A possible shooting suspect shoots into a crowd of people in New Orleans. Police believe more than one gun was fired in the Mother's Day gunfire that wounded 19 people during a New Orleans neighborhood parade. (AP Photo/New Orleans Police Department)
I got shot in New Orleans the other day, but that won’t make me give up on this magical, essential city—and neither should you.
When pistol shots rang out during a Mother’s Day “second line” jazz parade through the city’s Seventh Ward, the attack made news around the world. Police said nineteen people were injured, three of them critically, in the Sunday afternoon outburst. Two of the wounded were 10-year-old children (who have now been treated and released from the hospital).
As news of yet another tragedy emanates from New Orleans, outsiders may feel tempted to write the city off, once again, as a hopeless, crime-infested, hurricane-vulnerable hellhole that should be left to its own devices. But the realities of New Orleans are more complex than that—and more compelling. The truth is, the United States as a nation, and many foreign countries as well, need New Orleans to be a city that works. And that is not an impossible dream.
I say this as a journalist who has grown to love New Orleans over the course of many reporting visits since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I also say it as someone who carries a bullet in my leg from this last spasm of street violence.
It turns out that I was standing barely ten feet in front of the Mother’s Day parade shooter, as confirmed by the surveillance video the New Orleans police department released on Monday (I’m wearing a lime green shirt, orange shorts and cream fedora):
It’s important to understand that the second line parade is a cultural tradition dating back to New Orleans’ roots as the chief New World destination for the slave trade. Nowadays, virtually every Sunday, from September through June, one New Orleans neighborhood or another hosts a second line parade. One or more brass bands—which are composed of a dozen or so musicians who play a variety of horn and percussion instruments and are preceded by a phalanx of joyously gyrating dancers wearing brightly color-coordinated costumes—march through the streets, while crowds of people follow behind, making up the “second line” of the parade.
Each second line is sponsored by a social aid and pleasure club, a civic organization established to aid disadvantaged individuals in the long years of segregation, when blacks lacked equal access to government programs and private insurance. Nowadays, second line parades function mainly as a source of community pride and celebration (as I describe in this article about a Christmas second line in the Lower Ninth Ward five years after Hurricane Katrina).
The 2013 Mothers Day second line had halted momentarily at the intersection of Villiers and Frenchmen streets when I heard the “pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop” of pistol shots. Like everyone around me, I started to run, then dove to the ground. It’s a good thing I did. As the surveillance video shows, I’d have been directly in the shooter’s line of fire had I remained upright.