[Excellant] Article by Adam Serwer, BuzzFeed.com
NOTE FROM THIS PUBLISHER: This wonderfully engaging story is definitely worth a read – to the end. If I actually knew anything about screen-writing, I’d say that Martin Scorsese et al needs to hire this writer immeadiately. William Carbone
A light rain fell on New Orleans on October 15, 1890, as Police Chief David Hennessy left the central police station with his colleague and friend Capt. William O’Connor just after 11 p.m. The young chief turned toward Basin Street, heading for the home he shared with his widowed mother. O’Connor went in the opposite direction, up Girod Street. Hennessy rarely walked home alone; for the past three years, he had done so in the company of bodyguards. That night he was alone.
Not far from his mother’s doorstep, Hennessy staggered as gunfire ripped into his side. One of the bullets pierced his liver and settled in his chest, another shattered his right leg. The skin around his wounds cratered with bird shot. Hennessy drew his revolver as he turned to face his assailants and fired three or four times, but they had slipped into the night.
O’Connor, who heard the gunshots from blocks away, turned and ran through the fresh mud and found his friend bleeding to death on the ground. The way O’Connor remembered it, Hennessy called out, “Billy, Billy.” As O’Connor approached, Hennessy said, “They have given it to me, and I have given it back the best I could.”
“Who gave it to you, Dave?” O’Connor asked.
O’Connor said that Hennessy beckoned for O’Connor to bring his head closer, as Hennessy whispered one word into his ear.
“Dagoes,”[sic] he said.
Hennessy didn’t die immediately. He didn’t think he was going to die at all. When his mother joined his bedside at Charity Hospital the next morning at 8 a.m., he told her, “I’ll be home by and by.” His colleagues sent for his priest. By 9, the chief was dead, and by 9:15, mourners were gathering outside the hospital. Police officers, according to press accounts, wept openly as they vowed revenge. Hennessy’s body was removed to his mother’s home, where a stream of mourners clustered.
Hennessy’s funeral was the biggest the city had seen since former Confederate President Jefferson Davis had been laid to rest. Mourners arrived as early as 6 a.m., a line of them had gathered around the block by 10. His casket lay open behind a glass display; his hat, belt, and club lay upon it. Newspapers described an “uninterrupted procession throughout the day,” lasting into the night. A band led the funeral procession to the cemetery, more than a mile long. The city’s fire stations rang their bells in requiem. Steamboats in the harbor flew their flags at half mast.
Although Hennessy had been unable to identify his assailants and O’Connor had arrived after they escaped, the word Hennessy had whispered to O’Connor told Mayor Joseph Shakspeare all he needed to know. At a city council meeting shortly after, Shakspeare declared, “We must teach these people a lesson that they will not forget by all time.”
“No community can exist with murderous societies in its midst,” Shakspeare said. “A Sicilian who comes here must become an American citizen and subject his wrongs to the remedy of the law or else there must be no place for him on the American continent.” The room erupted in applause.
Within hours of Hennessy’s death, the New Orleans police would raid the Italian colony in the city, arresting hundreds, according to the New York Times, and detaining them at the central police station. According to Richard Gambino, a historian and author of Vendetta: The True Story of the Largest Lynching in US History, a crowd thronged outside the police station “screaming obscenities” and chanting “who killa da chief” at the prisoners as they were loaded into mule-drawn prison wagons to be taken to Orleans Parish Prison. When a largely female group of relatives of the Italian immigrants being detained arrived to call for the immigrants’ release, they were “pushed around, struck, and driven away by the crowd.” One of the suspects, Antonio Scaffidi, was shot in the face by Thomas Duffy, a friend of Hennessy’s who had come to the prison as a witness to identify suspects. Newspapers sympathetically called it an attempt to “avenge” Hennessy.
The press cheered the arrests, repeating Shakspeare’s contention that there was no doubt that Hennessy had been killed as a result of “Sicilian vengeance,” the victim of a mafia conspiracy. The anti-immigration movement of the time saw Italian immigrants as poisoning American racial purity and unfair competition for domestic workers, as dangerous foreign radicals and incorrigible criminals sent to the United States by a hostile foreign government. Religion, economic forces, and terrorism shaped white Americans’ views of Italian immigrants as fundamentally foreign, as unwanted competition for labor, and as carriers of violent radicalism.
America now stands more divided over immigration than it has since the 1920s, cleaved between two nationalisms — one pluralistic, one exclusive — each claiming to represent the country as it should be. These were placed in vivid contrast at the Republican and Democratic conventions, where the Republican nominee vowed to ban Muslim immigration and Democrats introduced the country to the father of a slain American Muslim war hero.
Left to right: Rudy Giuliani, Paul Manafort, and Chris Christie. Getty Images (3) [Click link below to see photos]
Donald Trump’s entire candidacy has been premised on purging the United States of the foreign enemies within as a means of restoring national greatness. Among his most trusted surrogates are men like Paul Manafort, Chris Christie, and Rudy Giuliani, who now speak of Muslims and Mexicans in the same tone and language that was once reserved for their Italian-American ancestors, targeted by the nativist movement that began in the late 19th century.
But this incident — and the way the accompanying fervor was spread in the national press — helped define the character of Italian immigrants for Americans for generations, providing proof of their fundamental dangerousness for the anti-immigrant backlash that followed.
Before long, the local police would whittle their list down to 19 suspects. By March, 11 of them would be dead, murdered in an act of bloody public rage so massive that weeks afterward, a grand jury would conclude that the entire city was to blame read more…