DALLAS - A heavy police presence will be on hand on Saturday as some 300 people are expected to protest the removal of the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from Lee Park.
The statue was removed Thursday from its massive base. It’s now being stored at Hensley Field, a city-owned storage facility in far west Dallas, until a task force appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings decides what to do with it and other Confederate memorials in the long term.
A group calling itself, “This is Texas Freedom Force,” organized the rally, which will be held at the base of the pedestal where the statue stood.
“The only thing they did by removing that monument was tick off a bunch of Texans, and that's just going to make us raise a little bit more hell,” said Brandon “Milkbone” Burkhart, leader of a group, said in a video posted on the group’s Facebook page.
“We're encouraging everyone to bring their firearms up there.”
The group, in particular, is angry at Mayor Rawlings. They are calling for his removal. A spokesman for the mayor said Rawlings had no comment.
Finishing her second week on the job, Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall says police will be ready for the protest rally.
“As law enforcement, we have to make sure that everybody is safe even if we don't agree with the message,” Hall told WFAA. “ We’re putting all the necessary pieces in place to ensure the safety of the protestors themselves and the officers and the community.”
The chief says she recognizes any protest rally is sensitive for a department that lost four of its own last summer. They're doing all they can to avoid a repeat of the violent clashes seen in in Charlottesville.
“Our goal and prayer is that this will be a safe rally, but we are preparing for whatever comes,” Hall said.
Not surprisingly, the chief says she'd prefer people left their long guns at home. The chief says at this point, she is not aware of any organized counter-protest. But she says if any counter-protesters show up, they will be kept separated from the pro-monument protestors.
On its Facebook page, the group said its security team would be working with the department. They are advising that to let them or DPD know if they see someone who might be “an infiltrator from an opposing group.”
“Safe gun handling is going to be a must, so make sure that are using safe handling practices,” the post said. “Do not point your weapon at anyone unless they are threatening your life."
Jeannine Willaert came to Lee Park Friday to see one of her heroes. She was too late. The statue of Gen Robert E. Lee was already gone.
“I love Dallas, and that was part of Dallas,” says the Dallas resident. “You're not wiping out anything by doing it, and you're taking away the joy of people that enjoy history.”
Jeff Hood, a local activist, was among those who pushed for the statue’s removal.
“To me, the only reason these status exist is because of racism,” he said.
He will not be here counter-protesting on Saturday.
“I think it's foolish for anybody who does come,” he said. “At the end of the day, we won. And there's no statue on that base.”
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