Up until this past week, the protests linked to the discussions on what to do with the Confederate statue on the grounds of the Lauderdale County Courthouse have been peaceful.
Participants have voiced their thoughts on whether the monument should be moved, and have done so in a manner that has earned praise from community leaders.
That changed last Monday night, and the abrupt swing caught many off guard, including law enforcement officials.
There’s little doubt that emotions have smoldered a bit throughout the weeks of meetings on what to do with the statue.
After city of Florence officials discovered they actually owned the statue, they agreed to move it to the Soldier’s Rest area of the city cemetery. They even found members of the business community willing to pay the relocation costs and the $25,000 state fine for violating the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. All they asked of the county in return was a resolution giving the city permission to move the statue, and releasing it of any potential liabilities.
The delayed response of county commissioners and their decision not to give the city a resolution didn’t help matters.
The rising discontent was clearly on display last Monday night. Tempers flared as someone who wants the monument moved began writing a message in chalk on the statue.
Videos posted on social media suggest there were a couple of instances where it looked like there was some contact between participants on opposing sides. Watching those videos, you can’t help but notice the loud proclamations of one participant who repeatedly claims someone was guilty of putting their hands on another person. And then someone appears to take a slap at a telephone being held by another protester.
Things were pretty tense for a few minutes.
Lauderdale Sheriff Rick Singleton admitted afterward the change in the tone of last week’s protest caught his deputies by surprise.
“We fumbled the ball there because we didn’t have a lot of deputies assigned to the event, because we really hadn’t had the need,” Singleton said, pointing out that in previous weeks, participants of both groups have been very cooperative.
The sheriff said law enforcement will be better prepared in the future.
“Nobody needs to be vandalizing the statue,” Singleton said, adding that when protestors start “physically touching each other, that’s going too far.”
He also warned participants about making verbal threats, or using obscene language or gestures in an attempt to aggravate the crowd.
We’ve shown in weeks past that expressions of concern can be shared with civility. Hopefully, that will continue to be the way our citizens act in future demonstrations.