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Monument removal delay sparks anger, frustration

24th April 2017   ·   0 Comments

Weeks after a single prospective contractor submitted a pricey bid to remove three local monuments that commemorate Confederate leaders by May 19, anger, frustration and distrust continue to grow among the main grassroots organization pushing for the removal of the monuments.

Take ‘Em Down Nola Coalition, which has used the word “collusion” to describe the latest setback to removing the monuments, has openly criticized the Landrieu administration and questioned its commitment to actually carrying out the statue-removal project.

The lone contractor to bid on the contract is Cuzan Services LLC, which said it would cost $600,000 to remove statues of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard.

Almost 14 months have passed since the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to remove the three statues of Confederate leaders and the Battle of Liberty Place monument from public spaces.

Both Councilmembers Stacy Head and Latoya Cantrell accused New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu of making the Confederate-era monuments an issue when it wasn’t among residents, but when it was time to vote the only council member who voted against relocating the monuments was Stacy Head.

Since that Council vote in December 2015. Take ‘Em Down Nola has made it clear that it intends to continue to work and organize for the removal of other landmarks and statues across the city that are offensive to people of color including the Andrew Jackson statue in Jackson Square and statues of New Orleans founder of Sieur de Bienville and Justice E.D. White among others.

“There has been a lot of curiosity about why that can’t happen,” member Katie Wills told WWL.

“These statues were put up to reinforce the notions of white supremacy, they were put up to intimidate African-American people, and we don’t think they should be allowed to stand,” said Malcolm Suber, also with Take Em Down NOLA.

At a press conference last week, Take ‘Em Down Nola made it clear that the group is not at all pleased about the City’s inability to move the statue-removal project forward.

“I think people deserve to have a chance to celebrate an end to this really long history of oppression in this city,” said Wills.

The $600,000 bid submitted by Cuzan Services LLC only covers the removal of the three Confederate monuments. The Battle of Liberty Place monument will have to be bid on separately.

Thus far, the City of New Orleans has only raised $170,000 in private donations to pay for the removal of the four statues.

In the meantime, three bills seeking to block the removal of the four monuments to have been authored for the legislative session which began April 10.

The City of New Orleans closed the bidding process on April 4 and had hoped to have completed the statue-removal project by May 19.

A number of safety and security concerns have been raised by the City of New Orleans after threats allegedly made by monument supporters that target elected officials and prospective bidders.

When asked by WWL about those concerns last week, the City of New Orleans issued the following statement:

“As we said last week, the rumors shared with you are not factual. Cuzan, LLC provided a bid and the required post-bid documents to remove three of the Confederate monuments. We remain committed to taking down the Confederate monuments and securing the funds necessary to do so. The city has up to 45 days from the day of the bid opening to award a contract. Due to the widely known intimidation, threats and violence there remains serious safety concerns. Therefore, we will not be sharing the details on removal timeline.”

Take ‘Em Down Nola member Michael “Quess” Moore said that the NOPD should have no problem protecting the statue-removal contractor from harm of any kind, asking, “What do they have a police force for?” He noted that the NOPD had no difficulty preventing activists from taking down the Andrew Jackson statue in Jackson Square during a Sept. 24, 2016 protest that landed seven people in jail.

Member Malcolm Suber accused the Landrieu administration of attempting to take down the monuments at 1 a.m. on April 13 in a plan that failed after police leaked the information to the media. reported that Landrieu spokesman Tyronne Walker said that Suber’s allegations were “not factual” and that NOPD spokesman Beau Tidwell referred questions to the Mayor’s Office.

Regardless, Suber said he isn’t buying the notion that the City of New Orleans can’t afford to remove the statues from public spaces.

“If they want to take these things down, they’ll find the money,” Suber said. “This has not been a priority for the City.”

Despite the current delay, Take ‘Em Down Nola has created a list of more than 100 statues, 24 streets, seven schools and two hospitals that should be removed because of their association with slavery and/or white supremacy. The list includes Robert E, Lee Blvd., Governor Nicholls Street, Touro Infirmary, Lusher Charter School, Tulane University, Napoleon Avenue, Jackson Avenue and statues of Justice E.D. White and New Orleans founder Sieur de Bienville.

While Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser has asked President Donald Trump to block efforts to remove the Confederate monuments from public spaces across New Orleans, several media reports say that Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a radio interview last week that he doesn’t think the state should decide the fate of the four monuments in New Orleans.

Michael “Quess” Moore said the City of New Orleans and its residents should be gearing up for a big party to mark a new era in the city with a greater commitment to justice, economic fairness, equity and inclusion. He said the Crescent City should be getting ready for “one of the greatest celebrations this city has ever seen.” He added that the city that can throw a party like no other in the world should have no problem finding a fitting way to celebrate a major step forward “in the greater struggle for racial and socio-economic healing.”

This article originally published in the April 24, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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