Editorial: What next after monuments come down?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 21, 2020

The city of Salisbury is not alone in its ongoing effort to remove Confederate monuments. Across the state and nation, monuments are coming down.

In Raleigh, for example, protesters pulled down two statues on a Confederate monument and hung one from a light pole before the governor ordered them removed for safekeeping. Others are working toward relocation by more democratic means. Whether through force or diplomacy, monuments to the Confederate States of America and the soldiers who fought for it seemed destined to no longer sit in town squares, in front of courthouses or other prominent public places.

And there are major organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a 70-year-old nonprofit organization that says its mission is to save historic sites, that say that removal may be necessary “to achieve the greater good of ensuring racial justice and equality.” The nationwide call for racial justice and equity prompted by the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others has brought renewed attention to the Confederate monuments and the history they represent, the National Trust for Historic Preservation said.

“We believe it is past time for us, as a nation, to acknowledge that these symbols do not reflect, and are in fact abhorrent to, our values and to our foundational obligation to continue building a more perfect union that embodies equality and justice for all,” the nonprofit said in a statement issued last week.

We’re living through a monumental shift in what our public spaces look like.

But as the figures come down, through force or diplomatic means, it’s not clear what might come next. The city of Salisbury, including council members and citizens, should start talking about that.

Will the city of Salisbury and Rowan County find a way to unite around a reimagined intersection of West Innes and Church streets? Will the city erect a new monument? Will locals and public officials choose to leave the median green, planting a bed of flowers or other shrubbery? Will attention shift to systemic reform of the local criminal justice system or other institutions?

Those are all questions yet to be decided. They are questions other cities across the country will face, too.

If concerns about a monument’s effect on traffic and its inaccessibility to pedestrians remain, though, it seems unlikely a monument will ever find its place to the center of the same intersection.

The Bell Tower Green Park could be such a location, but the folks handling fundraising, construction and other logistics of the park have so far stayed away from requests to host statues or other objects, including a memorial wall for the Vietnam War.

“We wanted just a park for enjoyment, not a destination for a particular issue,” said Dyke Messinger, who leads the Bell Tower Green Park board.

What about systemic change? Are there ways in which the Salisbury Police Department, which has been proactive in putting the community first in its policing, could change further? Are there other police departments in the county that should shift attention to more closely align with the community’s needs?

Salisbury may have found the answer to one hotly debated item, but there are so many other questions with which the community will have to grapple in the near future.