In peaceful suburban Kenner, the violence is rising, just as throughout metro New Orleans. Four murders in 2005 and nine in ’06. Aggravated assault climbed from 162 to 231. Auto theft is way up, although some crimes decreased in number. Law enforcement people say part of the crime was bad guys preying on migrant workers, unthinkably cruel, if you ask me. Police chief Carraway says the spike in aggravated assaults is attributable to large numbers of people living in cramped quarters such as FEMA trailers and overcrowded apartments. Yep, that would do it.
Locals are griping about the president’s failure to even mention New Orleans and the Gulf Coast rebuilding last night in his State of the Union message. I don’t live in a trailer and my house wasn’t flooded, so I’m not typical on this and might be a lot more upset if I did, but personally, I don’t see a lot of value in having your cause given honorable mention in that annual laundry list of American problems. Possibly more importantly, the new congress seems to have the rebuilding of this part of the world on its agenda.
We had a small convention in town this past week, and as the 2,600 members of the Meeting Planners International–who knew they had an organization of people who plan meetings? and what did they do in our city? plan meetings?–said good things about the city as they departed. The hospitality was “flawless,” said a spokeswoman for the group. “I have heard only amazing comments from our attendees.”
Many attending that convention said they were surprised they found nothing to complain about. “It seems normal,” said one.
Bear in mind they are talking about a) the Morial Convention Center, b) the restaurants and attractions and the French Quarter, and c) the downtown shops. All of that is back to speed, and if you stay in the downtown area, you’ll see nothing out of place. Even street cars are running up and down Canal Street. Not the long St. Charles Avenue line, however, not for a long time.
But we’re glad they found the city ready to host visitors and we hope other conventions, particularly those that canceled after Katrina, will be heading back. This economy was built around the concept of us having lots of company. Last summer, the Southern Baptist Convention opted out of the possibility of our hosting that annual meeting for 2008, out of fear the city could not handle that many visitors at once (anywhere from 10,000 up). However, the American Librarians Association met here 18,000 strong last summer and we pulled that off.
We’re ready for company. Y’all come.
Tuesday afternoon, we loaded two buses with pastors and spouses attending the Louisiana Baptist Evangelism Conference at FBC-NO and gave them 90 minute tours of the devastation of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. Freddie Arnold was the tour guide for one and I did the other. This was non-stop, with no walking stops. We told stories about the various churches we passed, starting in Lakeview, crossing into Gentilly, then the 9th Ward, into the sad Lower 9th Ward, and into Arabi, then Chalmette, and up Paris Road into New Orleans East, and then back to home base.
We have taken this drive so many times with visiting church groups and friends, but it’s still unnerving to drive it with a busload seeing it for the first time. After a while, their eyes glaze over at all the shells of houses–gutted out and left open–the boarded up stores, the high weeds in yards, the deadness that lingers still.
Intruders and former-residents are still camping out illegally inside the St. Bernard Housing Development, a complex slated to be demolished and replaced by multi-level income housing. Rather than sending in large numbers of police to clear them out and risking people being hurt or even killed, authorities are taking the matter to court, asking a judge to order the trespassers out.
Pastor Lionel Roberts of the St. Bernard Baptist Mission across the street from that project attended our Wednesday pastors’ meeting. He has been given some vacant lots by the city to erect a community center where his church can do ministry and provide activities for the large numbers of children who formerly lived and are someday expected to live back in the area. “We’re planning for the future and not the past,” Lionel insisted.
The tallest skyscraper in downtown New Orleans will one day be the Trump International Hotel and Tower, if all goes well. Seventy stories tall at a cost of $400 million. (No word if Rosie O’Donnell is planning to build a competing one.) Right now, the project is being held up by a study of traffic patterns. Those familiar with the location of the Hale Boggs Federal Building at Poydras and Camp Street will know where the Trump building would sit: in a largely vacant lot bordered by Poydras, Camp, Natchez, and Magazine Streets.
If the plans are green-lighted, ground-breaking takes place this summer and the building would be in use by the fall of 2009.
New Orleans’ new “recovery czar” Dr. Edward Blakely, hired to lead the city’s rebirth, has just begun to work and already a controversy has emerged. A Massachusetts-based think tank has announced that Blakely has been hired by them as a research fellow for this year. Local leaders are wondering how he can do both. This city is still without a comprehensive recovery plan and the recovery czar’s leadership is crucial. Blakely insists that the New Orleans’ experience will simply strengthen his research and the two assignments do not conflict.
A judge has asked Orleans Parish D.A. Eddie Jordan to decide whether he will seek the death penalty in the case against the police officers who killed two civilians on the Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, less than a week after Katrina. The police had rushed to the bridge (located on U.S. 90 a few blocks east of our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) upon reports that fellow officers were being fired upon by a mob. What happened after that is in dispute, but it left two dead and four wounded. An investigation by the police department afterward found nothing amiss. The grand jury begged to differ.
One unusual aspect to this case is that the officers were indicted after being coerced into giving up their Fifth Amendment rights in order to testify before the grand jury upon a promise of immunity from prosecution. Their attorneys call this a double-cross, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Prosecutors will have to prove in court that the case against the men in blue can be proven without using anything they told the grand jury. The cops say D.A. Jordan is milking this case for everything he can get out of it, hoping to be re-elected on its strength. There is no question as to who shot the dead men, but the policemen say they were acting in self-defense. The fact that one of the men was shot five times in the back will make that one hard to swallow.
This would appear to be a difficult case to make, one that may drag on in the courts for years.
Just one of a dozen situations in this city these days that don’t seem to make sense.