesville where a white supremacist is being blamed for the death of a 32-year-old woman after driving into a crowd that swayed her into action.
“It was time to stop being quiet and get out there,” McKenna said. “We are the only country in the world to honor traitors. You can’t fly a Nazi flag in Germany; why would you allow the Confederate flag to fly in America?”
Early on, protesters burned swastikas and they shouted angrily at those opposed.
Manatee County resident Alexis Davis grew up in a military family. She was there to protest the monument based on her patriotism.
“I don’t support my tax dollars being used on public property to honor traitors,” Davis said. “I hope the community gets the message that symbols of racism are not welcome here because Bradenton is not a racist city.”
America First-Team Manatee, a group of local Trump supporters, led the rally in support of preserving the monument.
At that point the protesters far outnumbered those who were supporting the monument location. Others showed up on their own accord.
About a dozen men and women showed up with Confederate flags, which ultimately led to a confrontation with Black Lives Matter protesters. The two sides squared off at the end of the protest, with one Black Lives Matter protester calling the white man the devil and levying other threatening statements. That’s when the police broke it up for good.
Jim Barnhill, a lifelong Bradenton resident, was among the supporters holding Confederate flags. Barnhill said he supported keeping the monument to preserve his heritage.
“These men died in the Civil War and they are getting treated like pieces of crap,” Barnhill said. “This isn’t about slavery any more than the Civil War was. It was about economics. No man deserves to be enslaved, but I don’t deserve to lose my heritage.”
Marching and gathered with the protesters was Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith.
“That courthouse is supposed to be for equal justice,” Smith said. “It’s not for white justice. It’s not for black justice. We are all one people.”
On Friday afternoon, the Manatee County commission voted 6-1 in favor of covering up the Confederate monument to protect it in preparation for a protest and rally planned for Monday evening. It took more than four hours Saturday for four county building and development services workers to frame the monument with two-by-fours and then cover it with plywood.
The monument, which has a Confederate flag etched on one side and the names of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee etched on the other sides, was unveiled in June 1924. The Judah P. Benjamin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the monument after getting approval from the Manatee County Commission in March 1924.
Smith said he intends to offer $500 during Tuesday’s commission meeting to go toward the removal of the monument. He hopes that enough money can be raised to remove it from the courthouse grounds where it has no place, he said.
Eleutero Salazar Jr., a candidate for Ward 4 in the 2018 election and a former mayoral candidate, has always said he’s a political activist before a politician.
“The politicians who don’t show up for this won’t for fear of losing votes,” Salazar said. “I believe that you have to give people a voice and you can’t worry about losing votes. You have to take a stand and if you don’t, you are standing on the wrong side of history.”
Kurt Fowler, of Bradenton, stood and watched the crowd gather earlier and said that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee would not have wanted any of what was unfolding.
“He didn’t want any memorials or monuments,” Fowler said. “He wanted the country to heal.”
Some supporters carried Confederate flags while at least one man waved a white supremacist flag. A couple supporters of the monument wore nationalists T-shirts.
Ezra Gross, of Bradenton, believed the monument should stay but was glad the county commission decided to cover it for its own protection, he said.
“I don’t see any reason why it has to be taken down,” Gross said. “What does it got to do with anything but history? Of course, it’s probably bad history in some parts, but it’s still history.”
Gross said it had nothing to do with slavery, it was about the Civil War.
“Nowhere on that monument does it say how many slaves any of those guys owned, nowhere,” Gross said.
Racism has always been a two-way street, he said, and always would be.
“How much do I need to pay them is my question,” Gross said. “Obviously they keep saying we owe them for something our ancestors did to them.”
Loren Lasseter said he came to observe but also in making sure everything stayed peaceful. He thought both sides should talk the issue out, instead of shouting at one another.
“This is my home and this hate doesn’t belong here,” Lasseter said. “They brought this hate here and doesn’t belong.”
Lassester, who was seen arguing early on with protesters, thinks the monument should remain and agrees that it was a symbol of racism.
“To most people it represents the soldiers that fought on both sides and the history of this county and the whole country.”