The Start of a Long Hot Summer

The mayor asked the governor and the governor is sending in the National Guard and the Highway Patrol to attempt to take back the streets of New Orleans from the current crime wave. Up to 300 Guardsmen and 60 State Police will be mobilized to patrol the streets. “We’re not going to take it anymore,” said Mayor Nagin about the mounting crime statistics. After weeks of gang fights and murders and shootings of several police officers, the killing of five teenagers Saturday morning was the final straw.

The regular session of the Louisiana Legislature ended Monday with most observers giving the lawmakers high marks. In addition to the Katrina-related aspects of their work (they endorsed Gov. Blanco’s plan on how to spend the billions for rebuilding coming from the federal government), the legislature gave our schoolteachers a pay raise of $1500. They voted to give voters the opportunity to consolidate the seven tax assessors of New Orleans into one, as well as to combine the civil and criminal courts and several other agencies which duplicate each other’s work. These will be on the ballot this fall. Local bureaucrats are yelling to high heaven. Oh, and they did something else as a result of Katrina. From now on, when a resident is missing for two years after a hurricane, he can be declared legally dead, a change from the present law which prescribes a wait of five years.

One of the quietest acts of the legislature may have been the most forward-thinking. Starting January 1, no restaurant or public building in the state will allow smoking. Exceptions are casinos and bars. Our kids are too young to appreciate this the way some of us can. I recall when people smoked anywhere and everywhere, including on planes and buses and in hotel rooms, without the least consideration to whether anyone was offended or harmed. And because we smelled cigarette smoke everywhere, we never knew what it was like to not have to breathe it. Now, walk into a hospital or public building past where smokers congregate to get their fix and hours later, the dead butts on the sidewalks are still stinking and making you sick. In the early 1990s, Ochsner Hospital here in town was the first medical center to my knowledge to be a non-smoking institution. We thought that was so radical. Nowadays, it’s commonplace. The funny thing is that Ochsners has a place for smokers to gather and puff away–an enclosed pen in one corner of the parking garage!

Poor smokers. It’s not about you. I know you want to quit. Please keep trying. We want to keep you around to a ripe old age. You want to see your grandchildren and watch them grow up. Take care of yourself.

In earlier blogs here, I’ve referred to a local judge or two with a penchant for tossing out bail requirements other judges have set and letting criminals go on their own recognizance. There’s been such a hue and cry, thankfully, that the legislature shut that practice down. From now on, judges can no longer issue such bonds, called “get-out-of-jail-free cards,” for anyone apprehended for a gun-related felony. Poor Judge Charles Elloie–he’ll have to start being responsible.

Pet owners have made the local news over the past couple of months, urging leaders to put their animals on the agenda for rescue in the case of future hurricanes. All over town, you can still see notes spray-painted on flooded houses by National Guardsmen to the SPCA, that “two cats under house” or “dog in back.” In the French Quarter just after the storm, citizens would buy bags of pet food and tear one open and simply leave it on a sidewalk. But the legislature is now mandating a plan to rescue, transport, and shelter animals in disasters. The governor weakened their plan by making it more of a local governmental task.

Bills that were introduced and fought over and which did not make it dealt with a ban on cockfighting (New Mexico is the only other state allowing this cruelty; proponents say it’s a part of the Cajun culture), a higher minimum wage, a ban on lawmakers receiving free sports tickets from lobbyists, and a higher speed limit. (The newspaper said, “A bid for a higher state speed limit was pulled over and stopped.” Someone has a sense of humor.)

Workers gutting out a house in eastern New Orleans last week found another dead body. What makes this especially poignant is that family members had been in and out of the home several times salvaging what they could. How they missed the 59-year-old drowning victim, I haven’t a clue.

The New Orleans City Council has a committee that wants to make sure citizens and tourists without any means of evacuating in the event of a hurricane will be able to leave, so they’ve identified 12 sites around the city where people can go and receive transportation. The elderly would ride city buses to the Union Terminal where they would board trains, while others will ride buses to the Morial Convention Center and from there be bused away. What has not been decided is what their exact destination will be, but it’s a start.

The other day, after HUD announced plans to tear down several of the housing development projects and build what’s called mixed-income housing, a group protested by making a huge sign and marching in front of some St. Charles Avenue mansions. The sign reads: “Make This Neighborhood Mixed Income.” Letters to the editor erupted. “Instead of spending time protesting…why don’t the demonstrators…earn a living just like the people who live on St. Charles Avenue…” said Cheryl Gerhardt of Mandeville. Russell Fraise of the city said, “Contrary to popular opinion, most residents of the Lafitte Housing Development worked.” Laurie DeVecca of New Orleans writes, “Concentrating poverty into small geographical areas has encouraged a culture of despair.”

In Tuesday’s Times-Picayune, Pastor David Crosby of the FBC of New Orleans, wrote an op-ed piece. Commenting on the killing of the teenagers Saturday morning, he said, “The greatest urban comeback going on in our country now is for the soul of New Orleans. The battle lines are clear, and the future of a great American city hangs in the balance.” He continues, “Every citizen of this city contributes now to its pain or to its promise. We no longer have ‘neutral ground.’ Battles are being fought today in board rooms, around breakfast tables and in the assembly halls of our city.” “The looters and shooters are laying claim to our city. The subsidence that threatens our homes and streets is not of soil but of soul, and the pilings are shaking.”

He concludes, “I call on the good people of this city, private citizens and public officials, to engage the enemies of hope and peace. Let’s meet them on their turf and take back what has been stolen. Avoid the despair of doing nothing. Everyone can do something. Clean up your street. Help your neighbor gut her house. Grab a hammer and head to a house-building project. Start a ministry at Josephine and Danneel, where the teenagers died. The power of hope is unleashed in our community as people of peace and love actively oppose these destructive forces. And local government must immediately shut down by force of arms those who steal our property, threaten our safety, and slaughter our children. Efforts expended right now in the rehabilitation of New Orleans will change the trajectory of our city for the years to come. Let’s set our coordinates on the dream of a better New Orleans and push with all our might until the compass needle points to ou finest future.”

Amen to that, pastor.

Wednesday is the first day of summer, a season on which New Orleans has once again gotten the jump. Summer arrived here with its sauna-like conditions nearly two months ago. We’re 17 inches below normal in rainfall, too.

As the enemy turns up the heat in his attempt to keep control of this city, we ask God’s people everywhere to get serious in your intercession, asking that God Himself shall empower each of us to take back that for which Christ died.

1 thought on “The Start of a Long Hot Summer

  1. Joe, thanks for sharing some of the things that happened in Greensboro, but you left one thing out. Your call to prayer for New Orleans reminds me that you were recognized with a special award for your distinguished service after Katrina there at NOBTS’s alumni and friends luncheon.

    I am thankful that the seminary recognized what you have done to bring us together in New Orleans after Katrina and to let the world know what is going on in our churches and in our city.

    In an article found at the following is written:

    “‘Dr. Joe McKeever has held our association together,’ Kelley said. ‘He has done everything he could possibly do to reach out and encourage the congregations of the Greater New Orleans area that were under his responsibility.

    ‘So, Dr. McKeever, we simply could not let what you have done for Southern Baptists in New Orleans go unrecognized,’ Kelley added.”

    We are thankful for your leadership and ministry among us. Thanks for telling people to pray BIG.

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