A two-block stretch of Amelia Street that neighbors say has become an out-of-control gathering place for unruly teenagers during Mardi Gras will receive increased attention this week from both police and city officials who promise to end the problem.
The problem is different from the typical Carnival-time revelry that lines the Uptown route, neighbors and officials say. Instead, a vacant lot at the corner of Baronne Street — memorable to passers-by for a lone set of stone stairs in the center of it — has become a gathering point for teens, and they form a dense throng for two blocks between there and the parade on St. Charles Avenue.
“Walking to my apartment during a parade is nearly as difficult as navigating Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, as walking often slows to a stand-still by the mass of people,” wrote one resident in an email to Uptown Messenger, whose name is being withheld. “What makes it worse is the fact thy many of these people are experiencing alcohol for the first time, leading to many circumstances where teens are passed out on the sidewalks.”
Their “alcohol-fueled bravado,” he wrote, leads to fights, vandalism and the use of the street as a bathroom. He and his fiancee had considered buying the lot to build or move a home onto, he says, but they are now considering moving off the street instead.
The problem seems to be getting progressively worse each year, as the block becomes a more popular hangout, said Angela, another resident of the street who asked that her full name not be used to prevent retaliation. Last year, they set off fireworks in the street that set fire to a car and scooter parked nearby, she said.
“I think the vast majority of their behavior is underage drinking combined with group mentality,” Angela said. “If we ask them to refrain from doing any of this behavior, you automatically become a target. It becomes almost a joke for a group of them to threaten and ridicule you.”
Lt. Frank Young of the NOPD Sixth District said he was dispatched to the street toward the end of the last Saturday night parades of the first parading weekend, and observed the dense crowd of young teens for himself. Their behavior was more restrained in the presence of police, he said, but the mass of people was unusual compared to the rest of the route.
“It was at least one block deep,” Young said. “It was definitely more than the usual six-person-deep parade spectators. Something about this block is attracting them, and I could see if I lived there it being a pain.”
Young said he and the other Sixth District officers helped the crowd disperse that night, and this week, he will be assigning his officers who work the perimeter of the route (not St. Charles Avenue itself) to Amelia Street, perhaps with the assistance of an officer on horseback. Further, Young said, he plans to involve state alcohol agents, because underage drinking does seem to be a particular part of the problem.City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said she, too, is aware of the problem.
“When residents have tried to address it themselves, they get met with vulgarity,” Cantrell said. “People are afraid and intimidated. From what I understand, this has been an ongoing problem for years.”
She said she has spoken to the Sixth District about the issue as well, to try to make sure the problem is solved in the short term for the remainder of this Carnival season. Moving forward, her office has begun researching the ownership of the lot — it is registered to a St. Daniel Spiritual Temple — but the contact information on record with the city is unclear, she said.
Once her office establishes who is actually responsible for the property, they will work toward a solution there, perhaps a fence to keep people out, or something more permanent. Cantrell said she questions whether the current use of the property “aligns with a church’s values.”
“We’re trying to push this parcel back into commerce,” Cantrell said. “No one should have to live like that.”
News that their cry of relief is being heard was welcomed by the Amelia Street residents on Wednesday morning. Angela said that a resolution will be beneficial to everyone — including the teens.
“Not only are we concerned about our own safety, but these kids are drinking to the point that they’re unresponsive,” Angela said. “That’s clearly a problem.”
The issue, Cantrell said, is not limited to Amelia Street. On Tuesday afternoon, her office sent a letter to NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas asking for more enforcement in general of the city’s parade ordinances, particularly with regard to the placement of ladders. She also suggested that the city needs a stronger law against loitering.