Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not What We Need

Okay, This one's been eating at me for a while.

It was a beautiful pre-heatwave Sunday in the Quarter. The artists were out in force adding a brilliant splash of color to what is already (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful spots on earth. The gymnasts were doing their thing across the street. And miracle of miracles, there were tourists! Lots of them. And these were not the grim-faced all-we-want-to-do-is-get-out-of-the-sun type that we see right now. These were happy people in a beautiful place. And the buggies were rolling. The drivers were happy. The mules were happy.

Having finished a tour, I decided to walk down to Sidney's Liquors for a cold drink and a pack of smokes. As I walked, I noticed a large group of tourist gathered on the sidewalk and spilling onto Decatur street, and they were applauding. Applauding what?

Tap-dancing kids!

Now I know a lot of you may have mixed feelings about the tap-dancers.They can be a little aggressive and obnoxious. And SOMETIMES they can be acting as a diversion for pickpockets and such. But like it or not, they're part of our culture. And these kids were GOOD! And since they were just about the first ones I'd seen since "the storm" (she whose name we will not speak), I was glad to see them. The were just one, tiny sign of the city's return to normalcy.

Well the applause and laughter of the crowd were suddenly replaced by a low, rumbling feeling of discontent. Anger even. The source of this was was two of NOPD's finest riding their Vespa's down the crowded, narrow SIDEWALK, literally shoving their way through the crowd. When they reached the dancers, one of them used his black boot to crush the kid's donation box. He proceeded to tell the kids "If we see you around here again we'll take everything you've got." The crowd booed and heckled the officers, at which they replied " Yeah? Well wait until one of these little ( expletive) picks your pocket!" Oh, I see. Proactive law enforcement. Harassing and threatening someone for what MIGHT happen. Interesting approach. The kids left. The crowd dispersed. Another public relations coup for The NOPD.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not here to bash the NOPD. I have a good friend who is a cop. I feel their pain. I understand that they are underpaid, understaffed, overworked, and stressed beyond belief. Hell, I wouldn't want the job. But I feel, in this situation, things could have been handled better. First, get off the god-damn scooters. Second, OBSERVE. You guys are trained observers, right? Third, try to show a little common sense. Don't you think that Bob and Dorris from Cleveland, Ohio are going to relate this story to their friends back home? You know they will.

My dear Mother lives in Florida (In Pennsylvania it's the law. When you retire, you MUST move to Florida) and she is a great source of information on how the rest of the country views our city. And the main them seems to be our crime rate. The people I meet almost always ask about the crime. The tourism industry is struggling. Many businesses in the Quarter are barely hanging on. And it's because most people around the country are AFRAID to come here.

So here's the deal. We all need to roll out our famous southern hospitality, lay it on thick, and make people feel welcome here. We need to let the folks up north know that this is not a place to be feared. (If it was, I wouldn't have let my daughter and grandson move down here.) We need to do our own PR campaign, since city hall seems unwilling or unable to do so. We ALL need to do this.

And that includes you, NOPD.

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