Gwinnett solicitor files to remove Confederate statue in Lawrenceville

Confederate Veterans of Gwinnett Monument (Old Gwinnett County Courthouse): This monument was dedicated in 1993 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Perhaps anticipating today’s flag controversies, it includes this quote by Winston Churchill: “Any people with contempt for their heritage have lost faith in themselves and no nation can long survive without pride in its traditions.” PETE CORSON / pcorson@ajc.com
Confederate Veterans of Gwinnett Monument (Old Gwinnett County Courthouse): This monument was dedicated in 1993 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Perhaps anticipating today’s flag controversies, it includes this quote by Winston Churchill: “Any people with contempt for their heritage have lost faith in themselves and no nation can long survive without pride in its traditions.” PETE CORSON / pcorson@ajc.com

Calling a statue in Lawrenceville that honors the Confederacy a "public nuisance," Gwinnett County's solicitor has filed a request to have the monument removed from the city's square.

The move comes after a DeKalb County judge ordered a Confederate monument in Decatur be removed because of the risk to public safety. That monument was taken down June 18.

Brian Whiteside, the Gwinnett solicitor general, said in a Tuesday complaint that the case is about preventing injury and death. He said in the filing that relocating the monument “will prevent injury and unrest while at the same time protecting and preserving the monument in compliance with — and indeed fulfillment of — Georgia law.”

The Gwinnett statue was erected in 1993, a gift of local Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy groups. It has an early Confederate flag etched into it, as well as a picture of a Confederate soldier and, among writing, bears the dates 1861-1865 and the notation "LEST WE FORGET."

Kirkland Carden, a Democrat running for Gwinnett County commission who started a petition to remove the statue, said it was ludicrous to think in 1993 that residents needed to be reminded of the Confederacy. He said it was important that the granite monument come down.

“If we want to create a welcoming, inclusive environment, moving this monument is a good-faith effort and a start,” he said. “Now, we’re moving past the time of listening. Now, we want action.”

Whiteside’s filing suggests the statue be moved to the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center. Citing online tutorials about how to bring down obelisks and other monuments, as well as incidents where Confederate statues have been flash points for violence, Whiteside said its continued presence could constitute a public safety concern.

The issues have been exacerbated over the past month, he said, as protests in Lawrenceville and elsewhere have called greater attention to symbols of racism and hate. The filing notes that the monument is near the location of the 1911 lynching of Charlie Hale.

The monument, which is on county property, has recently been vandalized, Whiteside said. Signs about white supremacy and racism were posted to it, and it was spray painted with “Black Lives Matter.”

Nabilah Islam, a former Congressional candidate who also started the petition to take the statue down, said it should never have been erected.

“We need to take down symbols of hate,” she said. “These monuments belong in museums. They don’t belong in public spaces.”

While Whiteside’s filing would allow a judge to order the removal, the petition asks county commissioners to vote to move the monument. A spokesperson for the county could not immediately comment on any plans commissioners might have, or whether they backed the solicitor’s filing.

Whiteside said in the filing that leaving the statue alone would continue to cost local government — in cleaning the monument when it is defaced and in investigating who damaged it. He said its continued presence could draw violence.

“In recent days, in the midst of historic, nationwide protests of the killing of unarmed black men, the Confederate Monument in Lawrenceville has become a focus of justifiable anger and frustration; an impetus for protests and rallies; and most importantly, and urgent, impending threat to public safety,” he said.

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