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.