The year-round Mardi Gras beads that decorate the New Orleans skyline are probably still safe, but the tennis shoes that hang cryptically from neighborhood power lines have a new nemesis — NOPD Sgt. Byron Francois, the quality-of-life officer who removed dozens of the odd decorations Thursday afternoon from around the Uptown-based Second District with the help of the New Orleans Fire Department.
In the early days of the crack-cocaine epidemic several decades ago, shoes hanging from the power lines were sometimes thought to denote a home where drugs could be found inside, NOPD Second District officer Jeff Keating said. But the drug dealers who advertised their locations so publicly likely didn’t last long on the streets, Keating said, and over time the spectacle lost its significance, becoming just another general part of the landscape of blight and neglect.
Like a broken window — which may not signify much on its own, other than that no one cares to fix it — the shoes are just an eyesore, agreed NOPD Second District Commander Paul Noel.
“It makes the neighborhood look bad, which causes other problems,” Noel said. “It’s just a quality-of-life thing.”
As such, the problem fell to Francois, who was promoted to the the Second District community-coordinating sergeant about two months ago. Higher-profile quality-of-life complaints across his desk often involve the problem at alcohol outlets, but Francois and his two officers are also charged simpler issues such as getting abandoned cars towed, dealing with noise issues such as barking dogs or loud music, and attending neighborhood meetings.Over time, the shoe complaints had just been piling up, Francois said, and no one had ever really tried to deal with them before. So, he and Lt. Shaun Ferguson arranged with the New Orleans Fire Department to go bring some in on Thursday afternoon.
The first stop on the list of 25 locations Francois hoped to clean up was by Evans Park in the Freret neighborhood. As they set up, two teens skateboarding stopped to watch in mock disappointment. They and their friends had thrown the shoes up there, they said, as a sign of triumph whenever they wore a pair out.
“It’s a remembrance of what we’ve done skating,” said Courtney Dounsceroux, 17.
“It’s like they’re immortalized up there,” agreed Tyler Roesch, 15.
The firefighters on the ladder truck had all 12 pairs of hanging shoes clipped down within minutes, and Francois piled them into a nearby trash can. Roesch helped him pick up a few of them, then salvaged two pairs of his own — some red-soled Nikes, and a pair of brown DC sneakers with a huge hole in the bottom.
As he and Dounsceroux laughed at their old trophy, Roesch said wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his recovered, possibly-unwearable shoes. Maybe, he said, he’d just throw them back up there.
Such an inevitable return of footwear to the skies of New Orleans did not faze Francois, however.
“We’re going to just keep taking them back down,” Francois said, and drove off toward Willow Street for the next stop on the list.