Dream Defenders ask why statue defacing raises more concern than black man’s death


After downtown Jacksonville’s Andrew Jackson statue was vandalized twice in one week, a spokeswoman for the activist group the Dream Defenders said she’d like to see as much outrage over controversial police-involved shootings as the recent widespread tagging of Confederate monuments in various states.

“I always pay attention to what people care more about,” said the group’s Ciara Taylor during an appearance on WJCT’s First Coast Connect. “It seems as though there’s more of an uproar about the fact that ‘Justice 4 D’ was tagged on the statue than the fact that D’Angelo Stallworth was killed by law enforcement, and the situation regarding that event is still unclear with conflicting autopsy reports.”

Someone tagged the base of the statue Sunday with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice 4 D” before the graffiti was scrubbed off.

On June 30 someone also put a Native American mask on the statue.

Jackson, for whom Jacksonville was named, was the president who signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 into law, forcing  thousands of Native Americans from their ancestral lands for reservations west of the Mississippi River. Many died during the  removal also known as the Trail of Tears.

Stallworth, 28, of Jacksonville was killed by police May 12.  An attorney for Stallworth’s family says an autopsy that he requested doesn’t match the official version of events that led to Stallworth’s death. That said, Ron Block has also stated he doesn’t condone defacing public property.

“I am highly sympathetic with the social justice statements being made, but my thoughts are it’s defacement,” said Emily Lisska, executive director of the Jacksonville Historical Society. “It’s a piece of the city’s history, good, bad or indifferent. I want to protect our pieces of history and that includes our outdoor statues.”

Lisska also says that Jackson’s controversial legacy has made it tough for her to teach the public about his lingering influence. (In a somewhat related note, activists with the “Women on 20s” movement came close to having Jackson’s visage replaced with a woman on the $20 dollar bill, arguing his legacy was too tainted to be on currency. They’ll have to settle for the $10 spot, which features Alexander Hamilton.)

“Jackson was beloved and reviled in his own lifetime and clearly since. Because of his controversial legacy, I’ve had a tough time getting the story of Jackson out. I’ve written grants to present exhibits of the story of Jackson, the good, the bad and the ugly, and have had a tough time getting funders. So I have to congratulate groups like the Dream Defenders. At least they’re able to get the story out there,” she said.

Unlike Lisska, Taylor supports the calls to tear down Confederacy-era monuments: “We have these symbols that illustrate the terror and horror inflicted by the same people who bore those Confederate flags so long ago. When you think about the Trail of Tears under Jackson, we talk about it so passively, as though it was this humane act. As if these indigenous people just decided to move West. It was a genocide, the extermination of these people who had no other alternative to death than to move. In the same vein, Jackson owned up to 300 enslaved Africans.

“However, Andrew Jackson didn’t go into the church in Charleston and shoot those nine people. It was someone with a very skewed version of history and a sinister understanding of race who shot those people. And I think our focus needs to be less on these symbols, than on providing accurate history and investing more into our educational system and having a real conversation about race,” she said.

On that point, both guests concurred. “We must share this area’s and this country’s history,” Lisska said, “and not shy away from the parts that are difficult.”

Melissa Ross

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at [email protected].


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