A protest of Confederate monuments planned to coincide with St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights kick-off event on Saturday has gained outside attention.
But, regardless of the size of the protest, the city is prepared, said City Manager John Regan.
“We are prepared for a lot or a little,” Regan said.
Regan said a safety and security plan is in place for the event every year, and multiple agencies are involved.
“We are looking forward to a wonderful evening. … People will be safe and secure,” Regan said. “There’s not an issue there. And we all have our rights to speak our mind because this is the United States and we have the right to protest any decision by your local government.”
The Rev. Ron Rawls, pastor of St. Paul AME Church on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, plans to lead a peaceful protest march from the church to the Plaza de la Constituction during Light-Up! Night. The event draws big crowds and kicks off the Nights of Lights season in St. Augustine.
The protest is part of Rawls’ push to have two monuments removed, one owned by the city and another controlled by the University of Florida. Rawls said Thursday he’s not sure how many people will attend, but multiple organizations including some from Jacksonville have contacted him about participating.
Rawls and others have asked the city to remove the monuments, saying they symbolize racism and slavery.
Regan stressed that the city’s decision regarding the monuments has already been made. The City Commission decided to keep the monuments and advertise for a committee to add context to the site. People can apply now to the city to be a part of the committee.
Still, Regan said, “I would encourage readers to listen to other points of view and be thoughtful about that and respectful of diverse points of view because it is the city’s intention to move forward with a contextualization committee to incorporate and create a … more accurate public history associated to the Civil War period.”
The city’s monument focuses on local men who died serving the Confederacy. The university’s monument focuses on Confederate Gen. William Loring and his service in the Civil War and other conflicts. Many people have spoken in support of keeping the monuments in place.
Mayor Nancy Shaver said she’s heard from some people who are concerned about the protest.
“I have no personal concerns, and I don’t think anyone else should,” Shaver said. “We always have security on Nights of Lights.”
She added later, “It’s the oldest public space in the country, and people are always free to exercise (their First Amendment rights).”