Soldiers check the commercial driver's license of a man towing abandoned cars. Most car owners in the Lower Ninth Ward haven't retrieved their vehicles. Unfortunately, some of the owners do come back to check on their car, and it's crushed, a soldier says. The guardsmen decide this driver has all the proper paperwork and let him go.
Illegal towing is one of the biggest issues the Guard contends with, although soldiers say the illegal tow truck drivers provide a valuable and free service albeit an illegal one. Sgt. Anthony Johnson recently pulled over a man who made $4,000 per load of illegally towed cars. NOPD arrested the man and booked him with theft.
"Right now, this is really all our days consist of," Johnson says. "Every now and then, you may stop someone with a little marijuana or cocaine, but that's pretty much it. It seems like just the show of presence alone has made the crime rate go down," he says. "The longer we're here, the more we see our days are getting a little more boring, which is good."
Soldiers do "a little citizen contact" in the Upper Ninth Ward with a woman they recently met who was worried about her son's drinking. They find Peral Jackson and her son sitting on their front stoop behind a locked 7-foot high chain-link fence around their home. Before the Guard started patrolling her neighborhood, Jackson would retreat into her FEMA trailer once the sun set because "it wasn't safe," she says. "Since they been here, there's a little more respect around here. People know they're here. Everybody I know, they're glad they're here. ... When I saw them coming, I said 'Thank you, Jesus' because we need them."
The patrol weaves up and down residential streets passing signs of normalcy: A man weed whacks his front yard, a family sits at a picnic table in their side yard, children swing at a neighborhood playground, and a family takes a break from making repairs to their home.
Rose Bradford spots the Guard, leans over her front-porch railing and waves as if the soldiers are liberators. "They are lovely," she says. "I'm so glad they are here. They aren't letting people go into the houses. Before they came, you couldn't keep a chair inside."
Bradford and her family work on the house every day and hope to move back to the neighborhood within the month. They planted a bed of flowers in the front yard and a sign that reads: "I am coming home. I will rebuild. I am New Orleans." For a long time, however, Bradford and her family spent most of their time in Algiers. "They had so much looting and killing around here," she says, "Baby, I was sacred to come home."