It is often said that prefacing bad news with good news helps soften the blow. We have now cross the threshold into 2016, which seems to be giving New Orleans equal parts of each. Thus, at the risk of sounding trite, I have some good news, and some bad news.
First, let us dispense with the obligatory schmaltzy, feel-good story. A Utah man by the name of Will Abby spent his 25th birthday in New Orleans. That alone is fairly unremarkable, but Will suffers from spinal muscular atrophy with progressive myoclonic epilepsy and had undergone a procedure a few weeks before his visit.
Unfortunately, Will suffered a complication three days into his trip to New Orleans and wound up spending nearly two weeks recovering at University Medical Center.
Just before Christmas, a letter ran in the Times-Picayune from the Abbys. Rejecting the popular depiction of New Orleans as “a dangerous city filled with dangerous criminals,” the Abbys reported that their experience was that of a caring, inviting city.
“We have been in hospitals all over the country, but never experienced such a loving embrace as that given in NOLA,“ they wrote. “For those who believe our country is not great, all they need do is spend some time in New Orleans to find the good in the world.”
That’s right. Utahans, purportedly the most stodgy, upright people in the Western world outside of Scandinavia, think that we’re overflowing with the milk of human kindness. The local Fox affiliate in Salt Lake City promptly picked up the story, providing our fair city with some much-needed positive press.
At this point, you’re probably feeling good about the city. Perhaps now you’re apt to describe it as a swell, reasonably well-adjusted place.
Heck, maybe you’ll even remark that, contrary to popular opinion, Bourbon Street smells somewhat better than rancid urine laced with the poured-out Pabst of a thousand crusty gutter-punks (a flattering description indeed), and the Saints could certainly suck worse. In short, your civic pride runneth over.
So now that I’ve managed to properly butter you up, here’s the bad news.
The first homicide of 2016 took less than a day to transpire. The female victim, who was shot, was a recent graduate of Dillard University with a B.A. in biology. Her former English professor described her as “outstanding in every way.”
Even before that, however, a pedestrian was struck in the French Quarter by a black sedan and dragged more than six miles to the West Bank. The body was found at approximately 3:30 a.m. near the Crescent City Connection. The story was gruesome enough to picked by the Associated Press, and was thus repeated in outlets from the Irish Independent to Fox News.
Next, between Saturday and Sunday, the city boasted a whopping six armed robberies and three shootings in a mere 20-hour period. Two of the robberies took place in the French Quarter, with revelers still celebrating the new year.
Finally, for beleaguered French Quarter service industry workers carrying on under the specter of increased violent crime, there was a major bit of awful news – the Landrieu Administration is pushing forward with new parking meter rates and hours effective January 11th. The only concession made was to increase metering hours merely to 7 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., as was originally planned.
The City Council is also expected to authorize an increase in parking tickets for expired meters, from $20 to $30. The vote will come up at some time this month.
Looking over all of this, it’s easy to become depressed about New Orleans’ prospects for the New Year. We are a good city with many good people, as the experience of the Abby family can attest, but crime is a persistent problem and our city government seems doggedly set on making everyone’s lives more difficult.
Even with an early Mardi Gras approaching, it’s becoming more difficult to set aside all the bad news and look to the silver linings. The regular drumbeat of people feeling beaten down by the city and eventually leaving is an all-too familiar sound.
If there’s a collective New Year’s Resolution for our city, it should simply be to reject the status quo and do better. We should neither tolerate crime nor government incompetence. If we do that, then perhaps next year we won’t need to have a laundry list of bad news offset by schmaltz.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.