Although the Confederate monument in the heart of St. Augustine still stands, the city’s mayor stressed on Wednesday that plans to move it are proceeding.
“It's not something you just bring in a flatbed truck and a crane and cart it off, and so the city is dedicated to removing it carefully and to finding an appropriate spot where it will then have a new site,” Mayor Tracy Upchurch said on WJCT News' First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.
City commissioners voted last month 3 to 2 to move the monument in the Plaza de la Constitucion that was erected around 1872 in honor of Confederate soldiers who died fighting in the Civil War. Since then, it’s been covered up with plywood. Discussions on where to move it are ongoing.
Upchurch said discussions on removing the monument began over three years ago following the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Like many other cities, St. Augustine has seen protests and demonstrations both in favor of moving the monument and keeping it in place. Sunday hundreds gathered in the plaza in support of, and against, the City Commission's decision, according to the St. Augustine Record.
“These have been handled by our police department with no arrests, no property damage, no physical injury, and everyone's constitutional rights were protected,” said Upchurch.
The mayor also provided an update on the city’s mandatory mask update, saying the response to it has been very positive.
“We have had no enforcement issues as a community. We do have the ability to impose a fine, but we have not gone in that direction. I think the police have only intervened in one occasion, and they were able to resolve it very simply," he said.
Upchurch pointed out that St. Augustine’s mask mandate also helps protect the tourist-driven city’s visitors. He would also like to see the St. Johns County Commission adopt a mandatory mask update, which it has so far declined to do, even as a colleague was in critical condition due to complications from COVID-19.
“The county has considered it. They have elected not to do it. I wish they would. But you know, that's their power and prerogative to make that decision,” said Upchurch.
At the time of this story’s publication, St. Johns County had 3,136 COVID-19 cases with 23 deaths and 161 hospitalizations, according to the Florida Department of Health.
To hear the entire interview with Upchurch, listen to Wednesday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross. The show also encores at 8 p.m. on WJCT News 89.9.