Protesters gathered at the Jefferson Davis statue in Mid-City May 1.
A bill from a Shreveport Republican aimed at preventing the removal of Confederate-era monuments won a legislative committee's support in Baton Rouge May 3.
State Rep. Thomas Carmody's House Bill 71
prohibits "altering, removing, relocating, or destroying a memorial, including any structure, plaque, statue, or monument that is located on public property and that commemorates specified wars in U.S. history." It also prohibits renaming or rededicating statues, streets, bridges, buildings and parks that are named "in memory of or named for any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization, or military unit." It doesn't list the Civil War among those events, but rather the "War Between the States."
The bill — to be named the Louisiana Military Memorial Conservation Act — was approved by a vote of 10-8 from the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs committee. "My objective is to stop the hate," Carmody told the committee before the vote. "These are military monuments, friends."
Carmody said the decision to move or change monuments should rest with voters on a ballot. The legislation can't halt the removal of monuments in New Orleans currently underway.
Ryan Berni, New Orleans deputy mayor of external affairs, reminded the committee that the city already held several public hearings and debates before a New Orleans City Council vote, a process that satisfied state and federal judges when the decision was challenged in court. Berni told the committee that "the city objects to the state trying to tell the city what to do with our property."
Berni said the decision to move four statues slated for removal in New Orleans — including monuments to Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee, as well as the already-moved Liberty Place obelisk — was decided not on the merits or accomplishments of the "historical figures" depicted "but rather why they were erected."
"The historic record is clear" that the statues were built following the Civil War to honor the cult of the Lost Cause, Berni said. The crowd at the hearing booed. People in the audience also told black speakers to "get over it."
"It’s not about erasing history. It’s about understanding history and addressing the past," said Sarah Omojola with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The statues "belong in museums and other educational settings where people can see them and understand the history of the Civil War, slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow," she said.
"It is a Lost Cause. It is a cause that needs to be placed in its proper context," said state Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, adding that moving statues should be done without intervention at the state level and "expense of unnecessary elections,"
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said Carmody's bill reads as if it was filed "when you don’t get what you want from local authorities." Marcelle said the state would lose any legal challenge from New Orleans if the bill is passed. New Orleans already won state and federal challenges to the city's legislation declaring the four monuments a "nuisance" under an existing ordinance prohibiting monuments honoring white supremacy.
"The question is, are we passing something as a feel-good legislation?" she said. "If you put your name on this legislation, understand you’re signing on for us to pay for this litigation."
Monuments, she said, honor their subjects, and in the case of statues in New Orleans honoring Confederates, that honor is "an insult to the African-American community."
Voting in favor of the bill were state Reps. Robert Billiot, Paula Davis, Stephen Dwight, Rick Edmonds, Stephanie Hilferty, Mike Huval, Stephen Pugh, Jerome Richard, Malinda White and committee chair Johnny Berthelot.
Against the bill were state Reps. Joseph Bouie, Sam Jenkins, Rodney Lyons, Barbara Norton, Patricia Smith, Joseph Stagni, and Glover and Marcelle.