Galveston Monument Project
On Monday, August 24, 2020, Isaac Fanuiel IV stood and spoke in front of a Commissioners Court of Galveston County. He was slotted in between a number of speakers fighting for the removal of the confederate statue from the entry of the Galveston County Courthouse. This statue had bothered him since adolescence, and he was now speaking in front of the five men who could vote to remove it.
After a Juneteenth march, numerous protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and appearances to speak at four separate Galveston County Commissioners Court meetings by a dozen different people, the Commissioners Court failed to hear the voices of those asking for dialogue and action. At a little after 10 AM on August 24th, the lone person of color on the Commissioners Court, the Honorable Stephen D. Holmes, made the motion to approve the “Consideration of removal of Dignified Resignation Statue from the Galveston County Courthouse Grounds.” The response from the 4 old white men assuming the other four seats on the court? Crickets [silence]. At that, by the rules of the Commissioners Court, the motion died, despite approval by Commissioner Holmes.
Commissioners Clark, Appfel, Giusti, and the presiding County Judge Mark Henry never offered reason nor argument against it. They did not even vote against it. They simply sat quiet. Like elected officials scared to take a stance.
Most people don’t understand the importance of these Commissioners or a Commissioners Court. Like most bodies in government, they are supposed to hear the people and work on the people’s behalf. A Commissioners Court is the governing body of a county in Texas. Consisting of 4 precinct Commissioners and a County Judge, the Commissioners Court decides on budgets, salaries, bonds, infrastructure, appointments, and services within the county. In this case, the Commissioners Court serves as the gateway to removing a confederate monument from in front of a public space. Under Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County’s Commissioners Court has started to play the part and work for the people, but Galveston County’s clearly lags far behind. There was no dialogue, no consideration of the merits or consequences. Simply silence.
Issac Fanuiel IV’s words were unheard by the 4 privileged white men on the court. However, for a generation ready for change no matter their race, this is inertia, and it is only a matter of time until these divisive monuments are brought down.
The argument against removal
Is just as trite as you would assume.
“I would not support removing it,” Judge Henry said in 2017. “Where does this end? Today they’re offended by these statues. Tomorrow they’re offended by something else. Where’s the end of this?”
Equality, respect, and decency is where it ends, Mr. Henry. Symbols of oppression erected during the Jim Crow era have no place in modern society. Furthermore, do the monuments of a society not display a society’s values?
At what point do people become tired of being stonewalled and pull the monument down themselves and throw the thing into the bay? It’s a shame this is the response that comes to mind. Of the five elected officials on the Commissioners Court, only one had the gumption to take a stance. Four of five men elected to contemplate the issues facing their communities simply chose not to respond. No stance taken, nothing verbalized. Old white men, sitting comfortably in elected positions funded by taxpayers, many of them black, chose not to acknowledge the issue. What kind of courage is that? Silence is compliance.
Currently there is a petition on change.org as Isaac Fanuiel IV continues his grassroots movements toward equality for the black community in Galveston County. Patrick Temperilli, who helped kickstart the recent efforts to remove the monument, is currently pursuing graduate studies in Scotland. At some point, re-organization and another focused push will occur, and the leader will be, as it has always been, Isaac Fanuiel IV.
For a couple of white brothers from the suburbs of Houston, my brother Patrick and I, the lightbulb moment came when we realized that racism is not a black problem, it is a white problem inflicted upon our brothers and sisters of color. White people have created the systems which perpetuate racism. We are the ones infected with the disease of racism, and it’s up to white people to take a stand, call out all instances of racism or inequality, and take action in support of communities of color.
Written by JP Temperilli, the founder of The Blackbird Project. The Blackbird Project is focused on economic livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa and equality through the freedom of economic empowerment.