A Christmas rant. Just what you need.
Tonight is my favorite night of the season. In New Orleans, we hold an event called Caroling at Jackson Square. We usually go and join in with our fellow New Orleanians to sing Christmas carols. I make pictures. You get to see them and hopefully feel what I felt when I took them. Then we go to dinner. We eat something called a Reveillon Dinner. That’s a Creole holiday dinner that was traditionally served after midnight mass. It is truly something to which I look forward.
But, not tonight.
Crime has gotten progressively worse throughout the city. It has gotten especially violent in the French Quarter. In just the last week, there have been 25 violent assaults. People are gotten beaten to the point of hospitalization. They aren’t getting robbed. There is no score to settle. They are just being attacked by small gangs. Not that it should make a difference, but they aren’t out doing what people sometimes go the French Quarter to do. They haven’t been drinking. They haven’t been partying. They aren’t out too late. And, usually they are walking back to their hotels or cars on what I used to consider the safer streets of the Quarter in the early hours of the evening. Or, almost any time. Just this morning at 8am, a guy and his girlfriend were walking down Bourbon Street when he was shot. Enough.
Why is this happening? Why now? Criminals, some of them anyway, can read. Or at least, they can watch the local news on television. They know that the New Orleans Police Department is very severely understaffed. The NOPD is down some 300 to 400 police officers as I write. They are pretty much completely demoralized. For big events, the Louisiana State Troopers help out in the Quarter. They flood the area with at least 30 troopers. They’ll be around for the big college bowl games. They’ll be around for Mardi Gras and for New Year Eve. But, not tonight.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Right now police and civilian relations are not at their highest point. There have been questionable, to downright bad, legal calls There have been and big and ongoing protests. Two NYPD officers were killed as they sat in their car. RIP to them. This isn’t a political blog, so I choose not to comment beyond that. But, here in New Orleans, we generally all get along. Our police department works pretty well with us during what could be high stress moments, like Mardi Gras when the city is packed to the gills with tourists. But, short-staffed as they are, they can’t be everywhere in the Quarter. The bad guys know this.
I can’t put my family in risk. I can defend myself. I can maybe defend them. But, I don’t want to have to do that. The percentage for bad things happening just walking back to the car, or to catch the streetcar, is just too high right now. Yeah. I get it. You have to watch your back in all big cities. But, not like this. Not now.
The best I can do is show you a little sign tucked away in all the bright lights of Christmas. “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas.”
My heart is very heavy today.