Tired of the fear of being caught by a stray bullet in their neighborhood, a group of Milan residents who have recently begun working together to reduce the number of shootings on their streets asked the New Orleans Police Department for more attention Tuesday night.
The neighbors feel they’ve grown apart, driven indoors by crime – and more specifically by the gunfire they hear so frequently from their homes. The newly formed group has met twice and now comprises about two dozen people, and they expect to continue growing as word gets out, said member Jennifer Holden.
At the group’s first meeting, “I was surprised how frightened and isolated people feel,” said Eva Sohl of the Freret Neighborhood Center, which has been helping the Milan residents get organized.
At the NOPD Second District’s monthly community meeting Tuesday, the group presented Capt. Darryl Albert and his staff with a written list of concerns. Gunfire on certain streets, drug dealing at specific corners, getaway routes through the neighborhood and even establishments where loitering is common are all detailed.
“We will not tolerate this level of crime any longer,” the letter reads. “These concerns have resulted in intolerable conditions – neighbors are afraid to leave their homes or to be active after dark.”
The area they describe – between Napoleon and Louisiana avenues, from Claiborne Avenue to Dryades Street – has long been considered the Second District’s portion of what police call the “Louisiana corridor,” Albert said. He has a patrol officer permanently stationed in that area, as does the Sixth District on the opposite side of Louisiana Avenue. It’s one of the Second District’s two “red zones” (the other being Hollygrove), Albert said, where crime will quickly spiral out of control without a constant, close police presence.
Describing a shooting on Milan Street on Friday that left one man wounded, Albert told the neighborhood group that investigators now believe the man injured was not the gunmen’s target. They were trying to hit someone on the porch of a Milan Street house, and the victim standing in front of the house was caught in the gunfire, Albert said. The intended target refuses to help identify the shooters, however, so all police have to work with is the description of their vehicle, a blue two-door Toyota Corolla.
Friday’s incident perfectly illustrates the neighbors’ fears, Holden said.
“My husband and I are out walking our dog all the time, and that’s the last thing we want to get in the middle of,” Holden said.
One specific source of concern – with perhaps an easy solution – centers on the Atkinson-Stern Tennis Courts. When the court lights turn off around 10 p.m., the entire area is bathed in a darkness that easily lends itself to criminal activity, said resident Helene Barnett.
“When those lights go out, it seems like more than a city block that’s just pitch dark,” Barnett said, suggesting that police calls would go down if the lights could stay on. “My goodness, the city’s paying for it in more ways than one.”
Quality-of-life Officer Wilfred Eddington, who attended the group’s last meeting, said he drove the neighborhood afterward and agreed that the tennis court lights make a major difference. The officers and residents recalled incidents where suspects fleeing the police have run onto the court and disappeared, only to be found cowering in the middle of them when the city arrives to turn on the lights to help.
“It’s like daylight when the lights are on at the park,” Eddington said. “When you take them away, it’s a totally different beast.”
The residents asked Albert to support a petition they’ll send to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Councilwoman Stacy Head asking the city to leave the court lights on overnight, and Albert said he would begin working on it immediately through the city. “We’ve got this neighborhood crying for help,” Albert said.
One strategy to suppress crime, police and other residents told the Milan group, is to encourage neighbors to call in every time they think they hear gunfire and report the direction it appeared to come from. The more people who do so, the greater the chances that police can find the shooter.
“If you call, and everybody calls, they’re not going to come to you – they’ll go in that direction,” said Courtney Maheu, president of the Upper Rickerville Neighborhood Association.
After the meeting, officers praised the Milan group’s proactive spirit in getting organized. The residents said they are planning another meeting of their own on Nov. 18 that they hope police will attend to describe progress on the hotspots they listed, and they also want to see a crime walk through their neighborhood.
But after Tuesday’s meeting, many neighbors were encouraged by the Second District’s response, Sohl said.
“I’ve talked to a lot of them,” Sohl said, “and they feel empowered walking out of here tonight.”