[JPL] New Orleans police stop Second Line, arrest musicians

Arturo arturo893 at qwest.net
Tue Oct 30 13:49:14 EDT 2007


White people moving into the Tremé neighborhood are the cause..........
This is identical to what occurred recently in Harlem when white folks
wanted to stop drumming the park that has been going on for over 40 years.


Police have cracked down on funeral processions, a time-honored cultural
tradition in the historic black neighborhood of Tremé. But musicians vow to
play on. By Larry Blumenfeld

Salon.com
Oct. 29, 2007
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/10/29/treme/


On the evening of Oct. 1, some two dozen of New
Orleans' top brass-band
players and roughly a hundred followers began a series
of nightly
processions for Kerwin James, a tuba player with the
New Birth Brass
Band
who had passed away on Sept. 26. They were "bringing
him down," as it's
called, until his Saturday burial. But the bittersweet
tradition that
Monday
night ended more bitterly than anything else -- with
snare drummer
Derrick
Tabb and his brother, trombonist Glen David Andrews,
led away in
handcuffs
after some 20 police cars had arrived near the corner
of North
Robertson and
St. Philip streets in New Orleans' historic Tremé
neighborhood. In the
end,
it looked more like the scene of a murder than
misdemeanors.

"The police told us, 'If we hear one more note, we'll
arrest the whole
band,'" said Tabb a few days later, at a fundraiser to
help defray the
costs
of James' burial. "Well, we did stop playing," said
Andrews. "We were
singing, lifting our voices to God. You gonna tell me
that's wrong
too?"
Drummer Ellis Joseph of the Free Agents Brass band,
who was also in the
procession, said, "They came in a swarm, like we had
AK-47s. But we
only had
instruments."

The musicians were no longer playing but instead
singing "I'll Fly
Away"
when the cops converged and the cuffs came out. A New
Orleans police
spokesman claimed the department was simply acting on
a neighborhood
resident's phoned-in complaint. And the department
maintains that such
processions require permits.

But when they busted up the memorial procession for a
beloved tuba
player,
arresting the two musicians for parading without a
permit and
disturbing the
peace, they didn't just cut short a familiar hymn --
they stomped on
something sacred and turned up the volume in the fight
over the city's
culture, which continues amid the long struggle to
rebuild New Orleans.

In that fight, Tremé is ground zero. Funeral
processions are an
essential
element of New Orleans culture, and the impromptu
variety in particular
---
honoring the passing of someone of distinction,
especially a musician
-- are
a time-honored tradition in neighborhoods like Tremé,
which some
consider
the oldest black neighborhood in America. For black
New Orleans
residents
who have returned to the city, these and other
street-culture
traditions --
second-line parades and Mardi Gras Indian assemblies
-- offer perhaps
the
only semblance of normalcy, continuity and community
organization left.
In a
changing Tremé, within a city still in troubled limbo
and racked by
violent
crime, long-held tensions regarding the iconic street
culture have
intensified. The neighborhood, the breeding ground for
much of this
culture,
has a history of embattlement. And now more of that
history is being
written.

"I've been parading in the Tremé for more than 25
years, and I've
never had
to deal with anything like this," said tuba player
Phil Frazier, who
leads
the popular Rebirth Brass Band. He's brother to James,
who died of
complications of a stroke at 34. "I told the cops it
was my brother we
were
playing for, and they just didn't seem to care. He's a
musician and he
contributed a lot to this city in his short life."

Katy Reckdahl, a reporter for the New Orleans
Times-Picayune, had
rushed to
catch up with the Monday-evening procession when her
2-year-old son
Hector
heard tubas in the distance. What she didn't expect
was a sudden flood
of
patrol cars, sirens blaring. Her front-page,
full-banner-headline
report two
days later described police running into the crowd,
grabbing at horn
players' mouthpieces, and trying to seize drumsticks
out of hands. "The
confrontations spurred cries in the neighborhood about
over-reaction
and
disproportionate enforcement by the police, who had
often turned a
blind eye
to the traditional memorial ceremonies," she wrote.
"Still others say
the
incident is a sign of a greater attack on the cultural
history of the
old
city neighborhood by well-heeled newcomers attracted
to Tremé by the
very
history they seem to threaten."

It's unclear who called the police that night. But
it's easy to sense
the
difference, longtime residents say, between North
Robertson Street
before
and after the storm. With its proximity to the French
Quarter and
historic
architecture, Tremé, which was not flooded, is newly
attractive to
home
buyers within the city's shrunken post-Hurricane
Katrina housing stock.

