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Spirited crowd plans to protest violence

In New Orleans, 300 gather to prepare for a march calling for government action to stop a spate of killings.

January 08, 2007|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — About 300 residents angered and frightened by a recent crime wave gathered at a neighborhood cafe Sunday to hash out preparations for a march on City Hall this week to protest the violence and demand that local officials take action.

Scores of people crammed into the Sound Cafe in the Lower Marigny neighborhood, where they perched on stools, nestled in armchairs or stood nursing oversized cups of coffee.

Dozens of others spilled out onto the surrounding sidewalks, and French doors were opened to allow them to hear, as speaker after speaker voiced outrage over a bloody crime wave that has left eight people dead since the start of the new year -- and 12 since Dec. 28.

Organizers of the rally, scheduled for Thursday, said the turnout for the planning meeting was "incredible" and a testament to the gravity of the matter and citizens' resolve to address it.

"I think it is the only thing on anyone's mind right now," Ken Foster, a rally organizer, said after the meeting. "I think that's what it says ... that so many people showed up."

Police officials have attributed the incidents to drugs and gang turf wars in notorious high-crime areas, and have pinpointed young black males as the main perpetrators.

Police Supt. Warren J. Riley said Saturday that a curfew was being considered to help stem the violence. But many meeting participants rejected that idea as futile, and calls for Riley's resignation were met with cheers and applause.

Neighborhood activists say violence has crept into areas not typically prone to crime and insist that every resident is a potential target.

Albert Mims Jr., a peace activist and member of the Louisiana Board of Parole, said race or ethnicity shouldn't play a role in determining whether to support the antiviolence cause.

"It ain't black, or white, it's right," said Mims, 53, whose father was killed in a shooting two decades ago. "Unofficially, we got a war going on. We're all in this together."

Ronald Lewis, a 9th Ward resident, said: "After Katrina we became one New Orleans ... and things got better. Then people went back to minding their own neighborhoods. It's time for us to come back as one city."

At a hastily called news conference early Saturday, Mayor C. Ray Nagin urged residents not to leave the city because of the recent killings, and suggested that the violence could be what "galvanizes our community" to find solutions to the crime problem, the Associated Press reported.

Before the question session at the Sound Cafe meeting, moderator Amy Wilson asked participants to join hands, raise their arms, inhale, exhale and shout "stop killing people!"

The organizers distributed fliers asking people to "March for Our Loved Ones. March for Our Neighborhoods. March for the Life of Our City."

Attendees were asked to jot down questions for Nagin on "the state of our city."

A glass jar was passed around for contributions to help pay for the $600 rally permit, which will cover police escorts.

The meeting was charged with energy, excitement and a cautious optimism among residents that they might finally be on track to force city officials to take action.

"We can all agree that we need better housing. We need better jobs. We need better schools," said Marigny resident Russell Henderson. "But we need to do something [about crime] right now!"

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