NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Tens of thousands of people filed into the French Quarter Friday evening to demonstrate against the deaths of George Floyd, and before him, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Modesto Reyes, Tony McDade and others killed by police.
A series of speakers spoke of racism, inequality, police brutality and exploitation and urged revolutionary change. Though the crowd was massive and the sentiment painful, the protest remained peaceful, as the majority have been this week.
“It’s basically a demonstration against white supremacy,” an onlooker standing among hundreds on the river side of the square Friday evening observed as a falling sun threw golden rays over the tall spires of the historic cathedral, and all across the lush Jackson Square, gates locked to the public on this particular night.
Rumor all week had been protesters intended to take down a monument of Andrew Jackson on horseback that sits, famously, in the center of Jackson Square not far from the St. Louis Cathedral – championed as the oldest operating cathedral in the United States.
The statue of Jackson, as the seventh president and a slave owner, has been on a list of monuments the activist group Take ‘Em Down NOLA has insisted the city remove at least since 2016.
Speakers referred to the statue as a symbol of white supremacy and led call and response chants demanding the statue’s removal.
“We won’t get no satisfaction until we take down…”
The setting for Friday’s protest has a long and gory history of slave buying and selling and brutality.
Just beyond the historic cathedral inside the square is an area that in the 18th and 19th centuries was notorious for being the site where public executions took place, some of the heads of the executed afterwards being hung on the gates. Following the slave uprising of 1811, three slaves were hanged in the square.
Only a handful of police officers were on site Friday evening.
One officer who stood at a barricade on one side of the crowd said the iron gates to the square had been locked earlier on by the cathedral out of concern the crowd would become unruly, and out of concern, too, over monument removal and looting.
Removal of Confederate heroes has figured prominently into protests over the past week all across the South.
Residents in Mobile, Alabama Friday morning learned that a bronze statue of Confederate naval officer Admiral Raphael Semmes, which stood in a middle of a downtown street near the waterfront for the last 120 years and had been a point of contention during protests all week was removed without any public notice overnight.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said in a series of tweets that he ordered the removal because the monument was “a potential distraction” to focusing on what lay ahead for the city.
“Moving the statue will not change the past. It’s about removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city,” Stimpson said.
Other Confederate monuments have come down or are expected to around the South in the wake of the massive protests and outrage that have unleashed since Floyd’s Memorial Day death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.
An obelisk was removed by the city of Birmingham after protesters caused another statue to topple. In Richmond, Virginia, a huge statue of Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed following news the city plans to remove other Confederate monuments from Monument Avenue.
And in Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, announced Friday that a monument to Jefferson Davis is a divisive symbol and will be removed from the state capital’s Capitol Rotunda.
“Even if there are those who think it’s a part of history, there should be a better place to put it in historic context,” the governor said. “And right now, seeing so much pain in our state and across our country, can’t we at least realize that in so many of our fellow Kentuckians … it is in the very least so hurtful to them? And doesn’t that at least justify it not sitting where it does right now?”