there goes robert e lee

Confederate monument protesters in New Orleans clash at Lee Circle
Beau Evans, Richard Webster, Jennifer Larino, Michael DeMocker, Chris Granger, NOLA.com, May 8 2017

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Supporters and opponents of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments met Sunday afternoon (May 7) at Lee Circle, in a tense and angry confrontation that included some scuffles during a day of demonstrations. Police quickly broke up a couple of fights, and the dueling protests appeared mostly peaceful. But heated words, slurs and profanities were exchanged, as demonstrators on opposite sides held Confederate flags and protest signs. A march led by Take ‘Em Down NOLA, which supports the removal of the Confederate monuments, brought hundreds of people from Congo Square to Lee Circle, where they came face-to-face with groups of monument supporters who had been there since the morning. Police said more than 700 people were involved in the demonstrations. Those advocating the removal of the statues chanted slogans like “Go home racists,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, white supremacy’s got to go.” On the other side, a monument supporter shouted over a megaphone:

We built this country. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other non-white countries you can go to!

Angela Kinlaw, a Take ‘Em Down NOLA organizer, called the day a celebration. As she prepared to march earlier in the afternoon, she said:

We feel it’s important people know that these symbols of white supremacy coming down is a time to celebrate

March organizers discussed safety ahead of the march, telling participants to avoid engaging with pro-Confederacy protesters already gathered at Lee Circle, and to stay in pairs. Kinlaw said:

We’re not here for them.

One Confederate flag-waving protester said:

It makes me mad that part of history is being torn down.

Over at Lee Circle, pro-monument demonstrators waited for the crowd to arrive, some taking refuge from the heat in the shade of nearby trees. Others remained standing at the base of the monument. One demonstrator wore shoulder pads and a Tom Brady New England Patriots jersey. Others carried shields slung across their backs. All the while, the theme from the movie, “The Godfather,” played from a nearby radio. Will, a 28-year-old construction worker from Houston, declined to give his last name. He described himself as a straight, white, male millennial. He acknowledged that some people gathered at Lee Circle belonged to organizations and groups different than his, but, he added:

As long as they’re fighting for my interests I’m with them.

Will said he worried European people are being “erased from history.” Shane Morlas, a New Orleans resident, argued that the city’s resources were being wasted as police officers kept watch over the protesters. He said both sides stayed peaceful for the most part, and reasoned that the day’s events gave supporters and opponents a chance to hear each other’s arguments.
Still, the day has not changed his pro-monument stance. Morlas said:

I love this city. I love the monuments, and I love history. Consider me a guardian.

He spoke shortly after exchanging words with a monuments opponent named Juan Smith. For his part, Smith also concluded that the day had given both sides an opportunity to hear each other’s stances. As for some of the racial slurs that were unleashed during encounters between protesters, Smith said he was unfazed. Smith, who’s black, said:

That’s just another day of living black in New Orleans. That’s nothing new.

Those slurs came as both sides merged for a brief yet tense confrontation toward the tail-end of the protests. The encounter occurred despite a pledge from New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison that the protesting groups would be kept separate. In an email sent around 10:30 p.m., NOPD spox Beau Tidwell (another Beau! – RB) wrote that the demonstration’s large size and relative scarcity of incidents was “not an accident.” Tidwell wrote:

The Chief pledged to keep the public safe, and to give everyone a chance to express themselves safely and lawfully. That’s exactly what was accomplished.

Indeed, the day’s protesting appeared to remain mostly free from physical blows. The New Orleans Police Dept said three people were ultimately arrested on charges of disturbing the peace. Police said all of them were involved in a scuffle early in the afternoon. In a news release, police said also that no one was arrested for violating prohibitions on carrying weapons and wearing masks at public demonstrations. As for injuries, one woman was taken away in an ambulance after she experienced “heat-related problems unrelated to the demonstrations,” the news release states. Some protesters, who represented groups such as the Pindo Freedom Keepers and the Pindo Warrior Revolution, said they remained more or less neutral on the issue of the monuments. Rather, they had arrived in New Orleans overnight from several states outside Louisiana to voice concerns over public input in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s and the city council’s decision to remove the monuments. Francis Marion, a representative of those two groups, argued that “both sides are being hateful.” He said his organizations’ aims were to “enforce the action of free speech,” and that members of the groups had arrived from places like California, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas and Tennessee. Marion, who told us he’s from Vancouver, said:

The monument is in New Orleans. We are here just to enforce the action of free speech. Whatever they determine in the city and the citizens decide what’s going to happen with these monuments, that’s what should happen. Because that’s up to the people. But right now, it’s not being allowed to be up to the people because people can’t go to the city council meetings, they can’t go to lobbying meetings where they can voice their opinions, because of the fear of violence.

Others who turned out for Sunday’s protests were not so keen on having people from outside New Orleans arrive in the city due to the monuments issue. Josh Grippa, who said he lives in the French Quarter and is in favor of removing the monuments:

I think that’s not needed. Leave it to the city of New Orleans.

By 5:30 pm, the activity at Lee Circle at had dwindled to only a few dozen protesters. Remaining among them was a man wearing a red helmet with white taped X’s designating that he was there to render first aid, if needed. He declined to give his name other than “Peter”, but swept around the circle scooping up trash, in an effort to clean up the empty bottles and cans left behind. He said slyly:

I think that too many people think they’re right, and they’re not learning from either side. If people really cared about this monument, they’d clean up the trash. All I can say is that one side left a lot more trash than the other.

Peter did not reveal which side had been the messier. For more video and images from the day, read our live blog coverage.

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