Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Orleans Has A Caveat

In many ways, this past weekend was a New Orleans classic for me. I rushed home from work, ran to the shower and was on Frenchmen within 20 minutes. After mixing my flask of whiskey with some diet I bought from the market, I met up with a friend from out of town and ran into a two groups of friends on the street. We all went into the bar together and drank pitchers of Andygator until we decided to walk two blocks to the other great bar. We drank more, my friend from out of town went to Bourbon with a girl I just introduced her to, and I end up in my bed realizing my wallet was still at the bar. Damn.

Spent the afternoon on Saturday having one of the best philosophical conversations of my life, then drove to Mid-City and went to a friend of a friend's birthday crawfish boil. Ate so much crawfish I felt a little ill and started to feel like these people I'd just met were going to end up being the best friends of my life. Exhausted, found out Rebirth was playing for free at the French Quarter Fest and we all pile into an SUV. I sit in the way-back and get to watch the city move backwards.

Eventually we park, go to the port-o-potties by the aquarium. A drunk tourist screams that "You just can't fucking trust these people in New Orleans" and the girl behind me tells me and the guy behind me, all of us strangers, "I really like the people in New Orleans.". We all smile and nod in agreement.

We dissolve into the crowd. Rebirth is in the last 20 minutes of their set. The sun is setting behind the stage that is right on the Mississippi river. A fucking steam boat passes as they play for god sakes. They're really grooving now, the songs are well over 8 minutes, the transitions between tunes difficult to parse out. I can't help but bounce my butt up and down and simultaneously feel like they're singing the most profound lyrics I've ever heard. Is there ever a moment when Do Watcha Wanna doesn't feel deeply, penetratingly true, completely undeniable? I feel exalted, heavenly, of a special breed. How is it that I have been lucky enough to be from, to truly be a part of, the best city in the entire world? Is there anywhere else where pure joy like this is allowed its rightful position as ultimate, singular goal? It seems that the rest of the world is constantly trying to carve out a time for these activities, to neatly differentiate from 'festive' time, where this ecstasy is permitted, and 'regular' time, where things are not suppose to be this fun, where we must do things that we all know are unpleasant, where this is the definition of work. Where we are suppose to pretend that we are all just individuals who happen to be residing in a similar area, not a community. Live our lives as if we are just trying to tolerate each other's intrusions on our privacy, instead of realizing it is precisely those intrusions that make us who we are. We are not suppose to stand together, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, hispanic and asian, and dance to the music that resides in all of our bellies. We are not to bask in the glorious connectedness that makes all of us feel whole again, knowing that everyone in this community is united in similar pleasures, supported by familiar pains.

I end the night on Frenchmen street. I order the drinks friends miles away might order, and reminisce to another friend about drinks we all had together, some other night. It's like everyone whose ever lived New Orleans with me is with me when I'm back with her. I spend a while talking to an older black man who runs a theater company on the Westbank. We talk about the racism that is implicit in our conversation, even when we don't feel any judgment from each other, as some of my white friends come to ask me if I'm okay. And still, we connect. Eventually, I get a ride home with some people from the Crawfish boil. Our walk across the city leaves us all desperate for the bathroom. The driver negotiates with the valet at the hotel. We end up parking for free.

When I get home, I log on to Nola.COM, buzzed from the high of such a classic New Orleans weekend. And then the Headline reads: 7 SHOT AT CHARTRES AND CANAL ST., LEAVING THE FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL. New Orleans has a caveat.

This is a real crisis.

New Orleans must fundamentally remake its police department and larger criminal justice system so that it can effectively uphold the law and pursue justice and safety for its residents. It is not about the pursuit of a flowery ideal – criminal-justice reform is a matter of life and death for the residents of New Orleans more than it is about avoiding more international embarrassment and shame.

There is also the matter of race. There is simply no denying that the consequences of our broken criminal justice system disproportionately harm the African American community. It isn’t just that there is a racist subtext (and obvious context) to be condemned while examining the attitudes of NOPD officers toward suffering African American New Orleans residents stranded in September 2005. It is the patently disproportionate harm experienced by African American residents throughout the criminal justice system. While the NOPD crisis is such that everyone can share in their disgust, there is simply no denying the historical precedent within the African American community." --

4/12/10, @The Lens by Eli Ackerman

New Orleans, no matter how glorious, how heavenly, how purposeful it seems, has an equally horrific caveat, a taste of the devil and his destruction paired with every manna like bite. Until this wound heals, descriptions of New Orleans will always--SHOULD always have a but. We can not toast to its recovery when our citizens are dying in its streets. I'm as guilty of this as anybody. When outsiders ask about the crime rates, I tell them, "Oh you don't have to worry about it, nothing will happen to you, because you're rich and white. Crime does not effect people like us." All the time denying, that the crime IS us. That we basically ignore these things that go on in our streets defines who we are as individuals. As we let it continue and carry on with our lives, we turn a blind eye to horrible suffering that we could potentially do something about.

I often struggle with, well what could I do? There are too many factors, too many causes, too many unsolvable situations. Luckily, the Silence is Violence organization has provided a great start. And just imagine the kind of power they could have if we all dedicated a day, or two, to volunteer with this organization? The point is not that we could definitely solve the problem. Rather, the gesture would recognize our role in perpetuating violence: simply that we do not speak out against it loud enough, and do our part to make the city whole again. If you love New Orleans, your words can not be against the people who are bearing the brunt of this violence. This is not us vs. them, an argument, a time to point fingers, a time to fight . This should be a call for peace. A recognition of our mutual, eternal, essential human agreement, that we allow each other to live.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post, Ki.
    When I first moved to New Orleans, and was staying at your place, I was reading the Picayune every day, looking for jobs. Because I've never really lived in a big city or one with anything like a crime rate, it was really hard for me to adjust to the fact that people care so little about murder in New Orleans that it doesn't even make the fucking front page of the newspaper when it happens, which is, as you already know, every day.