French Quarter and Treme neighbors showed up at St. Jude Community Center on N. Rampart Street to talk about what they say is a swath of violence that's pervaded the French Quarter over the last several months. It was the second town hall meeting in three days held by District C City Councilmember Nadine Ramsey, and with about 200 people in attendance, about three times as crowded as the July 21 meeting at Holy Angels Convent on St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater.
New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Ronal Serpas and Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro mostly reiterated their remarks from Monday's Marigny/Bywater crime meeting. The comments from French Quarter neighbors, however, were more biting than those at Monday's meeting, many directly relating to the June 29 shootings on Bourbon Street that left one person dead and nine injured.
"I'm scared to leave my house at night," said one resident, who later described a woman getting shot to death outside his front door.
Another man said he'd been shot just six months ago and urged Ramsey to find a way to bring more jobs to the neighborhood in an effort to keep people off the streets.
As he did at the Marigny/Bywater meeting, Serpas told the crowd the NOPD is understaffed and is doing all it can, including bringing in state troopers to help patrol. The NOPD loses about 137 people a year to resignations and retiring, a number that Serpas said isn't extraordinary for a city the size of New Orleans.
One man at the meeting brought up the issue of racial profiling by police, a comment that Serpas was quick to dispute. "In the last four years, arrests have decreased by 30 percent," he said. "We do not think bringing people to jail who do not need to be in jail does any good." Serpas also explained that NOPD nowis using body cameras in an effort to reward officers for exceptional service and penalize those abusing power or making mistakes.
Cops 8, the organization that supports the officers of the NOPD's 8th District, which includes the French Quarter, passed out signs to show solidarity with the existing police officers protecting the neighborhood, though organizer Ken Caron told Gambit he was generally mistrustful of what Serpas and police officials had to say at the meeting.
"The 8th District was basically in horrible repair before last year, and we basically renovated it at no cost to the taxpayers," Caron said. "It helps morale. We feed the officers during major events because they're working 12-, 15-hour shifts ... We don't have enough people on the streets. They're passing out Kool-Aid, is what it is. They passed out Kool-Aid and said, 'Listen to this, and this is what we're doing,' and the fact of the matter is we're two officers down for every one that's getting hired. It's Groundhog Day; it's the same thing over and over."
Ramsey's next District C town hall will take place August 5 at the Algiers Regional Library.