NEW ORLEANS -- A last-ditch effort to block the removal of a monument to a Confederate general in New Orleans was rejected Wednesday by a Louisiana judge who turned away arguments that the city doesn't own the statue or the land on which it sits.
"This has gone on an inordinate amount of time," Judge Kern Reese said as he outlined reasons for his refusal to grant an injunction protecting the statue of Gen. P.G.T Beauregard. It was a reference to state and federal court battles that delayed removal of the Beauregard monument and three others for more than a year.
The huge bronze image of Beauregard on horseback sits in the center of a traffic circle at the entrance to New Orleans City Park. Those who don't want it removed argued that it belongs to a park board and, therefore, the city has no authority to remove it.
Reese's rejection of an injunction means the city can remove the statue pending further proceedings in his court. Richard Marksbury, a New Orleans resident and monument supporter, said he may go to an appeal court to block removal.
"I'm disappointed and I'll be talking to people about to decide whether or not to go to the Fourth Circuit, because the key here probably is to get to the Supreme Court," said Marksbury after the hearing, CBS affiliate WWL reports.
The Beauregard statue, a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee and one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis are slated for removal. A fourth structure, the Liberty Place monument, was removed late last month. It honored whites who battled a biracial Reconstruction-era government in New Orleans.
"The law is the law, so we're going to move forward with taking the monuments down." said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. WWL reports that Landrieu would not give a timetable, only reiterating his mantra that they would come down "sooner rather than later."
The Liberty Place monument was taken down without advance notice in the dead of night by workers in masks and body armor. City officials have been secretive about removal plans due to threats of violence against those tasked with taking down the structures.
In Reese's court, Franklin Jones, an attorney for Marksbury, cited documents asserting that the independent, state-supervised board that oversees City Park owns the Beauregard statue and the tract of land on which it sits. Adam Swensek, an assistant city attorney, noted court precedents holding otherwise and said delays in removing the monuments only prolong a controversy that has resulted in tense confrontations between pro- and anti-monument groups at monument sites.
"The longer it takes to go ahead and rip off the Band-Aid, the longer this wound will fester," he told Reese.
In refusing an injunction, Reese noted documents indicating the monument was donated to the city in 1907. And, aside from any ownership questions, he said the city was granted perpetual use of the land in question.
The council voted to remove the four monuments in 2015 at the urging of Landrieu - part of a national response after nine black parishioners were shot to death by an avowed racist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier that year.
The shooter, Dylann Roof, brandished Confederate flags in several photographs that came to light soon after his arrest. Roof had said he intended to start a race war with the killings.