Written by Sarah K. Inman
Thursday, 15 February 2007 16:41
The year 2006 ends with tragedy, the murder of a brass band drummer and high school teacher. When the victim is well liked, an innocent in the line of fire, people pay attention. The New Year brings no better. In the first week of 2007 the number of people slain in New Orleans exceeds the days that pass. Add the murder of a mother on Rampart Street to the body found on Press and Industry, the woman wrapped in a throw rug, and bodies in Central City.
To read about the recent killings on nola.com, one must first click away the pop-up Powerball ad. The picture of the smiling couple, the good doctor Gailunias and the filmmaker Hill, and then the cartoon image of a horn, a blue lightning bolt and a reminder of the jackpot total which, at the time of Hill’s murder, reached one hundred thirty one million dollars, flash across the screen.
Out in the neighborhood, a Marigny janitor mourns the loss of Hill and reflects on the wave of crime. “I’m not worried about myself,” he says. “I’m suicidal, so I don’t care what happens to me, but gosh.” He sighs and then speaks of the lasso he owns and of how he’s ready to use it. Only under ideal conditions, though, will it work.
Trying to make sense of the violence, the people who live downriver say that evil travels in swirls, like a tornado of sorts, touching down on a region, a city, a neighborhood, and then swirling away. The words “Helen Hill, sweet, nice, kind” are chalked onto the door of the Iron Rail Book Collective.
When people call the act senseless what exactly do they refer to? The perpetrator, the victim, the act itself? But is there anything truly senseless about murder, the penultimate act of aggression? What’s so unnatural, so senseless about that? True, it doesn’t adhere to a moral code, but senseless?
The first Sunday of January arrives with some rain. Haze hangs in the air, a hint of thick fog that’s been blanketing the city on and off since the solstice. A group of concerned citizens meet at The Sound Café, a coffee shop, to organize a protest. An overall paler representation of what the city really looks like, the large group spills into the streets near the railroad tracks. The meeting begins with raised hands and a statement: “Stop killing people.”
A man sports a t-shirt that reads, “C. Ray? Not lately.” For January, it’s warm.
Throughout the convocation, somber faced folks move in and out of the café to listen and to be heard. To maintain order, a cluster of feathers is passed and the speaker holds it when it’s her time to talk.
As one woman discusses the causes of crime-- the lack of decent jobs, low minimum wage, poor education-- another wearing a Saints jacket makes her way to the back of the café to post a sign for kittens that are part Persian, eight weeks old, and free to a good home.
A march to City Hall is planned and one speaker suggests that all participants wear white, a unifying color. Imagine a sea of people dressed in white.
“Do you have any cash?” someone whispers. “I’m kind of thirsty.”
Leashed and obedient hounds wait outside by the bicycles. Toddlers rise from their strollers, eager to interact.
On the news a man wearing a Provincetown sweatshirt expresses his anxiety. “I never thought I’d consider buying a gun.”
An art professor discusses with glee how a few years back justice was served to West Bank carjackers. Apparently a woman carrying a gun sat in her vehicle at a red light, and when a man tapped on her window, wanting her purse and possibly her ride, she blew his face off.
Neighbors stiffen when children scream in play. Young bucks take the center of the street, wanting to be seen. Everyone is suspect, all on edge.
While concerned citizens begin their march to City Hall, a family on Bartholomew Street packs its belongings. The child waits on the steps as the parents fill a Penske.
A sea of people—more than any convention has brought in recently—convene at the base of Canal Street. Some carry signs and many wear black. One poster reads “Children are not born killers, and another states, “It takes a thug to raze a village.” The ever-present haze begins to lift as the sun forces a brief appearance.
Mounting motorcycles and horses, the police cover Canal Street. The canine unit is prepared, and cop cars line downtown.
The urban cowboy on his bike rides with a sign that proclaims, “The end is near. Drop tractors, not bombs.”
Suits stop to watch, halted by the traffic of people, and women who work in buildings with elevators walk along Poydras wearing winter fashion, knee-high black leather boots.
When the faction from Central City arrives, marchers step aside and cheer. After all, their neighborhood boasts many killings, as if the swirl gravitates toward them.
Outside City Hall, among the thousands of people in attendance, a family of four stands together. The father, watching his girls behave anxiously, proclaims, “I’m gonna call Mayor Nagin on you.” He then smiles through gold capped teeth to let them know he’s playing. A sign reading “Justice for all” intrigues the children, and they struggle to read it with the help of the woman carrying the poster. She teaches the girls to sound out the letters, but one child insists the second letter “don’t look like a U.”
Shouts of “recall Nagin” sound, and a lone yeller calls out an unintelligible protest.
Speakers representing different neighborhoods take turns at the podium while the police push back a photographer who lacks credentials. Drums beat from the direction of the cluster representing the Bywater. The sound doesn’t travel well; not all who gather hear the messages.
“I bet a Krispy Kreme would taste good right now,” someone says. It is, after all, lunch hour.
The mayor is silenced, advised that it’s best to keep quiet today. When the speeches end, the crowd moves away from City Hall, dispersing in the direction from where it came. Some return to work, some to lunch.
A young woman with a guitar and a purse with Che Guevara’s image sets up her instrument’s case on Poydras. She prepares to play and collect cash.
Two days later another person is murdered in his home. In New Orleans East, a man shoots dead someone trying to enter his trailer. Has the swirl touched down again? Or is it lifting off, moving away with a final relish?
The focus shifts to another kind of killing—one of football mascots. Time passes as images of massacred teddy bears follow talks of eagle gumbo. It’s not just the city’s football team. It’s survival.