December 21, 2007


The vote was unanimous for demolition and now what? Some thoughts...

-According to the TP, the NOPD had 150 officers report for the meeting. They faced around 100 protesters (numbers are always disputed in this type of thing) and a chamber of 250, about 50 of whom could be called protestors, maybe 20 of them only there to disrupt and shout.

So for every 1.25-1.6 possible trouble maker (200-350 if you want to include the calm and sane), there was 1 cop. Aside from my (admittedly sketchy) stats, that's a cop who's been trained for Mardi Gras, and moreover who's supposed to be charged with protecting citizens in the most violent city in America. If most police in New Orleans haven't had much experience in crowd control of protesters, shouldn't Riley have foreseen a need for at least some preparation for this kind of thing? We all seem to agree that this was a predictable furor, that outside organizers had a hand in it, and that this was done as an exhibition rather than a debate tactic. Why, then, weren't 150 cops ready to wait this out and not, under any but the most dire circumstances, pull out the tasers and pepper spray?

Protest organizers in other cities BEG for that kind of treatment, because it gets them on the news. And police know this, and do things like setting up barriers 10 feet from the entrance to a chamber, rather than, say, hold the gate together with a set of handcuffs. Police also make an effort to control the media's eye, and as I said yesterday, all they had to ask the cameramen to gather to the side for their footage, rather than stand in the aisle and let the fools rattle on.

None of this is to lay all the blame on the NOPD for what happened and the resultant bad new, nor to endorse vaguely unconstitutional tactics. My point is that this was a pretty half-assed protest effort on the part of amateurish organizers, who's only success was making their "residents" look worse, and what was the NOPD's response? Overreaction and ultimately the taser and pepper spray, which national media and simpletons in search of victims will latch onto and elevate.

Stupidity and lack of preparation all around, yet again. I don't think this was the last of this kind of protest. The police need to know how to plan and handle such crowds in politic, safe ways, before something very bad happens.

-One reason I can't get behind housing as THE issue in the recovery (in a way it's the simplest issue for a lot of people) is this: What were the residents going to do when they moved back in?

This isn't to say, "oh, it was just drugs and loitering in there anyway." No. What I'm asking is, how does the resident who used to have a job, who used to have some economic prospects, how does he/she survive in this atrophied economy? We get a lot of Blakely-speak about development and Nagin-bullshit about high hopes, but we never get a job program. Companies aren't moving here and no one talks about how this city will survive after the recovery.

I ask the same question about the imagined residents of the Trump Tower or the million other hypothetical luxury lofts: where do they work? If they're either jobless (the prospect for the returned public housing resident) or vacationing jet-setters (Trumps), what are we fighting for? What kind of city would that be?

Again, we're faced with a lack of imagination and planning from the top, so that the most superficial and immediate problems take on outsized hopes and dreams, while no one protests the lack of jobs, no one stands up in the Council in front of camcorders and asks to be the people who build the next projects and gut the ruined houses, thus closing the circle and making money and a working class from the redevelopment. We could use a real WPA program; instead, the caracasses of the Great Society are fought over and well-intentioned pink houses are fawned over and no one asks, "What do they do when they get there?"

Because that is some heavy lifting. There isn't the sex appeal of confrontation, nor the easy solution of destroy/don't destroy. This would mean planning and leadership and persistent courting of business and entrepreneurship. This would mean going outside the box of American post-climax capitalism and taking a risk as a city that faces no comfort in the new economy.

There is no risk in going backwards, only in ignoring the biggest challenge in front of us--how to make this city last, and how to make it better than it was before.