Fear and Loathing in New Orleans

Jan 5, 2007 by

Camels. Straws. Chiropractic emergencies. Is that snapping sound my back?

It is with great sorrow that I type this post. I will begin by apologizing for its length and hoping you will stay with me to the end.

While our “Mayor” and “Police Chief” remain conspicuously absent from view, popping up only occasionally to mouth platitudes before sinking from sight, the death toll rises. It now includes people we know personally. Local filmmaker Helen Hill was murdered in her own home at 5:30am; her husband, Doctor Paul Gailiunas, was wounded but survived as did their 2 year old son.

They used to shop at Eve’s Market, where my wife worked for years. She knew them. I knew them distantly from the days when Kaldi’s Coffeshop was a social centerpiece of the French Quarter. They were sweet and kind and funny people, classic New Orleans style charaters. They were good people who gave to their community without desire of recompense. They had an adorable pet pig. Dr. Paul worked extensively with the disadvantaged of our benighted city. Now she is dead, he is in the hands of our broken medical system and their child is without his mother. All because they answered their door.

Could it be that one of the 115 handguns stolen in the suburbs a few days before? I wonder.

The Local paper says this:

In the sixth murder New Orleans murder in less than a day, a woman was killed and her husband shot in their home this morning at about 5:30 a.m., said New Orleans police, who found the bleeding husband kneeling at the door of the couple’s home, holding their two-year-old son in his arms.

The toddler was not hurt; the husband, 35, underwent surgery at Elmwood/Charity Trauma Center, police said, where his son was also taken for examination. The woman, 36, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The slayings, for which police offered no motive, capped off a wave of bloodshed severe even by New Orleans standards, and comes three days after Police Superintendent Warren Riley called a year-end news conference to put a positive spin on last year’s murder total of 161, which he called the lowest in 30 years. On a per capita basis, however, even the most optimistic projection of the post-flood city’s drastically shrunken population makes that murder rate an increase over previous years.

Including another murder on New Year’s day, the latest violence brings this year’s total to at least seven slayings in four days. Looking at just the past week, murderers have killed at least 12 people.

Can you say bloodbath? Warren Riley needs to consider the blood that is on his hands, along with C Ray (Not Lately). Their ineptitude has been instrumental in allowing this Lord of the Flies scenario to become so deeply entrenched in our suffering city.

Paul P over at New Orleans Metroblogging asks:

Massa Ray? Why is the City in a world of shit? “I truly do not know, I was supposed to put tracking chips into the asses of all felons getting out of jail every three days. Someone told me to sign the wrong paper and I accidentally bought 50,000 garbage cans instead. Weez just gone to make the best of a bad situmation.” Excuse me while I scat! Dooby doo be dooby do skipidy skipidy boo. MORAL: I am fucked. You are fucked. We are fucked.

I am becoming more inclined to agree with him. I have family roots that go back to the beginning of this city. I am as steeped in its culture as it is possible to get, from the elitist uptown scene to the raucous sounds of Vaughn’s and other 9th Ward hangouts. I march with a Krewe every Mardi Gras Day, and am a founder of said Krewe. I learned to make a roux when I was 8 years old. I am also, after 16 months of fighting for my city, nearing the end of my rope with New Orleans.

Why is it that after 40 years of living with everything from our infamous murder rate to the aftermath of the Federal Flood, I am so completely disheartened?

This excerpt from WWL (our local TV station) sums up a lot of it:

On Thursday, police said the recent killings were brazen acts, often happening in broad daylight and, in one case, within a block of police officers. No witnesses have yet come forward, and police begged them to do so. Officers say they believe many of the killings were retaliatory and committed by people with violent pasts, but they refused to go into further detail.

“They have no fear of repercussions,” Assistant Superintendent Steven Nicholas said.”

And this from Lagalou NOLA

These people didn’t deserve this! We don’t deserve this! When will this insanity stop? A lifetime of love snuffed for who knows what. I wish Paul and Helen had made the selfish decision and stayed in Canada or wherever…how could we waste their gift…and this is the fifth murder in the last 14 hours. I can’t believe this couple wants our bowed heads or silent prayers. What they would want is action. I can’t take this anymore. Does anyone else feel this level of outrage?

Does anyone else feel we must get the guns off the streets, we must eliminate priviledged and underclasses, we must stop drug exploitation, we must not tolerate racism, violence, hate…

It is more than a civilized human can bear. I think of what my feelings would be if I lost my wife in such a fashion. My entire chest knots up with an icy cramp as I consider it. The other thing that causes a tightening in my chest is the realization that I, who usually try to be a good Samaritan, will not be opening the door for any late night emergencies. I have discovered fear, the mind killer, the little death. I find myself thinking in terms of dromedaries and fractured spines.

The pull of one’s roots is strong. The call of generations of Blancs, Monroes, Williamses, Martins and other blood relations is loud and persistent in my mind. This is my home, damn it! I fear that siren song of the blood is becoming a different one, still of blood but far less inviting.

I know it’s bad. It’s always been bad. Adrastos puts it succinctly:

Crime has been an intractable and recalcitrant part of life in New Orleans for as long as I have lived here. And sometimes very good people get caught up in it: Paul Gailiunas is a doctor with a passion for helping the poor. I don’t know the facts of the case yet but it wouldn’t surprise me if we learn that Paul and Helen knew the person who shot them. It’s a sad commentary on the mean streets of Debrisville that people like this may have paid such a high price for their kindness.

Sad commentary indeed. As we fight for survival the animals amongst us take lives with impunity.

By the way, before anyone gets onto the whole “it’s all black on black crime” comments, I advise that you get real. First off the idea that the issue is less pressing because it is “black on black” is David Duke logic, fuck you. Secondly, these folks were not black. Yes, race is a major issue here, particularly after our abandonment by the Feds and C. Ray’s incredibly stupid Chocolate City speech (Dr. King is STILL spinning in his grave from that one!), but no matter how you want to cast things this is more fundamental. It is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Editor B. weighs in as someone a lot closer to the couple than we were.

This is the worst, most impossible news I’ve had occasion to pass on. I frankly am having trouble believing it’s real. Paul and Helen were Mid-City residents until their home was flooded. ROX viewers will know from episode #90, Fat — the cute vegan couple with the pet pig. I wish it was a bad dream. They just stopped by our house Sunday night. I’m too scared and angry and sad to even say more at this point, but plenty more must be said and done.

Scared, angry, and sad. That about covers it. I love my home. I love it the way only a native French Creole can. I also miss it terribly. More and more fear this to be a dark mirror held up to the already flawed face of New Orleans. It would not shock me to find that Spock has a beard.

I simply do not know if can continue here. We shall see …