The debate over removing a series of Confederate memorials across New Orleans reached a fever pitch this weekend.
On Sunday, an estimated 700 anti-racism demonstrators squared off against right-wing defenders of the statues—many of whom were dressed in makeshift body armor and waving confederate flags—in an emotional, and occasionally violent, rally next to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee slated for removal.
“The fight that we’re waging is against the city fathers who have refused to bring about genuine equality and freedom for the black people here,” explained Malcolm Suber, who belongs to Take Em Down NOLA, the group spearheading the fight to remove Confederate memorials in the city.
Speaking with The New York Times, Suber, an adjunct political science professor at Southern University, said he’d like to see city officials hand out sledgehammers and “let everybody take a whack [at the statues]—just like the Berlin Wall.”
Statues commemorating general P.G. T. Beauregard and Confederate president Jefferson Davis are also scheduled to be taken down in the coming months. As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently explained, the monuments are large enough that removing them requires the work of industrial cranes. However, every single crane company in the New Orleans region has received threats from those who want the Confederate statues to remain in place, according to the mayor.
Last month, a memorial honoring the Battle of Liberty Place was taken down in the middle of the night, with local media asked not to film the faces of those working to remove the monument. Landrieu stated that strategy was the result of threats made against workers.
There are three statues left, which Landrieu had previously promised would come down “sooner than later.” But local authorities have made clear that the personal safety of those involved is a major concern.
“Due to the widely known intimidation, threats, and violence there remains serious safety concerns,” a spokesperson for New Orleans City Hall said in a statement. “Therefore, we will not be sharing the details on removal timeline.”