18 August 2008

An Open Letter to the People of New Orleans - It's Time to Take Action Against Crime

I am a river rat. I am an artist. I am a father to two girls who no longer live in New Orleans because their mother had the foresight to move them to another city far away from the madness. I didn't argue with her moving because sadly I knew it was the right thing. Yet, I am still a citizen of New Orleans who has stayed behind to try and make our city a better place. I am a New Orleanian who came back home when I could have gone anywhere because I believed we could build a better New Orleans. Up until last week, I held that belief fervently but now I am not so sure at times.

It is human nature to question and I have been fighting the tossing/turning of what it really means to be a New Orleanian. Does it mean that when I go from place to place that I should have to barricade myself inside my car, home, business? Does it mean that I have to walk down the street in fear? Does it mean that I can't ride my bike on a busy street without kids trying to hit me with concrete? Where are we living? What kind of society are we getting as our second lease on life?

Pardon me for saying, as some of you might, but I'm not going to leave the city to go live in Metairie or the Northshore. I'm not saying there's something wrong with either, as I've lived in both, but if I wanted to live in suburbia, I'd go further away than that. My point being is that if you are going to leave New Orleans to live in Suburbia, you may as well live in a Suburbia that isn't facing the overflow of New Orleans problems.

New Orleans is the shining star of the area and ought to be an example of everything we embody to the world...an epicenter that resonates throughout the consciousness of modern music, a cultural giant of Southern charm that provides artistic and Bohemian qualities to the rest of the South, a trading super-center that feeds vast expanses of the world through the commerce of the Mississippi River. That is who and what we are as a city, but what do they say of us as a people?

As many of you know, I've done some traveling in my day. Any time someone has found out that I am from New Orleans ("like really from New Orleans"...yes, like really, I've papers to prove it), there is such a genuine shift in the conversation. They want to know what it is like to live in New Orleans. They have always wanted to move here and be a part of it and feel the vibe that is our soul. To quote Chris Rose, "We dance even if there's no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large, and, frankly, we're suspicious of others who don't."

So, what do we make of this crime? Do we make more crime and add to the perpetual cycle or do we demand more from our City Hall and our police? Or do we, as citizens, have to take up arms and become criminals ourselves just to live in a decent society? I won't call for that sort of extremism just yet, but we are getting closer to the day when there is no other choice.

There will be some who say you just shouldn't live in neighborhoods where there is crime. Perhaps they are right, but then how long until the crime spreads into their neighborhood? What will they be crying then? Because fact of the matter is, New Orleans is filthy with crime in nearly every neighborhood. When I say crime, I mean the down and dirty, murder, rape, belligerent beating, senseless, violent and bloody type of crime that makes you shake your head in disbelief. We've had a troubled past, but that does that mean we deserve a bloody future?

I say no. We live in a city that is troubled and getting worse. As New Orleanians, we're naturally distrustful of the Feds, but it's almost to the point where we'd be safer living under martial law. I can tell you, I still shutter every time I hear the Coast Guard helicopter flying above and there's a distinct mist that comes over me when I see humvees driving down the street. What a sad state of affairs that we allowed our big second chance to dwindle into this misery!

I am an artist, not an anti-crime activist. I am one man with a voice and I am not afraid to use it. If my words reach one set of ears and it produces something positive, then I have served my purpose. BUT, I am no longer content being a lone voice while our city is falling apart. A city is a place full of citizens and we must get involved, be involved and stay involved if we are going to make our city a better place. There must be some inkling of hope in me because I am still living here. I still believe in New Orleans and I know things can be better.

As New Orleanians, we are a good and loving people that are being over-run by kids and criminals that lost their way long ago. They have been forgotten in the schools and by their own leaders because too many people in the past of New Orleans was too busy lining their own pockets to care what could happen. So we build more jail space so the sheriffs can have a bigger budget so they can make more money so they can build more jail space so the sheriffs can have a bigger budget. Everything is cyclical, but the powers that be in this town leave each little whirlwind to themselves because they don't want a better whole.

I keep finding myself back at the question of "What, then, is the solution?" It's involvement! It's being the eyes and the ears for the people who don't know where to look. It's being a person with a moral imperative to do good things, even if it means a personal loss. It's being the person who isn't afraid to stand up, fight back, make a difference. Making a difference is the hardest thing a person can do, because so often, you're never fully sure of the quality of the results, but I say to you...don't fear the change you wish to see...MAKE IT HAPPEN.

You, the individual reading this, can make the change. I applaud people who have noticed corruption in City Hall a la NOAH and have put themselves out there on the line to reveal it's ugly side. I say to them, keep going! It's the kind of actions that have "some powers that be" scared enough to have regular citizens followed and photographed. We need to apply this selfless leadership to crime now.

This is what I have decided to do. NoLA Rising is going to join to help United For Peace in their march against crime. United for Peace founder Charles Anderson thought of having a march where painted portraits of those murdered since hurricane Katrina would be carried. I support that idea and will therefore be assisting this project any way I can. Read this post about how to contact Charles: UNITED FOR PEACE GUIDELINES.

In addition, on Sunday, September 7th, Charles and Avi Benbasat (of Students of NoLA Rising at Tulane University), will be hosting a paint party at XO Studios (2833 Dauphine from noon until six) in the sideyard. We will paint the remaining portraits of those murdered in our city to be carried in a march on September 20th. It's time to stand up! It's time to do something! It's time to take the risk because not taking one isn't working. If this doesn't wake people up, then I will call for increased action on the peoples' part.

It seems to me that there is a price to be paid for trying to build a better tomorrow in this city, it's a price we should all be willing to pay. I love New Orleans so much, that I want to make it a place that my daughters can safely come home to. I want to make New Orleans a place where fathers in Ohio can feel comfortable knowing their daughters are moving to. There's a new face for change in New Orleans...and it's yours.

New Orleans was my first love, and it shall be my last...


  1. Beautuflly written and forwardly thinking. Count me in, for whatever it takes.

    Lord David

    "I'm a pacifist, a pugilist, one voice crying in the wilderness..." - Sista Otis

  2. i have wood and paint and will be there!

  3. Beautiful post. I have a suggestion that we do this on a week day and end up at City Hall like we did last time because it forced the mayor, DA and police chief to come out in the open and make their empty promises visible to their citizens and media. We got some results from that march. I love the thought of the UFP march, but on a Saturday, it's not really marching for system change, which is what is required in NO today.

  4. Just my 2 cents, but I was glad to see the march is on a Saturday. Many people are not able to march during the week because they cannot afford to take off from work or have to save their vacation days for family.

    That was the situation at the first march for people I work with who would have liked to march.

  5. Thanks, man. This stirs me. I'm not sure in what exact direction, but I'm ready for something. The march is a good place to start.

  6. Thanks y'all. Let us hope that our voices produce a long-lasting and meaningful change. Since one march wasn't enough, it's time for us to begin another. The scope of what must be done is so big, each in our separate but united way can finally make the all-encompassing change this city needs to see. And when the waters recede, we'll finally have the city we wish to live in.

  7. Well said Michael. I too have been a victim of the concrete hurdling children. I thought I was in a relatively "safe" neighborhood and then it happened in front of my house on Laurel and Milan when I was riding my bike home. The police asked me what they should do about it and I was outraged.

    Jessica's murder was the last straw. I'll be there loud and proud.