Activist Ben Frazier arrested while protesting Confederate monuments
A Jacksonville civil rights leader was pulled out of the City Council chambers and arrested Tuesday night as he and multiple speakers pressed lawmakers to act to tear down Confederate monuments around the city.
Ben Frazier, leader of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, was charged with trespass with warning and resisting arrest after he didn't heed Council President Terrance Freeman's repeated requests to stop speaking during a 90-minute public comment period filled with people speaking for and against monument removal.
While there was no legislation on the City Council agenda addressing the long-running issue of removing the monuments, those against them protested outside City Hall before the hearing, then signed up to speak during public comment. And they spoke just a week after a group called Save Southern Heritage rented a plane to fly a Confederate flag over Jacksonville.
Dozens of people spoke for the first hour of the public comment period, many demanding the City Council act to "take them down!," some calling the monuments a public disgrace. But a large number of other speakers, some wearing Confederate flags on their clothing, spoke in favor of leaving their heritage alone.
"Slavery is horribly ugly, but please remember that not all slaves were abused. Many had bonds of friendship that lasted well beyond the war," Ronnie Nichols said. "Our opposer's freedom of speech has wasted a lot of taxpayer money and hurt both sides. Please don't disrespect our ancestors. That's all we ask."
When his turn to speak came up, Frazier stood up from his wheelchair and told the chamber that "justice delayed is justice denied," angry that the City Council has kept the issue of memorial removal on the back burner.
"We fought the Civil War to keep my people in chains," he said. "We will wait no longer! We say, take the monuments down. We have chosen to engage in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience, forcing the demand that you act with leadership, that you act with courage. Stop kicking the can down the road."
In June 2020, Mayor Lenny Curry did remove a Confederate soldier statue from a pedestal in the middle of what was then called Hemming Park, later renamed James Weldon Johnson Park. But while Curry has tweeted support for removal of a large Confederate statue in Springfield Park, the City Council has not acted.
It has voted down a $1.3 million removal plan from Curry, voted against putting the issue to voters, shot down a $500,000 removal effort, failed to follow its own strategic plan to address Confederate monuments by July and idled an offer from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund to hire outside facilitators to help the city determine the future of the Confederate monuments on public lands.
In recent weeks, a pro-Confederate banner, paid for by Save Southern Heritage Inc., was flown over TIAA Bank Field prior to a Jaguars game in November. Then just over a week ago, a similar banner with a Confederate flag and the phrase "Curry, Stop Your Hate!" flew over downtown, also including the group's web address. The group, which apparently sponsored both banners, calls itself a voluntary association of people who "revere the South, Southern history and Southern heritage."
So Frazier, founder and head of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, organized the protest in James Weldon Johnson Park across from City Hall. Standing near the column that still bears a plaque reading "Confederate Memorial" before Tuesday night's council meeting, Frazier advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to get the City Council to listen, then the group went in to speak before the lawmakers.
"We will not continue to do the same thing and expect different results," Frazier said. "We have given them far too much time to do what they were supposed to do, and they were supposed to do what? Take them down! Say it again — take them down!"
Other speakers were just as vocal in support of removing the memorial in Springfield, including Jacksonville NAACP head Isaiah Rumlin, who said Confederate banners over the city only divide the people.
"No company wants to come to a city with the type of racism that is being shown in the city of Jacksonville," Rumlin said. "The mayor has spoken, but his promise has not been fulfilled. ... The City Council needs to step up and do the right thing — remove these Confederate statues! They know what they represent, and they know what they stand for: hatred, racism, bigotry, injustice."
When the protesters moved inside the council chambers, they joined many others signing up to speak during public comment. Warned twice by Council President Terrance Freeman to remain civil and make no demonstrations, so many people wanted to speak that each was limited to about a minute..
Dozens spoke for and against removal before Frazier had his turn, then he continued to speak as Freeman asked him to stop. Frazier refused to leave the podium, turning around to demand that the city "remove the Confederate monuments! Take them down!" Others in the crowd joined the chant as police officers asked Frazier to stop and sit down.
"Mr. Frazier, Mr. Frazier, come on now. We don’t want to do this, OK?," officers told Frazier as they tried to get him to sit. "We are asking you to walk out."
Frazier was ultimately pulled from the podium as he told officers he was handicapped, demanding the monuments' removal as he asked if he was being arrested. Taken outside the chambers, he was handcuffed, then escorted to a police car.
For Maceo George, a long-time member of the Northside Coalition, the arrest upset him.
He said "it's going to take a movement" to get their message of memorial removal heard, after endless talks and emails with City Council members have gone nowhere. So it is time to take some serious action and step it up," and that includes civil disobedience like he had just seen with Frazier's actions.
"I am sorry to see it happen with Ben tonight, but we will support him, his community and his organization," he said. "We are not going anywhere. We will continue this fight to keep those racist monuments off city property."
Frazier was expected to spend the night in the Duval County jail.