Evoking memories of violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Va., three years ago over a Confederate monument, Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside filed a complaint in Gwinnett Superior Court this past week to seek the removal of a Confederate monument in Lawrenceville.
Whiteside had previously sent a letter to county commissioners, asking them to remove the monument, which is located on the grounds of the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse. He pivoted on Tuesday, however, and took his request to a judge instead, seeking a solution similar to one that was used to remove a Confederate monument in Decatur.
The argument outlined in the complaint, officially filed against the county, is that Whiteside sees the monument as a public nuisance because it has been the target of vandals, and he is concerned that it could become the scene of violent clashes between supporters of Confederate monuments and those who oppose them.
In doing so, he recalled a Unite The Right Rally that occurred in Charlottesville in 2017. One woman’s death was tied to the rally after a vehicle was driven into a crowd of counter-protesters.
“The Confederate monument located on the Lawrenceville Square could easily become a rallying and flashpoint for violence similar to the event in August 2017 in Charlottesville, (Va.); thus creating a public safety concern for the city of Lawrenceville and Gwinnett County,” Whiteside wrote in his complaint.
“In recent days, in the midst of historic, nationwide protests of the killings of unarmed black men, the Confederate monument in Lawrenceville has become the focus of justifiable anger and frustration, an impetus for protests and rallies, and most importantly, an urgent, impending threat to public safety.”
Whiteside’s actions are not the only steps being taken to get the Confederate monument removed from the grounds of the historic courthouse, which is a county-owned park and event space. In light of the protests over the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks among others, the monument has been the target of people who see Confederate monuments and statues as symbols of hate.
The monument was erected by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1993.
In addition to the steps taken by Whiteside, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners District 1 candidate Kirkland Carden, an African-American, and former 7th Congressional District candidate Nabilah Islam, a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, launched a petition on Change.org last month calling for the removal.
More than 1,900 people had signed the petition, which has a goal of 2,500 signatures, as of Friday afternoon.
Amid a nationwide debate over memorials commemorating the confederate States of America, a candidate for a seat on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and a former candidate for Congress are calling on county leaders to remove a confederate memorial that has stood on the Lawrenceville Square for nearly 30 years.
The petition, as well as Whiteside’s complaint in Superior Court, point out at least one lynching of an African-American took place on the Lawrenceville Square, about 10 yards away from where the monument stands.
Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside is asking the county commission to remove a controversial confederate memorial from the Lawrenceville Square that the prosecutor said has been the target of vandals multiple times recently.
Whiteside said in his complaint that Lawrenceville police were called to the monument on June 8 on a report that it had been vandalized with the damage estimated to be valued at $500. The marker had been spray painted with a stencil “Black Lives Matter” logo.
There were also “signs that had a long message on them, stating remarks about racism and white supremacy,” Whiteside said in the compaint.
“Every time such incidents of graffiti and vandalism occur, city resources are expended,” the solicitor general wrote. “This includes investigating potential criminal damage to the property, coordinating clean-up efforts with the monument and responding to media inquiries.”
Although city police are called to respond to the vandalism, the city has no authority over the monument since it is on county property run by the Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation Division.
State law was changed last year to protect Confederate monuments by increasing penalties for vandalizing them and making it harder to remove them. Local communities have been going through the courts, however, as a workaround to get the monuments removed and sent to museums or put into storage.
That was how the Confederate monument in Decatur was removed last month, after a judge ordered it be taken down.
State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, filed legislation this year to have Confederate monuments, as well as statues honoring Confederate soldiers or officials who advocated slavery, banned from public property, but that bill stalled in the Georgia House of Representatives.
State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, has authored House Bill 1212, which would prohibit confederate monuments, as well as statues of individuals who advocated for slavery, from being displayed on public property — except in Civil War battlefields and museums.
Whiteside suggested a judge order the monument on the Lawrenceville Square be moved to the Gwinnett Environmental and Historical Center, which has a museum of some county history.
“The Confederate monument that the community does not want has become a figurative powder keg and thus a public nuisance that must be abated quickly,” the solicitor general wrote in the complaint. “Relocating the monument temporarily will prevent injury and unrest while at the same time protecting and preserving the monument in compliance with — and indeed fulfillment of — Georgia law.”