Shots Not Heard Round the World in NOLA

This witness to the Mother's Day mayhem that injured 19 wants to know: Why don't more people care?

YouTube screenshot
YouTube screenshot

(The Root) — On Mother’s Day, someone decided to shoot into a crowd of parading New Orleanians, injuring 19 people. Video footage of the event indicates that I was just feet away from the shooter. My family and friends think I should stop going to second-line parades or into “bad neighborhoods” (read: black neighborhoods, of course).

And some of them want me to leave New Orleans altogether. But this Sunday I am going to the second line, just as I will go any other Sunday when I wake up feeling like dancing — which is more often than you’d think. I want people to know why.

New Orleans brass bands play what you might call second-line standards. There are the local favorites, such as “Roll With It” and “It Ain’t My Fault”; there are the traditional dirges played to an upbeat tempo, like “I’ll Fly Away”; and there are the popular covers that everyone sings in unison. My personal second-line jam is the Stooges Brass Band’s rendition of the O’Jays’ R&B classic “Back Stabbers.”

On Sunday at the Original Big 7 Mother’s Day second line, it took me only three or four notes to recognize Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” another crowd pleaser. People immediately started swaying, the “buckjumpers” trotted out some of their finest footwork and soon enough everyone was cheering, “With somebody who loves me!”

As the brass band pealed out the melody, I sidled up to my husband, a New Orleans transplant of three years and a second-line fanatic. I held his hand as we danced in the street with hundreds of other people — black, white, Asian, Latino, young, old, native, transplant and all kinds of in-between. I silently rehearsed the only words I have to describe the second line: pure joy.

Only seconds later, just after we turned into the narrower streets of the 7th Ward neighborhood, we heard the all-too-familiar sound of gunfire. I think I heard four shots before I realized that I needed to get to the ground. I dropped to my belly right in the middle of the street, and other people fleeing the violence fell on top of me.

I remember that a soft, white T-shirt brushed my cheek, and I instinctively caressed the shoulder of a stranger, hoping to calm myself as much as her. Three or four more shots rang out before the firing stopped. Only feet from where the shooter had reportedly emerged from the shadows of a family home, we all lay in a silent pile, collectively holding our breath for several seconds more before we felt it safe to run.

When we returned to the corner a minute or so later, the scene was gruesome. People were writhing, bleeding, on every corner, on all sides of the spot where I had just dropped to the ground myself. The shooter had been indiscriminate, and if he had a target, it was impossible to tell who it could have been, because there were children, older ladies and dancing men among the 19 innocent people he callously wounded.

As the days pass and the fear and anger that emerged at the scene release me, a new frustration emerges. I can’t help but keep wondering why more people don’t seem to care or even know that this happened.

And I am going to say this very clearly: The reason so few people seem to care about this mass shooting is that the victims are assumed to be black.

Not So Normal

Every time I say something like this, I feel as if I’m preaching to the choir, but when I listened for that familiar chorus of affirmation this week, I didn’t hear it. Somehow I keep expecting people to stop me on the street to process it, as many did when I was heading home through predominantly African-American neighborhoods right after the event. I expected Facebook and Twitter to be on fire with sympathy for the victims. I suppose I half expected there to be nationally organized fundraisers for the 19 people in the hospital. But all I heard were crickets.