Meanwhile, as in most of New Orleans, rents have
sharply increased.
Derrick
Jettridge, who was born and raised in the Tremé, now
lives in the Mid
City
section. "I'd never find something in Tremé for the
$500 I was paying
before," he says. On her New Orleans Renovation blog,
Laureen Lentz
wrote
recently, "Since Katrina, the Historic Faubourg Tremé
Association has
gathered a lot of steam. Our neighborhood is changing
as people have
begun
to realize that this area is prime, non-flooded real
estate ... So much
is
happening in Tremé, it's hard to convince people that
aren't here. You
have
to see it to believe it."

Home prices in Tremé rose nearly 20 percent
immediately following the
flood,
settling at approximately 12 percent above pre-Katrina
rates, according
to
Al Palumbo, branch manager for the historic districts
office of Latter
&
Blum Realty. "Tremé, especially the area around North
Robertson and
St.
Peter, would certainly be among my first choices for
return on
investment in
New Orleans," he says.

But what might such development in the neighborhood
ultimately cost?
The
intensity of the police response during the Kermit
James procession
prompted
a second-line of print voices, so to speak, in the
Times-Picayune's
pages.

"If somebody is blowing a horn in Tremé and somebody
else is calling
the
police," wrote columnist Jarvis DeBerry, "only one of
those people is
disturbing the peace, and it isn't the one playing the
music."

Nick Spitzer, creator of the public-radio program
"American Routes,"
wrote
in an Op-Ed piece, "in a city where serious crime
often goes
unprosecuted
and unpunished, jazz funerals make the streets
momentarily sacred and
safer."

"New Orleans Police Department declared a resumption
of its war against
our
city's culture," wrote columnist Lolis Eric Elie.

The day following the skirmish, discussions between
community leaders
and
1st District police Capt. Louis Colin yielded a
temporary agreement.
The
evening after the arrests, Andrews, Tabb and other
musicians were back
on
those same streets, leading another procession, this
time protected by
a
permit, which some residents viewed as a disappointing
compromise. "We
don't
need anyone's approval to live our lives," one
resident told me.

Efforts to curtail these neighborhood processions as
well as the more
formal
Sunday afternoon second lines hosted by social aid and
pleasure clubs,
who
apply for official permits, continue to threaten
traditions already
weakened
by the loss of residents in Katrina's aftermath.
Participants view this
as
deeply hypocritical, given that so much promotion of
tourism for New
Orleans
includes images of brass-band musicians and
second-line dancers.

In April, a federal lawsuit on behalf of a consortium
of social aid and
pleasure clubs, aided by the American Civil Liberties
Union, protested
the
city's hiking of police security fees -- triple or
more from
pre-Katrina
rates -- for second-line parades held September
through May. The suit
invoked the First Amendment right to freedom of speech
and expression,
claiming that parade permit schemes "effectively tax"
such expression.

"Should the law not be enjoined," the complaint
stated, "there is very
little doubt that plaintiff's cultural tradition will
cease to exist."

At a street-corner press conference a few days after
the musicians'
arrests,
Jerome Smith, who runs the Tremé Community Center just
a block from
that
scene, recounted the history of an embattled
neighborhood. He invoked
the
memory of heavy-handed police intimidation at the 2005
St. Joseph's
night
gathering of Mardi Gras Indians, after which Allison
"Tootie" Montana,
the
"chief of chiefs," famously collapsed and fell dead of
a heart attack
while
testifying at a city council meeting. He referenced
the "open scar" of
nearby Louis Armstrong Park, for which the city
demolished 13 square
blocks
of the Tremé. He spoke of how, in 1969, the creation
of Interstate 10
replaced the stately oak trees of Claiborne Avenue,
the neighborhood's
main
thoroughfare, with concrete pillars.

On the Sunday following the arrests, Councilman James
Carter held a
meeting
with residents at Smith's center. One neighborhood
activist, Al Harris,
brought an enlarged copy of a photo, mounted on
posterboard, of a
Tremé
second line in 1925. "We've been doing this a very
long time," he said.
Carter said that "under no circumstances is it
acceptable for police to
violate our cultural traditions." He announced plans
for a task force
organized through his Criminal Justice Committee to
propose new city
ordinances protecting the cultural practices under
fire, and to
initiate
education and sensitivity training for officers and
new residents of
Tremé.

