Just outside Jack's Meat Market on Derbigny and Mandeville streets tonight, about 50 people gathered behind the entire percussion unit of the McDonogh 35 marching band.
Since January, three people have been shot and killed at the intersection, and in the past two weeks, two men have been mugged nearby. But this march, says Rosie Lacy, secretary of the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association, was planned before the latest two incidents, one of which was the beating of the neighborhood association's vice-president Bill Murphy. The night before, local artist Christopher Brumfield was attacked in a similar fashion, and Brumfield, who has been recuperating with family in Baton Rouge, announced on his Facebook page today that he intended to move there permanently.
But with neighborhood shootings a regular occurrence in St. Roch, why should it take the mugging of two white men to get the community marching — not to mention a flurry of news cameras, New Orleans City Councilman Jared Brossett and a fleet of police officers, including New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Ronal Serpas, on the scene?
It's a question that "T," who did not want to be named, said he asked himself when he learned about the march. "I got a friend who got shot, and nobody was asking to interview me," he said.
But Lacy says the original march was scheduled for last month and got rained out. "We actually did come out and march anyway, but the NOPD was not with us," she said. "So this is a reschedule of that meeting, and we're also hosting an August 14 crime meeting that we have been coordinating with Officer Goodly [NOPD 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly] for the past month. He was out of state for training for a while. And all of that was actually in response to the four men who were shot in one week. So we've been trying to reiterate that."
Derrick Floyd, president of the neighborhood group, pointed out that though Murphy is a white man, "he advocates for everyone. This can't be a black and white issue," he said. "We have to do it together. We all are living here in a great and vibrant neighborhood."
Miracle Grays, a St. Roch resident who marched today, agreed. "This walk is pretty much for every race," she said. "You can be neon pink and we'll march for you. Everyone says it's a race thing. I don't think it's a race thing. We bleed the same blood. It's all love."
Floyd said the march would help to show that the neighborhood will not stand for murders, robberies and rape, and called on the NOPD to do more bike patrolling and meeting and greeting with neighbors. Serpas shook hands with St. Roch neighbors along the route of the march, climbing onto front porches and patting kids on the back. That's the kind of thing Floyd said he would like to see more. "Get back to that old-fashioned Officer Friendly policing," he said. "I would like our policemen, when they're patrolling, to slow down a little bit when they're patrolling. Say hi, how are you."
The hoopla of the march wasn't lost on residents, many of whom came out onto their porches and front yards to watch and listen to the drums. Floyd said it's about engaging with members of the community, and if that's the case, then the march was a success for its fanfare alone. "A horsie!" one little girl declared, looking up at an enormous thoroughbred who followed behind the drums. Seated on top of it was a police officer.