Watching the images and hearing the words out of Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend was depressing, sickening, infuriating — and necessary. Necessary because the country got a good look at the people who call themselves the "alt-right," which is their sanitized term for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Ku Klux Klansmen and other haters who feel emboldened in America today. It's also necessary because some of them are planning similar rallies in Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere in the coming days and weeks.
Some of the malefactors who caused harm in Charlottesville also were in New Orleans during the weeks surrounding the hotly contested removal of four Confederate monuments. It's easy to say New Orleans was lucky it didn't have the chaos and death that marked Charlottesville, but it was more than luck. It was planning.
Credit goes first to New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison and the men and women of the NOPD. Decades of Mardi Gras details have taught them what to look for in rowdy crowds and how to disarm situations before they get out of hand. The NOPD provided both the pro- and anti-monument protesters with their own spaces and let them exercise their First Amendment rights (and Second Amendment rights, in some cases). Take 'Em Down NOLA, which organized the protests, worked closely with law enforcement to keep things peaceful and under control. Those who got violent were swiftly removed and detained or arrested. The NOPD also announced that masking would not be permitted, which largely eliminated danger from anyone who thought a mask — or a hood — offered the "protection" of anonymity.
New Orleans' strategy of not announcing when the statues would be removed also proved prudent. While detractors criticized Mayor Mitch Landrieu for taking them down "in the dark of night," doing so seems to have avoided the sorts of clashes we saw in Charlottesville. (It didn't, however, stop some from making emailed and social media threats against city officials and contractors.) While we maintain that it would have been better to have known beforehand where the statues would wind up, it's hard to argue now, after Charlottesville, with how they were taken down.
In addition, New Orleanians themselves deserve credit for not giving in to violence. As in Charlottesville, many who wanted to see violence in New Orleans weren't from here; they came looking for a fight. Instead, we met them with determination — and a bit of humor reminiscent of satirical Mardi Gras krewes.
The Supreme Court has made it clear: Hate speech is protected speech. An American has as much right to wear a swastika as to don the Stars and Stripes. Nevertheless, as Gov. John Bel Edwards said, "This idea that you can be patriotic and be a Nazi at the same time — it's the antithesis of patriotism."
Like all patriotic Americans, we mourn the three lives lost in Charlottesville — one woman speaking out against hate, and two state troopers serving the noble cause of public safety. Thanks to a bit of luck and a lot of planning, no lives were lost in New Orleans during our own recent clashes over the Cult of the Lost Cause.