Thursday, February 09, 2017

"We're worried about all of it"

Tonight I sat in on the MaCCNO community meeting in Treme to hear people's concerns about the mayor's recently unveiled $40 million "security plan" focusing primarily on the French Quarter but also affecting nightlife throughout the city.   I wrote a bit about the plan a few weeks ago.  We also talked about it on the most recent Hunkerdowncast.

The meeting was at Candlelight Lounge. There were probably between 50 and 75 people present. Among them were tour guides, bartenders, street performers, musicians, along with concerned citizens and neighbors. The mayor's office sent a representative to listen. I believe Councilman Williams sent someone also.  I took some notes. I didn't write down everything so these aren't entirely comprehensive but it's a pretty ok outline of what went on.

  • MaCCNO's concerns begin with the "vagueness" of the sort-of 3 AM curfew and street sweeping activity. The worry is that it can serve as a pretext for aggressive harassment by police and/or arrest based on little or no cause outside of racial profiling.

  • In a similar vein, MaCCNO expressed concern about stepped up surveillance. Cameras installed outside (or possibly inside) every bar and plugged into a network under police custody is intimidating enough on its own. Add to that the suggestion of (not clearly defined as yet) FBI cooperation in context of the current national political climate and there are even darker implications.

  • MaCCNO's third major point was that the plan appeared to consist of hobby horse beefs the city has held for ages against street performers, tarot card readers, etc. lumped in opportunistically. It seems like they're using the "language of fear" (MaCCNO's words) to push through some long controversial agenda items. I had the same impression a few weeks ago. I said at the time the plan looks like what would happen if Jackie Clarkson wrote the Patriot Act.
The MaCCNO hosts had a few more things to say. After that, the floor opened to comment.  A lot of it either repeated or elaborated on what I've already noted above. Here is what I jotted down of that.
  • Tour guides and tarot readers confirmed that they feel they've been targeted unfairly. Some noted that intimidation has already increased against them from the various and confusing security entities who patrol the Quarter. Some reported being asked to show permits even though permits are not required for street performers. On one occasion a Port Authority officer threatened to arrest a performer for wearing a mask. (Might have gotten the idea from the fallout over this recent protest incident but who knows.) A big part of the problem is it isn't clear which security force has the power to do what to whom under which laws. Nor is it likely the security personnel themselves understand this. The situation is ripe for abuse and intimidation generally.  MaCCNO's website has a form where you can report such incidents if you witness them.

  • It was suggested that the 3AM closure rule is related to NOPD's continuing manpower issues. "There aren't enough officers to cover third shift," were the words I heard.  Sounds a bit dubious to me. But it's plausible the city believes it even if it isn't true.  A lot of dumb policy gets made because of lazy thinking about how many police are actually needed. But that's a wider scope debate.

  • Another little understood aspect of the 3 AM rule is that it is intended to apply citywide. This could mean a camera on (or in) every neighborhood bar in the city.  So the centralized surveillance network could be pointed at your house. When Mitch Landrieu unveiled this plan, he bragged that, "Everything you do on Bourbon Street will be seen." What if that also means everything in your yard?
The final note was about next steps. The "plan" such as it is, isn't actually something that gets passed or rejected in one motion.  There are aspects of it that would require city ordinances and others that are implemented as budgetary choices through the mayor's office. So it isn't clear when or in what form public feedback occurs. City Council contact info was posted at the meeting. Everyone is free to offer their input that way at any time, of course. In any case, all of this is certain to factor into the municipal elections this fall.

MaCCNO representatives stressed the importance of maintaining solidarity across the various concerned parties. There are parts of the plan that affect bar owners and patrons, other parts affect artists and musicians, and still others concern those most vulnerable to police intimidation and harassment. Taken together that's a rather robust coalition. So it's important not to peel any one concern off. "Which part of the plan are we most worried about?" MaCCNO's Ethan Ellestad concluded, "We're worried about all of it."

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