At Issue: Who owns monument in Decatur Square?


At Issue: Who owns monument in Decatur Square?

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Protestors call for the removal of the obelisk in Decatur Square. file photo by Bill Banks for the AJC

In the past two months the Confederate monument on Decatur’s square has probably received more attention than ever, at least since it was commemorated in April 1908.

This 30-foot tall obelisk, like monuments everywhere, is unquestionably a symbol. But a symbol of what?

For those who erected it, nearly 43 years to the day after Appomattox, the Civil War was as fresh as the earthworks still lining the city square. They saw this as honoring the nearly two generations of Southern men wiped out by an unimaginably brutal war. In a nation of 31.5 million (north and south combined) a total 623,000 died, exceeding all this nation’s wars combined through Vietnam. Nearly as many Americans were wounded and permanently debilitated.

But Sara Patenaude, a PhD candidate in history who helped found Hate Free Decatur, sees it much differently.

“[Hate Free Decatur is] about dismantling the system the monument represents, dismantling white supremacy in Decatur,” she said recently.

And lately the obelisk has become a symbol of entangled local bureaucracy.

This week the DeKalb Commission will almost certainly pass a resolution calling for removal of the monument, which was erected in four sections. Decatur’s commission approved a similar resolution last month.

But the county is now saying it’s uncertain about who owns the monument and who owns the land it sits on, and that a month-long title search has proved inconclusive. Meantime Decatur insists, as it has all along, both land and landmark are owned by DeKalb.

Then there’s the state law passed in 2001 that appears to prohibit such monuments, regardless of who owns it, from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.”

So how do you sort out this situation? Who owns it, what does it stand for, where does it go and if it does go who pays for it and is it worth the cost?

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Atlanta has joined the ranks of Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Nashville as a city that has lessened the criminalization of marijuana possession. New legislation eliminates jail time and reduces penalties on possession of small amounts of marijuana.

A city council news release announcing the new ordinance said it “will dramatically reduce the penalty for marijuana possession and make it a non-arrestable offense.”

It will reduce the financial penalty for possession of one ounce or less from up to $1,000 to a maximum of $75. Jail time, currently six months for possession, would be eliminated for an ounce or less.

We asked readers if they thought this new ordinance is a good idea. Here’s what some had to say:

Is fining ounce-possession of marijuana right step? No there should be no fines. It should be legal as it is in many states. — Chuck Ramsey

Firstly, let’s dispel the myth that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads users to harder and more addictive substances. Study after study for over 40 years has shown that to be simply not true. Drug usage today is completely mutually exclusive. Pot is a recreational drug and to ruin a kids life, spend taxpayers dollars on punishment and court time, is no longer reasonable or rational — Dr. Gary Martin

Everyone in Atlanta city government has gone crazy! Unless it’s a prescription, all drugs should be illegal. What they are proposing is refer madness! — Dawn Jones

Why even fine people? Marijuana is less debilitating than alcohol. Create an industry and tax it. — Judy Johnson

I had my doubts about the mayor and the city council in regards to whether they were really trying to help their citizens, so I was glad to see the policy change on marijuana. The”gateway drug” myth is just that. Since there is no physiological link between marijuana and harder drugs, it must be the argument that it put you in proximity of that group. In a previous article in the AJC it stated that 92 percent of those arrested were African Americans. The most insightful and thought provoking quote came from Xochid Brevera of the Racial Justice Center. He said “Criminalization is the real gateway to drugs. The vast number of marijuana users, like smokers and drinkers, don’t go on to harder drugs. But jail can and does have a spiral effect on those who are criminalized. — Paul Susko

Marijuana has potential for pain relief and could be an answer to ending the opioid crisis. Researchers have collected data to show marijuana’s usefulness in treating pain and symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal. — Kyle T.

Pamela Miller for the AJC

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