PHOENIX — Arizona state Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D) calls the state Capitol here “a place where we should have the proudest aspects of our state on display.” But the Confederate Troops Memorial, which sits in nearby Wesley Bolin Plaza, symbolizes what he called “a really dark moment.”
A gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy to Arizona in 1961, the Confederate Troops Memorial and similar monuments around the country, Lieberman said, symbolize opposition to civil rights. “There’s really no historical value to them, and they cause a lot of pain.”
“Every time we go to the Capitol, we have to pass by it,” said Rep. Alma Hernandez (D), “and as a person of color, I think it’s important for us to call it out. The monuments aren’t anything we should be proud of.”
Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, brought the issue to attention with a letter to Andy Tobin, the director of the Arizona Department of Administration, insisting the memorial be moved from the Capitol mall to storage in the Arizona Capitol Museum.
Lieberman said he supports Hobbs’ effort. “I’ll drive the truck to get them over to the Capitol Museum if that’s what’s needed,” he said.
“We need not honor these shameful moments to remember them,” Hobbs wrote. “Removing this monument isn’t a choice to erase our history, it’s a choice to embrace our future. We won’t heal the divisions in our country by honoring those who would divide it.”
She has posted the letter on social media and continues to highlight it in tweets and posts.
Hernandez applauded Hobbs’ initiative and said it’s important to have people in leadership at the forefront of this issue. “It doesn’t represent who we are as Arizonans,” she said. “I’m all for taking them down — they should be stored away and never seen again.”
Allie Bones, Arizona’s assistant secretary of state, said she and her team decided to highlight the issue after listening to voices in the African American community that have been calling for the monument’s removal. With the idea of relocating the statue to storage, Bones said, “We felt that as the secretary of state, [Hobbs] had a role and an opportunity to provide a solution to the state.”
The national debate surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments hit home in more ways than one for Bones, who is Jewish. “The whole concept of tikkun olam and healing the world is very important to me and central to who I am and the work I try to do,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for us [Arizona] to be holding onto these symbols in ways that other states are recognizing the role that they play. Now is the time for them to come down.”
Gov. Doug Ducey sidestepped the issue last week saying that any decision should come from a “public process” without adding details of what that would entail. However, a spokeswoman for Tobin’s department said they were looking into the issue.
Bones sees the latter as a positive sign. “We’ll see where things go from here,” she said.
Lieberman, too, is somewhat optimistic the removal can happen and believes there is bipartisan support for it. “I will reach out to Director Tobin,” he added. “I think Tobin by himself can say, ‘Get rid of it.’”
He also wants the governor to call a special session to deal with the issue of police brutality. He pointed to the killing of Dion Johnson, a 28-year-old black man shot and killed by a Department of Public Safety trooper on May 25 in Phoenix.
“The Confederate monument thing is important symbolically to address this issue,” he said. “We also have to address the issue that’s affecting Arizonans every day — that they won’t always feel safe when they’re subject to encounters with the police.”
Hernandez was less optimistic about the removal of the memorial. “If we leave it up to the legislature to do this, it’s never going to happen,” she said, though she is willing to co-sponsor future legislation. But she believes it’s up to the community to keep this issue in front of politicians. “The letter from Sec. Hobbs to Tobin is a step in the right direction. Things will not happen if there’s not public pressure. This has to be something we all need to be pushing.”
She also believes the removal of the monument has broad Jewish support. “Most feel we need to do more to be more inclusive,” she said.
Lieberman is keenly aware of how the issues intersect historically and in the current moment. As the father of two black sons, he said, “In my life, the intersection of black and Jewish history is in the four walls of my home
is managing editor of the Arizona Jewish News, an affiliated publication of Washington Jewish Week.