'We do not convert our outrage into holding leaders accountable to resolving this problem.' — Deborah Cotton
It's been more than two years since gunmen opened fire on a Mother's Day second line, injuring 20 people and jolting a city that was (and is) far too inured to violence. Nine people originally were charged; after plea deals, that number went to four. Last week, brothers Shawn and Akein Scott pleaded guilty to federal racketeering and conspiracy charges, along with a third brother, Stanley Scott. They will be sentenced in January. A fourth brother, Travis Scott, awaits trial.
In March 2014, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro chose to drop 19 counts of attempted murder against the Scott brothers after the feds charged them and others with violating federal drug distribution laws, including the use of firearms. They face penalties ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment.
The resolution of this case without a prolonged trial is no doubt a relief to the 19 people shot that day, including Gambit second line correspondent Deborah "Big Red" Cotton, who was one of the most severely injured. Cotton spent a year recuperating and continues to recover, but she's back covering second lines, brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians and social aid and pleasure clubs as she's able. Accepting an award at the annual Rising Tide conference last month (before the plea deal was set), Cotton said it did not give her "any satisfaction or resolution" for being part of sending her shooters to jail.
"I recognize the young men who committed that heinous crime cannot be in the community with us," Cotton said. "They have demonstrated they will not honor their part of the social contract.
"I blame them; I hold them responsible," Cotton continued. "But I hold us responsible too. This continues to go on in New Orleans because we allow it to. We do not convert our outrage into holding leaders accountable to resolving this problem. We've been po'-mouthing New Orleans since the beginning of time. We have resources here. We just allow those resources to be squandered, and we turn a blind eye to it."
New Orleans has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures, but too many local resources are still being squandered — and one thing remains intractable: the violence on our streets.
For example, it created hardly a ripple last week when a man was shot to death on Iberville Street in the French Quarter. Though City Hall and NOPD brass point to stats saying violent crime is down, people are talking about the brazenness of recent gun-related robberies: customers and employees at the Uptown restaurant Patois robbed by gunmen during business hours; a Labor Day mugging on a Garden District sidewalk in the early afternoon; and a string of armed robberies that NOPD officials say was committed by a pair of teenagers.
Cotton is right: The people who commit these crimes are wholly responsible for their actions — but violence continues "because we allow it to."
Based on their pleas, the Scott brothers need to be in jail for a long time. But if jail alone were the answer to violent crime, Louisiana would be the safest place in the world.