Jefferson Davis monument in New Orleans still standing, for now

3 years ago The Times-Picayune 0

Police barricades and stake bed trucks were placed around the Jefferson Davis statue in Mid-City late Monday (May 1) after a heated confrontation between its supporters and opponents unfolded at the site. Although the stage appeared to be set for the second late-night removal of a Confederate monument in New Orleans, NOPD Deputy Chief Paul Noel said there would be no immediate action taken.

His word came about two hours after NOPD officers detained at least three people and dispersed a crowd of more than 100 pro- and anti-monument demonstrators. The two sides had been shouting and exchanging chants across Canal Street when they converged near the monument around 10 p.m. Police intervened and escorted monument supporters to their vehicles, and the anti-monument protesters were moved to the neutral ground on the other side of the Canal Street.

Late Monday, the NOPD did not have information available on how many people had been detained or arrested or for what cause or charge, according to police spokeswoman Ambria Washington.

The trucks carrying the barricades arrived shortly after 11 p.m.

When Noel spoke with reporters just before 12:30 a.m., there were still a number of police officers manning the barricades. Earlier in the night, there were roughly 40 who broke up the confrontation and cleared the area around the statue.  

According to neighborhood residents at the scene, the scuffles had broken out, with bottles thrown and Confederate flags lobbed–and at least one set aflame–after a group of New Orleans residents entered the space immediately surrounding the city’s Jefferson Davis monument, where a group of people, who seemed to hail largely from outside of New Orleans, were camped with Confederate symbols in protest of the city’s plans to remove the memorial. 

By about 10:30 p.m., a line of about a dozen police officers had begun sweeping the crowd away from the monument, pushing the throngs into Canal Street, completely across Canal and ultimately onto the neutral ground completely across Canal Street from the Jefferson Davis monument.

At midnight, a crowd of about 40 to 50 people remained there, watching as police erected metal barricades around the monument. Another crowd of about 25 people remained outside Holy Ground bar, including bar patrons, also watching as police worked.

Only a few of those protesting the monument’s removal remained at the intersection.

James Del Brock, who lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, said he moved to that city to protect Confederate monuments but for the past five days has changed locations to New Orleans after learning that the city removed the Battle of Liberty Place monument last month.

“When they destroyed the Liberty with a jackhammer, I dropped everything and came down here,” Brock said, explaining that his ancestors fought for the Confederacy.

“If they tear them down, that’s a part of my history I can’t teach my grandchildren,” he said.

At about 11 p.m., Chuck Netzhammer, who grew up in Jefferson Parish but now lives in St. Tammany Parish, stood next to an NOPD vehicle, explaining that he was waiting to speak with a police officer about being spit on during the clash at the monument.

“I can’t comprehend how these anti-monument people think,” he said. “They claim the monuments represent hate and while they’re here, they spew nothing but hate.”

Netzhammer said he is concerned that removing Confederate monuments will lead to the removal of other historical markers, leaving the nation a bland landscape of chain restaurants and coffee shops.

“This is part of the entire nation’s history and culture,” he said. “New Orleans is a unique place. If you take away the uniqueness, what’s left?”

“St. Tammany,” joked a man standing next to him.

Mid-City residents Nikita Farr and Danielle Jones said they and two friends arrived at the intersection of Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway at about 4 p.m., carrying posters in support of the monument’s removal, to send a message that neither the Confederate monuments nor their supporters represent the Mid-City neighborhood or New Orleans as a whole.

Jones said she’s seen the pro-monument group stationed at the Jefferson Davis memorial for days and was bothered that “there’s no one to tell them ‘no.'”

“The thing is, Mid-City, we don’t want it,” Jones said, referring to Confederate monuments in the neighborhood.

Mid-City, and New Orleans as a whole, encompasses a diverse population, and most of those protesting the monuments’ removal are from outside of the city and do not seem to realize that residents want the monuments gone, she noted.

“It’s a racist history,” Farr said of the Confederate monument. “It shouldn’t be in a monument in the middle of the city.”

Farr and Jones said pro-monument protesters, a number of them openly carrying weapons, including at least one assault-style rifle, tried to intimidate them from nearing the monument, telling their group of three women and one man that they were not allowed to be there.

A woman said she had witnessed and experienced harassment from the monuments’ supporters directed toward women and minorities in the neighborhood, including racial harassment directed toward children. The woman, who declined to give her name out of concern for her safety, said she had been followed, videotaped, harassed and threatened by those camped out by the Jefferson Davis monument.

At about 8 p.m., the small group joined forces with a neighborhood barbecue planned near the monument to, according to an organizer, “reclaim our own community back from neo-Confederate fascists.”

Farr and Jones said the chaos broke out after 8 p.m., after police made the monuments’ supporters remove Confederate flags that had been placed on the memorial, prompting monument supporters to stand on the Jefferson Davis memorial and drape the memorial with a large flag. At that point, a group of New Orleans residents entered the area immediately surrounding the memorial and began calling for the flag to be knocked down, Farr and Jones said.

When a local resident took the flag down, the clash became more physical. At least one video shows people pushing each other, flags being swung and liquid, possibly water or beer, flying into the air.

The woman who said she had been threatened by the monuments’ supporters said she did not understand why they were protesting the memorials’ removal.

“We won that battle,” she said. “The statues are coming down.”

The situation was far calmer when the Battle of Liberty Place monument was taken down in the early morning hours of April 24. That relatively uneventful process included a few monument supporters standing nearby, shouting as crews dismantled the obelisk and the plaques on its base. Police snipers kept watch from above in an adjacent parking garage at the foot of Iberville Street. 

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said last week the remaining three Confederate monuments, including statues of Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, would be taken down in the next 30 to 45 days. He added that none would be removed during Jazz Fest, which continues Thursday through Sunday.    

Stay with as more information becomes available about what happens next at the Jefferson Davis monument.

Times-Picayune photographer Michael DeMocker and reporter Richard Rainey contributed to this story.