Monday, April 02, 2007

An encounter with crooks, cops, and the La. Nat'l Guard

Last weekend we drove down to Holy Cross again to admire our house again (at least we hope it still will be "our house"...). As I neared the side gate, I saw three boys handing a duffel bag over the fence of the back yard next door.

They were your average school boys--maybe 12 to 15 years old--and I figured they were simply being boys. The Holy Cross campus lies directly behind our home, and I figured the boys were climbing the fence to gallivant around the Sunday-empty campus. Or something. I don't know what I thought, really.

When the boys saw me, it became clear that they were "up to no good." I turned around and asked Simon if he saw the boys, and he said, "Yeah," in a "whatever" kind of way. Then I heard one of the kids say something about "white lady" before I saw the last of the three leap over the fence onto the Holy Cross side and heard them run off.

Simon had joined me by now, and he climbed up on the concrete wall of the back yard to peak over the fence. "They were robbing that house," he said.

"That can't be. Nobody lives there." Actually, we think this one sketchy guy who we introduced ourselves to one day has been squatting there. Red-eyed, card-board-handed. Had the nicest bike I've ever seen.

Two duffel bags lay on the grass on the Holy Cross side of the fence, and in them were a video camera, a VCR, and--oh, those boys--a football and sports equipment. I pointed out that they were more likely robbing the school, and the neighborhood-mother came out in me. "Call the cops," I told Simon.

"What's the non-emergency number?"

"I don't know, but isn't a robbery an emergency?" We kind of looked at each other, wondering what one does when one catches three 12-year-old boys red-handed. Does one run after them? (Nope--they were too fast, and already too gone.) Does one call their mother? Or does one call the cops. "Dude, they robbed a school," I said. "Call the cops."

So we called the cops and then waited, dumbly wondering whether we should "tamper with the evidence" or just wait. We waited.

Soon, a La. Nat'l Guard Humvee showed up, and then another, and four Louisiana National Guardsmen followed us into the back yard.

When we explained that we are buying a house in Holy Cross, one of them laughed and said he'd think twice before doing that. There's a lot of drug activity in the area, he said.

"It can't be any worse than the violent crime in our area," I said, reminding him of Helen Hill's murder four blocks away. One of the others--was it "Steinbecker" or "Lukovich"?--said it was mostly just your regular drug-selling thugs, your run of the mill-type. We'd be surprised, he said; like seven out of ten guys they stopped had drugs on 'em.

I told them what happened and they asked for a description. "Black kids, right?"

The three or four of them fought over who would go out to pursue the kids. It seemed sort of silly to us... they'd taken so long to come and the kids dropped their booty, anyway, so how would they even catch them? Somehow it was settled that So-and-So would round the corner to look while the others waited for the cops.

Evidently the Nat'l Guard is not allowed to arrest. They explained this to us as we sat on the porch and discussed the ins and outs of crime and whatnot. "We can beat the shit of of 'em, but we can't arrest them." This seemed to frustrate them. They seemed to realize that beating the shit out of criminals wouldn't help. "We've got a reputation," one of them said. They're not all violent, he explained, but they had to be careful.

This surprised me. I guess I remember now that after the storm there were accusations of unnecessary violence and looting from the La. Nat'l Guard, but my own experience had been positive, and everyone I've talked to seems to prefer the Guard to our cops.

I related the story about our first night after we returned to New Orleans...

It was early October, and Simon and I had gone to Mimi's because wanted to see who was around and to get a margarita. I was so happy to be home, and so happy to be able to walk around with a drink that I carried a margarita home. On our way home, I found little Ray--this tiny orange kitty who peeked out from a fence by Terence's house--and so I put my drink down to coax him out. In the excitement, I left my drink on the sidewalk.

I went out to retrieve my margarita (priorities, folks!). Coming down the street were four guardsmen, sweeping the street in a line, big guns and all. One of them shined his Mag-lite at me. "Do you need help?"

"Nope," I sang, "Just looking for my margarita!"

He scanned the street and shined his light on my drink, which I skipped to and picked up before singing, "I love this city!"

...So I told them about this and they laughed and we talked about their being here since the storm, living in a hotel in the French Quarter (four days on, three off), and having their good times on Bourbon. They'd been in the Superdome, but somehow it's so "last year" that we didn't even talk about it. Instead we talked about when the cops would come.

We learned that they find the cops as inept as we do. They couldn't pick up the evidence, even--they had to wait for Crime Lab. So did we.

An hour and a half after it all began, we were finally going home. We'd given our information to the cops, 'though I knew that a video camera and sports equipment wouldn't lead to any sort of bounty-hunt, and we'd made some Nat'l Guard friends. I wish we had their number... it took too long--far too long--for the cops to come.

So that day, the division created by the Industrial Canal felt real, and while the Nat'l Guard came to the rescue, it wasn't altogther reassuring. Thank goodness, I guess, for we teachers, and for boys just being boys. If only they stayed that way.

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