LA Senators Reject Confederate Monument Protection Bills

The City of New Orleans removes the Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard monument Wednesday, May 17.

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Decisions on the fate of Confederate monuments erected in towns and cities around Louisiana will be left to local governments, after an effort to make it harder to remove the statues was spurned Wednesday by state senators.

         The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 4-2 to scrap the House-backed bill from Rep. Thomas Carmody, a Shreveport Republican, and a second proposal by Sen. Beth Mizell, a Franklinton Republican.

         All four Democratic senators who voted against the bills are black. Two white Republican senators supported the measures.

         Bill backers called the monuments a reminder of Louisiana's history and memorials to the state's veterans. Monument supporter Janelle Weber equated the statues to the Egyptian pyramids, the Roman Coliseum and other landmarks.

         "It is a living history book in our society, in our community," she said. She added: "It is part of the culture of our past. It is part of the architecture and foundation of our nation."

         Carmody said his constituents urged him to bring the bill to conserve "public military memorials."

         Opponents described the monuments as divisive and celebratory of a war defending slavery, and they said decisions on their future should be left to local elected officials.

         "You are undoubtedly aware of the Holocaust and the horrible things that were done to our Jewish friends," said Sen. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat. "If there was a statute of Hitler or Mussolini, would you have the same argument of the significance of honoring that history?"

         Carmody replied: "If it existed, I wouldn't support it."

         Carter's invoking of the Holocaust angered monuments supporter Jenna Bernstein, a Jewish woman who said she traveled to the hearing from her home in Florida. She said comparing the Holocaust to "the war between the states" was inappropriate.

         "Let the Jews worry about the Jews' history, and don't bring in the Holocaust," she said, her voice vacillating between shouting and shaking.

Later during the debate, Carter responded to her testimony, saying: "The same level of passion she feels for that pain and that atrocious treatment of human beings is equal to the passion I and African Americans feel when we see people celebrate the atrocities of slavery and the pain that it has caused."

         The debate stretched over five hours, with disagreements over why the Civil War was fought, what the Confederate monuments mean and how preserving them could be interpreted. People on both sides of the issue used the words of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to bolster their cases. Much of the discussion centered on New Orleans, which recently removed four monuments honoring Confederate figures and a white-supremacist uprising.

         The debate over Confederate symbols has flared since nine black parishioners were shot to death by an avowed racist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Carmody's own city of Shreveport has been debating what to do with a Confederate monument in front of the parish's courthouse, and other statue removals are being considered in Louisiana cities.

         Carmody's bill would have banned the removal of any plaque, statue or other monument on public property commemorating a historic military figure or event — unless local voters approve the removal in an election. Mizell's bill would have required legislative approval before any monument in place for 25 years could be relocated.

         Lawmakers said they were inundated with emails and phone calls about the issue of the monuments. Carmody's bill drew strong reaction during House debate. After Carmody's proposal passed, black lawmakers walked out of the House chamber.

         Voting to reject both bills were Sens. Carter; Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans; J.P. Morell, D-New Orleans; and Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport. Voting against were rejection were Sens. Neil Riser, R-Columbia; and Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe. Committee chairwoman Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, did not vote. Two other senators were absent.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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