Next month, the city of Orlando will be honoring the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. Before the memorial, residents hope to remove a 100-year-old statue of a Confederate soldier at the local park where the ceremony will take place. But defenders of Confederate heritage are not letting the statue go down without a fight.
Ahead of Monday's meeting to call for the removal of the statue, there's a brewing divide among both residents pushing to topple the monument and those wanting it to remain – the latest in a national wave of debates on the present-day impact of Confederate tributes.
The issue surrounding the statue, which was erected in the city's Lake Eola Park by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1917, was brought to light by a video released last week by David Porter, a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. In the video, Porter, who is black, called the statue of a Confederate soldier an "icon of white supremacy." Porter has urged the city to remove the statue before Orlando United Day on June 12, honoring those who died in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
"After last year's Pulse massacre, local officials stood up against hatred and saluted diversity," Porter said in the video. "Yet, the Confederate statue remains in Lake Eola. Orlando leaders need to ask themselves, 'Do you support white supremacy over people of color?'"
On Monday, Porter and other detractors are meeting with the Orlando City Council to discuss the statue. This meeting has gotten the attention of pro-Confederate groups on Facebook, severalofwhich holding protest events in support of the statue throughout the day.
— Mike Manzoni NBC10 Boston (@MikeNBCBoston) May 15, 2017
Standing room only crowd at Orlando City Hall for Confederate statue issue pic.twitter.com/VlJQUqM8Mt
— Terry Roen (@TerryORoen) May 15, 2017
"A [New York] transplant is stirring up trouble over a beautiful [Confederate States of America] monument," one event organizer wrote. "Please come show support, with honor and dignity so we may defeat these vile attacks on our family's bloodline."
The organizer added: "Remember to bring your nerves of steel because as we know white-guilt liberals are annoying as hell 100 [percent] of the time. Don't forget those beautiful flags!!"
The potentially volatile nature of these protests was further amplified over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Saturday, Richard Spencer, the de-facto leader of the "alt-right" movement, led a group of torch-wielding, chanting protesters in protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Fearful of any potential violence, one Orlando organizer reminded those at Monday's protest to conduct themselves in "a professional and non-violent manner at this meeting."
The Orlando debate comes just days after a similarly contentious debate in New Orleans ended with a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis being removed.
While it remains unclear whether the Orlando statue will eventually come down before next month, Cassandra Lafser, a spokesperson for the city, told Orlando Weekly that it is taking the issue under consideration.
"This is important to the city and something we have been researching over this time," Lafser said.
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