PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
During demonstrations on May 7, monument opponents stood behind a supporter who gave the finger to other opponents at Lee Circle
Despite powerful testimony from several black lawmakers urging the Louisiana House of Representatives to vote against a measure that aims to prevent the removal of Confederate monuments, the bill passed by a vote of 65-31
on May 15. It now heads to the Senate.
House Bill 71
from state State Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, prevents "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 narrowly was approved in a House committee May 3.
The bill and the vote arrive as New Orleans is in the middle of removing four Confederate-era statues, and as Shreveport begins discussions about the future of a Confederate monument
outside Caddo Parish Courthouse. Carmody's bill — which likely is unable to stop New Orleans from moving the remaining two monuments slated for removal in the coming weeks — prevents municipalities from removing "military monuments" on public property without a majority vote from parish voters giving them permission.
When asked by New Orleans Rep. Gary Carter whether Carmody believes the U.S. should keep its monuments "that honor people who fought to maintain slavery," Carmody said he's merely "interjecting the public’s will." Legislators questioned the state's interest in stepping into the actions of local government.
Democrats in the House attempted to stack a series of amendments to the measure, including instituting automatic voter registrations and giving local governments the ability to put issues like raising the minimum wage and establishing equal pay to a vote among the people, if it also was to include the monument issue. The amendments were dismissed.
Several black legislators said they've received threatening and racist emails about their opposition to the measure, which they called a tool of white supremacy that only seeks to cause more division.
"If you would see the emails I've received on what they feel should be done about this bill and why we should pass it — I wont use the language," said state Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge. "This bill is very much about white supremacy and divisiveness. It’s a shame we have to talk about it in this body ... We, too, have a history. It should be believed. But it’s not honored or in history books today."
After the vote, the entire black caucus left the House.
"It's almost embarassing to be standing here talking about something like this in 2017," said state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. "It's the worst thing I’ve seen done in this building."
State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said "we’re here to refight the civil war that ended 150 years ago" while the state still is fighting to balance its budget.
Carmody was the only legislator speaking in support of the measure.
New Orleans-area Republicans Ray Garafolo, Stephanie Hilferty and Christopher Leopold voted in support. New Orleans-area Democrats Gary Carter, John Bagneris, Joseph Bouie, Jimmy Harris, Walt Leger and Helena Moreno voted against it. Neil Abramson was absent.
In a statement following the vote, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus said the House voted to "usurp local government authority and decision making power."
"It was done under the guise of celebrating war heroes, but exposed a deep-rooted belief in white supremacy and racial divisiveness," the statement said.