Mayor Mitch Landrieu mounted a passionate defense of his approach to removing the city’s monument to the Battle of Liberty Place during an interview Thursday, insisting that credible threats of violence ruled out holding any kind of ceremony or doing it in the daytime.
He offered the most detailed account yet of what those threats have involved, expressed frustration that other figures have shied away from the controversy and spoke in more detail than ever before about what might become of the pulled-down statues and the public spaces they have occupied.
In an interview with The New Orleans Advocate this week, Mayor Mitch Landrieu finally floated his thoughts on what should replace the prominen…
The hour-long interview with The New Orleans Advocate was largely dedicated to pushing back against criticism that threats against contractors did not justify the late-night removal of the Battle of Liberty Place obelisk, the first of four monuments the city plans to take down.
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Landrieu said those threats justified the secrecy surrounding the process of removing the monument to the Reconstruction-era White League and the continuing security surrounding the planned removal of statues to Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard.
Saying the threats represented “different means, but the same tactic as burning crosses on people’s lawns and threatening people’s lives,” Landrieu said the “only way to get this done was to honor people’s request that ‘if I’m going to be involved in this, I’m going to have to have my confidentiality protected so my life is not threatened.'
“Should I overrule that for the sake of pride or the sake of openness?” Landrieu asked.
The removal of New Orleans’ monument to the Battle of Liberty Place under the cover of darkn…
The mayor expressed frustration that more individuals and organizations in the city had not stepped up to aid in the process, such as through donations toward the removal, relocation and replacement of the statues.
“I’ve been disappointed and surprised that this community has torn itself apart,” Landrieu said. “I’m not being defensive here. I didn’t tear the community apart. I raised the issue.”
Landrieu said he would prefer to take the Lee statue down publicly, with a ceremony, if the security concerns cease. He said he hoped that could happen in the next 30 days. If not, “they’re going to come down anyway,” he said.
“If I feel comfortable that we can do it in the light of day and take Robert E. Lee down at noon for the whole world to see, that would be great,” Landrieu said. “Get the Take 'Em Down folks in a room with the keep 'em up folks, and let’s see if we can get them to agree that they will control all their folks, and we’ll have a nice beautiful wonderful ceremony and take Lee down.”
He said the city has raised “$600,000 and change” for the removals from private donors, roughly the amount that the lone bidder who submitted a proposal to take down the Lee, Davis and Beauregard monuments had sought.
The city has refused to identify any of the donors, whose identities can be kept secret because the funds are being routed through the Foundation for Louisiana, a nonprofit group.
That arrangement is necessary to protect them from threats, Landrieu said. That's particularly true, he said, after five police officers were killed in Dallas last year by a sniper during protests against police violence, something Landrieu said showed that those wishing to do violence can use protests as cover.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu insisted that security concerns justified taking the obelisk down in the early morning hours and without warning, rather than scheduling any kind of public ceremony...
“Anybody who anybody has known is involved in this in any way has received threats,” he said.
Throughout the process, details about various contractors involved — or believed to be involved — in the removal process have been spread on social media, sometimes including home addresses and other personal information. That has caused problems getting the equipment and contractors needed for the job, Landrieu said.
“There’s 100 cranes in the city right now. Did you know we’re having a hard time getting a crane right now? Do you know why?” Landrieu asked. “Because people have been calling these folks saying, ‘If you do that, we won’t give you any more business.’ "
The first designated contractor on the job quit early on after receiving death threats. The owner’s Lamborghini later was torched in his company’s parking lot.
Landrieu and other city officials also said there had been posts on social media including the mayor’s home address, and they referred to online comments made in advance of a protest by the group Take 'Em Down NOLA suggesting the rally would be within range of sniper fire.
One contractor received a call from someone threatening to kill him and his son and rape his wife, Landrieu said. The city also has received calls and emails from members of the Ku Klux Klan, he said.
The city has been in contact with the FBI about investigating the threats, though there are questions about whether they would fall under federal jurisdiction, the mayor said.
The New Orleans Police Department has only two open cases potentially related to the monuments issue. One involves threats to a contractor who received threatening and harassing calls after his personal information was posted online.
The other involves a break-in at trailers near the warehouse where the Liberty Place monument was taken. Sometime Monday, burglars broke the locks on those trailers and stole nine tents and three generators, according to a police report. It’s not clear whether the burglary was related to the monument's removal.
When he called on the City Council to authorize removal of the monuments, something it did by a 6-1 vote in December 2015, Landrieu said there would be community discussions to decide what should replace them. Since then, the administration has not discussed what that process would look like.
“So many people have said, 'I don’t want to be anywhere around this issue,' ” Landrieu said. “I didn’t feel like it was a ripe environment to have a discussion about what we want to put at Lee Circle. … It’s kind of hard to have a discussion when half of the discussion is, ‘I don’t want to have a discussion because I don’t want to take them down.’ "
Landrieu said that once the Lee statue comes down, he’ll appoint a group of people who will be tasked with coming up with a plan for Lee Circle within 90 days.
Threats of physical violence have been made against contractors and city employees associate…
“That’s the most prominent circle in the city. We don’t have another one. What can we think about in that space that’s a gift to the future that represents our past?” Landrieu said. ”That’s what it should be.”
He also offered an idea of his own vision for the sites.
He said the circle around the Lee column could be turned into a fountain with statues representing various aspects of New Orleans’ people and culture and renamed Tricentennial Circle in honor of the city’s 300th birthday next year.
For the site of the Beauregard statue in front of City Park, Landrieu suggested partnering with the nearby New Orleans Museum of Art and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to come up with a piece of public art.
The former site of the Battle of Liberty Place monument on Iberville Street can be left vacant, he said.
As for the statues themselves, the city has reached out to Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ former home in Biloxi, Mississippi, which now serves as a museum, as well as the Smithsonian Institution and Washington and Lee University to see if they would be interested in taking the monuments, but none has agreed, Landrieu said.
He also suggested state lawmakers and officials who have been critical of the removals or sought to block them should step up if they want to preserve the monuments.
“I would say very respectfully to the entire Legislature that has a keen interest in this that the state has a much bigger budget and a much bigger swath of land, and if they want to curate these things, they certainly have the time, money and space to do it,” Landrieu said. “So instead of telling us what to do with our land, maybe they ought to ... put them wherever they want to.”
“There are a whole bunch of ways for people who mean what they say to engage in constructive dialogue so we can get to a better place rather than just score political points,” Landrieu said.