Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Take ‘em down already

24th April 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

Like sand through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives in this little banana republic we sometimes call the City That Care Forgot or Antebellum Disney.

Fourteen months after the New Orleans City Council voted to do away with four Confederate-era monuments throughout the city, the Landrieu administration is still wringing its hands and acting like it is powerless to get the job done.

We’ve seen a Baton Rouge contractor drop the project after he and his wife received death threats and a phone call campaign to intimidate prospective bidders from taking on the project. We’ve seen a trio of local court battles that sided with the City of New Orleans and a series of failed legislative attempts to block the removal of the monuments from public spaces. After finally getting the green light in two separate federal court rulings, we now see another round of legislative bills aimed at blocking the project and get bad news about how much more expensive it will be to remove the four monuments.

While the City has received $170,000 in private donations for the project, Cuzan Services LLC has said it will cost $600,000 to take down just three of the four monuments, the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard.

More money will have to be found to take down the Battle of Liberty Place monument, which commemorates a failed attempt by white supremacists to overthrow the integrated local government during Reconstruction.

More than 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, that’s what we celebrate and commemorate in New Orleans, the Deep South and other parts of the nation: The enslavement, exploitation, brutalization, marginalization and oppression of people of African descent.

Some folks get all misty-eyed and wax nostalgic about the good old days which they are determined will never be forgotten in this still bitterly divided nation.

But a growing mass of folks are no longer willing to act like they are not offended and insulted every time they view these white supremacist relics throughout the city, painful and disdainful reminders of how far whites have been willing to go to maintain the status quo. They aren’t backing down in the campaign to finally move beyond the racist, violent past and into a new era where everybody has a seat at the table and the ruling white minority class is no longer able to control the lives, opportunities and futures of the masses.

Standing at the middle of this firestorm is the mayor, who faces a moment of truth during which he must finally walk the talk he’s been talking and show how progressive, principled and courageous he is. All he needs to do is his job.

He needs to take down those four monuments ASAP. Not next week, next month or in the nick of time for next year’s highly anticipated tri-centennial celebration.

As mayor of New Orleans, he has the power and authority to do it and has been given the green light by the federal courts. There is nothing standing in his way but trepidation, fear about how he will be remembered by the city’s historians and uncertainty about his political future.

Assuming he was serious from the get-go about bringing these statues down, it’s time for him to stop playing around and take ‘em down already.

He needs to go after these monuments like his administration has gone after taxi drivers, tour guides and residents who try to earn a few extra dollars during Jazz Fest. He needs to take on monument supporters the way he took on critics of the undermanned NOPD and the way he took on anyone who had anything disparaging to say about NOLA for Life. In order to get the job done, he needs to be as resourceful and unrelenting as he is in pursuing Super Bowls and NBA All-Star Games or taking on Black elected officials who he feels have slighted him.

As far as the budgetary shortfall for the project, perhaps the mayor might borrow a few dollars from the $40 million crime initiative or ask some of his enlightened campaign contributors to kick in a few bucks if they are inclined to do so. If that doesn’t work, simply “rob Peter to pay Paul” and let the next mayor and city council figure out later how to pay for it. It’s not like that has never been done before, right?

Whites in this city and beyond need to stop acting like they are shocked or surprised that there are so many names, memorials, symbols, landmarks and monuments that people of African descent who live here and many who visit this city, often called the most African city in America, find racially offensive and culturally insular.

The white power and privilege that existed when this city, state and nation were founded still exist today. Thus far, no movement for freedom and justice, no war between the States, no efforts at Reconstruction, no legislative acts, no Supreme Court decisions or even the election of people of African descent to Congress and the White House has been able to change that.

The sooner we see those statues come down and take their rightful place in history museums or other locales where they can be viewed and appreciated in a different context, the sooner we can get down to the business of making substantive changes to dismantle the systemic racism, economic injustice, educational apartheid, unconstitutional policing, mass incarceration and other societal ills that make it impossible for this nation and many of its inhabitants to reach their full potential.

We owe that to ourselves and owe that to those who came before us.

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

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