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The 1911 Jefferson Davis statue erected in the Jim Crow racial segregation era is taken of its pedestal in New Orleans, La. Thursday, May 11, 2017.The city council voted to remove the monument and three other Confederate and white supremacist monuments in Dec. 2015.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

Scores of people have taken to the streets in the dead of night lately, flagrantly breaking the law.

Nobody has been arrested. The cops just stand by, presumably because none other than Mayor Mitch Landrieu is behind this crime wave.

It is unlikely that hizzoner is a witting criminal mastermind. We can only assume, attorney though he is, that Landrieu overlooked the relevant statute when his minions descended to carry off the Confederate monuments.

Sure, Landrieu was within his rights to order that the Robert. E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis statues, together with the Liberty Monument, be sent packing. Given the hostility his decision aroused, and the threats of violence leveled at any contractor who offered to do the heavy lifting, it seemed only prudent to equip the removal teams with face masks.

But there is a catch; masking in the streets, save at Mardi Gras, Halloween and on other festive occasions, is forbidden under state law. Jail for violators is mandatory – from six months to three years.

The mask prohibition was passed in 1924, when Confederate icons seemed untouchable and the Ku Klux Klan, born at the dawn of Reconstruction, was enjoying a resurgence.

Indeed, it was to rein in the Klan that the Legislature, at the behest of Gov. Henry Fuqua, passed the masking ban.

This is not a law we are likely to see invoked today in New Orleans, where illegal masking is a long way from the biggest threat to civil order. Still, the general prejudice runs in favor of obeying the law, and ignorance of it is famously no excuse.

On the other hand, this is one of those antiquated laws that remain on the books merely because legislators never got around to repealing it. Any need for it is long past, klansmen these days being pretty much a harmless joke. Threats made against contractors willing to take down the monuments, however, are not. It would be insane to require their employees to show their faces as they go about the chores that so enrage the guardians of Lost Cause heritage.

The de-Confederation of the streets began with the removal of the Liberty Monument, which commemorated the bloody and short lived victory of the White League over Reconstruction police in 1874. While the League operated in the open, its ethos was much the same as the Klan's, so it is somewhat ironic that the dismantlers of the monument needed to don illegal masks.

Crews need to be incognito because plans to remove the monuments have met with more resistance than union forces did when they occupied New Orleans in 1862.

Louisiana is not the only state with a masking ban on the books, and some of the laws have been challenged as a violation of the First Amendment. But those challenges have come from the Klan, and have been generally rejected by the courts.

According to a state Attorney General's opinion issued in 1995, there is not “any jurisprudence” holding the Louisiana masking law unconstitutional. But then nobody is going to file a lawsuit over an unenforced, and largely forgotten, statute.

The law decrees that “No person shall use or wear in any public place of any character whatsoever, or in any open place in view thereof, a hood or mask, or anything in the nature of either, or any facial disguise of any kind or description, calculated to conceal or hide the identity of the person or to prevent his being readily recognized.”

The law does grant an exemption for “exhibitions of minstrel troupes, circuses, or other dramatic or amusement shows,” that are “duly authorized by the governing authorities,” but it would be quite a stretch to apply that to Landrieu's trick of making statues disappear overnight.

Landrieu is steadfast in the belief that the Confederate monuments belong in the ashcan of history. He might plausibly argue the same is true of the law that bans face masks.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com