11 Italians lynched for police chief’s murder

March 14, 1891
New Orleans, Louisiana
Eleven people of Italian descent are lynched for allegedly murdering police chief David Hennessy

Hennessy had been shot several times by a group of assailants as he walked home on October 15, 1890. When asked who had shot him, he replied “Dagoes,” a slur used against Italians. He died the next day.

Police rounded up a group of Italian immigrants and men of Italian descent, primarily basing their arrests on the nationality of the men. Nine of the suspects were tried and though were convicted, based largely on inconclusive evidence and unreliable witness testimony. The outcome outraged the community who sought vengeance; jurors faced backlash from the community by being threatened, fired, or harassed.

A group formed to organize the lynching, calling themselves the Committee on Safety. Together, they began breaking into the prison to get the 19 Italian prisoners held there, who included those who had not yet been tried for Hennessy’s murder and those who had been acquitted of the murder but faced a separate trial for “lying in wait” to commit murder. As the mob began to break down the prison door with a battering ram, warden Lemuel Davis released the prisoners from their cells to hide as best they could. Eight managed to escape the mob, including a 14-year-old, while the other 11 were not as fortunate: 9 were shot and/or clubbed to death in the prison while 2 were dragged outside, hanged, and shot.

A grand jury ruled they could not identify any of the lynch mob members. This ruling has been criticized due to the presiding judge being friends with several high-ranking members of the mob which included lawyers, politicians, the New Delta newspaper’s editor, future-governor John M. Parker and future-mayor Walter C. Flower. President Benjamin Harrison agreed to pay indemnity to the 11 victims’ families and each received $2,211.90 (approx. $58,000 in 2018).

Chief David Hennessy

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