Addressing mounting calls to tear down the city’s Confederate statues, Mayor Mike Rawlings on Tuesday proposed the creation of a task force that will study the issue in order to come up with a resolution that will see Dallas “united.”
While saying that he personally viewed the statues — at Lee Park in Oak Lawn and at a memorial near the convention center — as “dangerous totems” and “monuments of propaganda,” Rawlings declined to support their immediate removal at a press conference.
“It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and say, ‘Tear them down,’ because it’s, frankly, politically correct, and in many ways it makes us all feel good. I feel that way,” he said. “But I hesitate, and the reason is because I realize that the city of Dallas is better, is stronger, when we are united, and not divided.”
Rawlings said he relied on the city charter and policies on public art to support his decision for a slower, deliberative process. The task force, whose members would be appointed by city council members, would work for 90 days before presenting its findings to the board of the Office of Cultural Affairs, which would then make a presentation to the City Council. Dallas residents and the city’s Quality of Life Committee would be allowed to weigh in before any final decision was made about the fate of the statues, Rawlings said. The mayor has asked two organizations to advise the task force: Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, a national grant-funded effort to support just that, and the Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education & Tolerance.
Rawlings said there was, as of yet, no City Council agenda item for his proposal, but that he was “moving on it rapidly.”
The mayor’s call for a task force, in some ways, resembles that of a memo originally supported by council members Philip Kingston, Scott Griggs, Casey Thomas, Mark Clayton, and Adam Medrano. Thomas withdrew his name from the resolution shortly after the mayor’s press conference, according to Griggs, which would prevent a vote on the memo at a Sept. 13 City Council meeting. (Update: West Dallas council member Omar Narvaez has since added his signature to the memo, apparently providing the five votes needed to place an item on the agenda.)
That resolution calls for the city to make opposition to Confederate monuments and public places named for prominent Confederates an official policy. It would also create a task force of diverse community leaders and scholars to determine “what to do with monuments and symbols after removal from public spaces,” and to propose new commemorative markers. The resolution, which Kingston would have liked to have seen on the agenda for an upcoming council meeting, similarly allows for educational public meetings on the issue.
Kingston, speaking on the phone after Tuesday’s press conference, said he was confused by elements of the mayor’s proposal, but he applauded Rawlings’ description of the monuments as racist propaganda. “I really hope we’re on the same page,” Kingston said.
Heated conversations over Dallas’ Confederate monuments have been a mainstay of the city’s public discourse for years, and Kingston has long been a supporter of removing the statues. But last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va., where violence ensued at a white supremacist rally in support of that city’s Confederate statues, seems to have accelerated the discussion.
“I feel more of a sense of urgency,” Kingston said. “It’s time to have this debate and get it behind us, so that we can move on to the racial healing that I think the mayor quite rightly calls for.”
Rawlings himself addressed the racist violence in Charlottesville, saying that the involvement of a Dallas native, the white supremacist and St. Mark’s alumni Richard Spencer, in the hate rally, “made it extremely difficult for me as mayor of Dallas.” He said the Dallas Police Department would ensure public safety and the peaceful exercise of free speech at a Saturday protest urging the removal of the monuments.
“We will not have street brawls in our city,” he said.
Rawlings’ comments were especially pointed in light of Dallas’ ugly history with racism, which he talked about in his opening statement.
“We know about this bigotry and hate all too well in Dallas, a place that for so long was a bastion of the Ku Klux Klan and was dubbed the City of Hate. A place that 13 months ago a madman came here to kill certain cops just because they were white,” Rawlings said. “As we try to grow as a city, we can never ignore the fact that race and our racial injustices of the past continue to haunt us, and the institutional racism we see economically every day keeps us from the goal that we have as a city. One symbol of those injustices are public art and statues in some parts of our city.”
The mayor’s press conference was streamed live on his Facebook page. You can watch it in full below: