May 22, 2015
Old Habits Die Hard in New Orleans
Posted on Jun 20, 2011
“You have good officers but then you have a culture that really hasn’t had much input from the outside world,” Levine says.
Rather than welcoming the Justice Department’s report, several neighborhood associations from more affluent areas of the city have attacked the proposed changes in the paid detail system and in their ability to hire individual NOPD officers to provide security. Last month, Serpas announced that the NOPD was creating a civilian-administered Office of Police Detail Services that would set restrictions on how many hours officers could work and how they would be paid.
A May 25 letter to Serpas co-signed by leaders of the Hurstville Security District and Garden District Security District asked “how the citizens can be assured that the appropriate base level of police protection will be provided,” while a May 31 missive to Serpas from the Upper Hurstville Security District complained that residents would no longer be able to select the police officers who patrol their neighborhood.
“If we weren’t hiring them, what would they be doing?” says Karen Duncan, the chair of the Upper Hurstville district’s board of commissioners. “They wouldn’t be out patrolling less affluent neighborhoods. We’re not taking them away from something else.”
Square, Site wide
Also taking aim at crucial city services is a poisonous political battle in Louisiana’s state Senate, up the river in Baton Rouge. Some legislators have been rushing to patch a $1.6 billion gap in the state’s budget by proposing, in part, $11.7 million in cuts from the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. In addition, $58 million in cuts are proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican. The reductions would affect precisely the kind of early-interception programs so needed in high-crime city neighborhoods such as Central City, Pigeon Town and Gert Town.
Quite apart from the concrete grimness of districts blighted by unemployment and crime elsewhere in the United States, many of the more impoverished parts of New Orleans have a ramshackle, semi-rural ambiance more reminiscent of Kingston or Belize City than anywhere else, a curious cultural and aesthetic echo in a place that is often called the northernmost city in the Caribbean.
It was an aura visible in Central City recently, at the dedication of a Head Start training center named after late longtime community activist Peter W. Dangerfield.
With a brass band gliding along this city’s distinctive “second line” rhythms and a feast of Crescent City cuisine underneath a tent, members of neighborhood groups such as the Central City Economic Opportunity Corp. (EOC) reflected on their struggle against often great odds to help redefine the experience of so many who live on the downside of advantage here.
“People need decent housing, they need jobs, they need child care,” says Priscilla Edwards, the EOC’s executive director and a 40-year Central City resident.
Among other services, the group has provided senior care in the neighborhood since 1970 and child care since 1980. With state funds, the EOC provided a multimedia after-school program for school-age children from 1970 until 2005, when the building housing the program was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
“We’ve been affected greatly by the cuts in human services,” Edwards says. “They cut services on the backs of the poor, the most vulnerable.”
Indeed, to the visitor New Orleans, despite its great charm, can often seem like a city out of place and time, where the fortress-like class dynamic one sees in economically stratified societies such as those of Central America has somehow set down pernicious roots and remains obstinate and far more resilient than the delicate oleander blossoms that perfume the city’s streets in springtime.
New Orleans is a place where old habits die hard. It is a place where the city’s disenfranchised majority waits, like tourists gathered for the St. Charles Avenue streetcar as it approaches, clattering through the night and illuminated by lights from within. Like the city itself, trying to at long last reach its safe destination.
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