Only Accountability Will Allow the U.S. to Move ForwardBreaking News
tags: Reconstruction, New Orleans, Louisiana, impeachment, political violence, White Supremacy, Lost Cause, Capitol Riot
Mitch Landrieu is the former Mayor of New Orleans.
A white mob stormed government offices in an effort to overthrow the duly elected leadership, overwhelming the local police and killing several officers in a violent clash.
This description is not only of the insurrection in Washington, D.C., on January 6, but of the Battle of Liberty Place in New Orleans, on September 14, 1874. The Crescent City White League, a white-supremacist group made up of some of the city’s elite as well as former Confederate soldiers, sought to overthrow the Republicans, a party of pro-abolition white Americans and newly enfranchised Black Americans. Thousands of members of the White League fought against the integrated Metropolitan Police force. The insurgents held the statehouse, armory, and downtown New Orleans for three days, finally retreating before the arrival of federal troops that restored the elected government.
The insurgents were never charged with any crimes, and history remembered them kindly. In 1891, a monument to the battle was erected, not to commemorate the police officers who had died but to honor the members of the Crescent City White League who had lost their lives. This monument to white supremacists stood in our city until 2017, when, amid much controversy and backlash, we removed it and three other Lost Cause Confederate statues.
Scenes of white mobs played out across the country during Reconstruction, as “militias” used terror to assert their will upon African Americans, perhaps most notably in the Greenwood massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The events typically followed a similar pattern: White rage and terror were normalized. No one was held accountable. History was rewritten, often to celebrate violence. Myths were created.
In the case of the January 6 insurrection, the U.S. cannot allow the same pattern to unfold. Some Republican politicians are calling for “unity,” but the country cannot come together without truth and accountability.
Accountability starts with understanding what happened on January 6. Not all of the rioters were white supremacists or members of white-nationalist militias, but some were—enough that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has now raised the threat level on what it calls “Domestic Violent Extremists” motivated by “long-standing racial and ethnic tension.”
The government must examine whether the lack of preparedness at the Capitol was a result of implicit bias (not believing that these armed white rioters could be dangerous) or complicity. The authorities must also charge the insurrectionists who stormed the building. Donald Trump’s incendiary actions and House and Senate Republicans’ votes to reject the Electoral College count were traitorous. Trying to overthrow an election is a serious threat to a republic. They must be held responsible too. Impeaching Trump was the right call, but now the Senate must follow through on a conviction.
Accountability also goes beyond that day’s events. Americans must recognize the bigger truths the past four years have exposed. White supremacy is alive and well in our society, a shameful truth many of us already knew. However, white supremacists have now been further emboldened to operate openly with little consequence. Even as hate crimes quadrupled from 2016 to 2017, the Trump administration showed little interest in white-extremist violence.
comments powered by Disqus
- Indentured Students: Elizabeth Tandy Shermer on Student Debt (Monday, October 4)
- The Last Good Neighbor: Mexico in the Global Sixties (Washington History Seminar, Mon. 9/27)
- Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience (Thursday, 9/23)
- Traveling Black: Mia Bay Joins the Washington History Seminar, September 20
- Why are Historians Facing Online Abuse Over Whether Atlantis Existed?