NEW ORLEANS — The videotape seems to show just another night at Razzoo, a popular French Quarter nightclub known for three-for-one drink specials and raucous dance parties. But then, as the crowd parts, the tape shows three white bouncers pinning a black man to the ground.
When they rise, the man does not move. Later that night, Levon Jones Jr., 25, was pronounced dead.
The college student's death five months ago has become a flashpoint for New Orleans, plunging a city famous for its easygoing vibe into a painful period of introspection and antagonism.
The NAACP has called for a federal civil rights investigation into the death, the city has scrambled to write "use of force" guidelines for bouncers, and some African Americans have threatened to boycott the city. The death, meanwhile, has been followed by a series of racially charged controversies.
In March, a jury found the city's first black district attorney guilty of discrimination for firing 42 white employees and replacing them with blacks.
In April, Mayor C. Ray Nagin, an African American, said the ouster of schools Supt. Anthony Amato, a Latino, was a "lynching," while offering, at least at first, a response to Jones' death that many blacks called tepid.
Now, it seems that every piece of legislation that lands in City Hall becomes mired in race. When one city councilman recently proposed scrapping a rule requiring police officers to live in the city, the measure was seen by supporters as a way to make recruitment easier. But many blacks have condemned the plan, fearing that new recruits would be suburban whites.
Enmity and distrust have grown so deep that some white community activists trying to participate in a recent antiracism demonstration were ordered to leave by black activists.
"There has been a perfect storm that has ripped the cover off of race relations in New Orleans," said the Rev. Anthony Mitchell, a Baptist pastor who is African American. "The people who control public discourse here don't like to talk about it. It's not good for business. But this is really two cities."
New Orleans City Councilman John A. Batt Jr., who is white, said Jones' death had forced the city to acknowledge racial divisions and address the economic gap between blacks and whites.
"We're in the 21st century," Batt said. "This is not the time nor place to mess with discrimination on any level. Hopefully this will be just a hiccup and we will get back to being one of the great cities of the United States."
A series of battles in coming months will determine whether it will.
Some African American leaders, for example, are marshaling to fight the state's threatened takeover of the local school district, which serves 64,000 children -- 94% of them black. The district is in such disarray that teachers nearly didn't get paid last month.
Black leaders also want tourism-oriented businesses to include more African Americans in management and programs to give blacks greater access to homeownership in the city.
"There will never come a day when the last of racism dies," said Silas Lee, an African American who owns a local polling and research company and teaches sociology at Xavier University of Louisiana, specializing in issues related to race and ethnicity. "But we have to address the issue of social, economic and education equity. People need access. They need to be treated fairly. That's all they want."
With a tourism industry that generates about $5 billion a year in revenue, New Orleans bills itself as the quintessential melting pot, a city of uncommon diversity, where food, architecture and ethos trace their lineages to a bright spectrum of influences -- Spain, France, Africa, the West Indies.
By some measures, African Americans comprise a larger proportion of the population here than in any other metropolitan region in the nation, and New Orleans seems to perpetually celebrate jazz, a largely African American art.
But the city seems to have stumbled upon the awkward realization that there is a difference between cultural diversity, which the city has in abundance, and economic diversity, which it does not.
Hammered by white flight and a decaying manufacturing base, post-World War II New Orleans grew progressively poorer as the decades wore on.
By 1970, the city had 600,000 people and was 45% black. By 2000, the population had dropped to 484,000 and was 67% black.
Today, Lee said, blacks in New Orleans are more than three times as likely as whites to live below the poverty level and one-third as likely to be college graduates.
According to a recent study, blacks own 14% of New Orleans' businesses.
The city has periodic, lucrative "black weekends" aimed at black tourists, featuring, for example, the Essence Music Festival and the Bayou Classic, an annual football game between two historically black Louisiana colleges.
The rest of the year, many in New Orleans contend, the city -- particularly the famous French Quarter -- has become a white playground surrounded by poor, black neighborhoods.