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Court Dissolves Restraining Order: Lee Statue Can Come Down

Court Dissolves Restraining Order: Lee Statue Can Come Down (2)EXPAND
Patrick Williams
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A federal judge dissolved a temporary restraining order Thursday that barred the city of Dallas from removing a statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park.

U.S. District Judge Sydney Fitzwater approved the order yesterday, halting the work crews that had started the demolition at Lee Park. Plaintiffs argued that their free speech would be denied by removing the statue, saying the government "shouldn't be in the business of determining the meaning of political symbols."

Chris Caso, the city's attorney, argued that statues don't have first amendment rights.

"Plaintiffs have no property interest. They likewise don't have a liberty interest," she told the judge. "Nothing in their resolution denies the plaintiffs their right to free speech. They are denying the city's right to free speech."

Today, the judge agreed, saying the city's plan didn't violate the plaintiffs' rights. "The judge recognized the legality and appropriateness of this process," Larry Casto, another city attorney, said.

After the City Council vote Wednesday, workers began preparing the statue for removal via crane. They stopped working when word came down that Fitzwater issued the temporary restraining order after Hiram Patterson and members of the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the city for violating the First Amendment and open-meetings laws.

"We will remove the statue respectfully," City Council member Dwaine Caraway said. "We will store it. We will not destroy it."

The statue, erected in 1936 and dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt, is one of many Confederate monuments put up throughout the South during the Jim Crow era. Alexander Phimister Proctor, a New York sculptor known for his vivid depictions of animal life, created the monument. At its dedication, the city of Dallas renamed the park in which the sculpture was placed after Lee. The park, established in 1909, originally was called Oak Lawn Park.

Tensions over the statue have been simmering for quite some time, thanks to activists like Mothers Against Police Brutality's John Fullenwider and Dallas religious leaders such as Michael Waters. They came to a boil last month in the aftermath of white nationalist attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Initially, two competing plans were offered for addressing Dallas' Confederate monuments. The first, supported by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, called for a task force to take up to 90 days to decide what to do with the statues. The second, proposed by a group of five City Council members led by Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, would have started with a decision to remove the statues and then convened a group to decide how to get that done.

The council also established a task force Wednesday to determine how to address the Confederate monument in Pioneer Park, as well as city parks and streets named after Confederate figures.

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