Such education could have easily been found in some
documentaries
screened
last week during the city's 18th annual film festival.
"Faubourg
Tremé: The
Untold Story Of Black New Orleans," created by
filmmaker Dawn Logsdon
and
Elie, the Times-Picayune columnist, offered a powerful
reflection of
Tremé
as a place of creative ferment and political
resistance for some 300
years,
which included Paul Trevigne's Civil War-era founding
of the country's
first
black newspaper, and the unsuccessful 1896 Supreme
Court challenge, in
Plessy v. Ferguson, to racial segregation. At one
point Elie wondered
in the
film's narration, "How can our past help us survive
this time?" Glen
David
Andrews, one of the men arrested Oct. 1, was featured
playing his horn
and
as an interview subject.

Andrews also figured in "Shake the Devil Off,"
filmmaker Peter Entell's
chronicle of a particularly cruel twist in modern
Tremé history: Six
months
after Katrina, the Archdiocese of New Orleans decided
to close the
neighborhood's St. Augustine church and to remove its
pastor. The
historic
church was founded in 1841 by slaves and free people
of color. After a
19-day rectory sit-in, the parish was restored,
provisionally, though
its
long-term fate remains in question. Near the film's
climax, after
footage of
Jerome Harris and Jesse Jackson speaking to a crowd,
the camera moved
in on
Andrews, who launched into "I"ll Fly Away," offered as
call-to-arms
rather
than memorial.

A question-and-answer session following a screening of
"Tootie's Last
Suit"
-- filmmaker Lisa Katzman's gloriously insightful look
at the world of
Mardi
Gras Indians through the story of Tootie Montana's
final days -- drew
some
discussion of the recent Tremé arrests.

"We won't bow down," said Sabrina Montana,
daughter-in-law of the
film's
main character, quoting a familiar Indian-song lyric.
"This has nothing
to
do with our disrespect for authority and everything to
do with our
self-respect. Until what we do is on the city charter,
second-line and
Mardi
Gras Indian assemblies will continue to be threatened
by the whims of
those
who are in authority."

Following the public outcry, Sgt. Ronald Dassel of the
New Orleans
Police
Department was quoted in the Times-Picayune saying,
"We don't change
laws
for neighborhoods." But in fact the city does and
always has. Special
legislation protects the tourist-rich French Quarter,
for example. The
mostly white Mardi Gras carnival parades command a
long list of
specific
ordinances (including much lower permit fees than for
second lines).
And a
recent judge's order, which some critics consider
unconstitutional,
delineated police arrest and release protocols for
municipal offenses
specifically by neighborhood -- with the Tremé among
the neighborhoods
subject to the sternest treatment.

Recently, I was walking along the bayou with Andrews
when he ran into a
friend. "Did you hear what they're calling you two?"
his friend asked,
referring to Andrews and Tabb. "The Tremé 2! We're
making T-shirts."

Andrews winced. "I'm not looking to be somebody's
martyr," he said.

Sure enough, a couple of T-shirts emblazoned with
"Free the Tremé 2"
could
be seen at Vaughn's bar during a Saturday fundraiser
for attorney Carol
Kolinchak, to support her pro bono work for Mychal
Bell, one of the
defendants in the Jena 6 case. Kolinchak is also
representing Andrews
and
Tabb, who are due to appear in court in early
December.

"Of course, I wouldn't compare the situation they are
facing to Mychal
Bell's," said Kolinchak. "However, the discretionary
decisions by law
enforcement and prosecutors -- on how and when to
enforce the law --
require
attention in both situations. And those issues lie at
the heart of the
problems surrounding culture in New Orleans."

Tabb, the drummer who plays in the Rebirth Brass Band
and is raising
money
to create a nonprofit music school, recoils at the
thought of children
watching musicians hauled off by police for making
music. And he says
he
thinks Andrews may have been singled out by
authorities; in addition to
leading his Lazy Six band, Andrews is a ubiquitous
presence not only at
second lines, but also at civic rallies.

New Orleans after Katrina may never fully return
without its iconic
street
culture. And its renewal -- financial as well as
spiritual -- may be
more
closely tied to those traditions than city officials
grasp. But those
who
practice the traditions know it. On Friday, Oct. 5,
the nightly
memorial
procession for Kerwin James wove through the
neighborhood, culminating
on
the very spot of the arrests prior that week. Andrews
put down his
trombone
and sang "I'll Fly Away," as Tabb snapped out beats on
his snare. A
tight
circle surrounded the musicians, as a middle-aged
black woman turned to
the
man next to her. "They say they want to stop this?"
she asked softly.
"They
will never stop this."



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