Love NOLA: When bullets came to my street
Was it four shots? Eight? Ten?
I’m not sure. It all happened so fast … and so terrifyingly, paralyzingly slow. There was a gunfight outside my house yesterday afternoon. Not gunfire. A gunfight. At 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon.
I had just picked up my keys and was about to open my front door when … pop … pop … pop, bullets flew by from somewhere behind the leafing crape myrtles. Then, right as I put my keys down and backed away from the door, I looked out the front window and saw a tall lanky kid, couldn’t have been more than 18. He spun around, drew a gun, pointed it in the direction of the original shots and fired.
Bam … bam … bam … bam. Not 30 feet from my window. Not 40 feet from the car I had, not even 10 seconds before, been on my way to. There was a pause, as the kid glanced toward my house, gun still drawn.
Was he looking at me? No. He was looking at a young woman, somewhere in her mid-20s. She was walking down North Robertson, between the crape myrtles and the lanky kid, with her lunch in her hands. Trying to get home. In the middle of a gunfight.
With a cry, not a scream, she pleaded, “Stop it. Please stop.” The lanky kid, gun still pointing down North Robertson toward Tuba Fats Square, looked at her, looked down the street, turned, and ran towards Ursulines.
My first thought was for my dog. “Come on, Tyra,” I said. “It’s not safe up here.” I took her to the back of the house, put her on the couch in the study and told her to look out the windows for the cats, the squirrels, the lizards.
I went back to the front of the house. And looked out the window. Onto my street. My “good block,” as all my neighbors call it. The “good block” that, now, had a swarm of police cars, fire trucks, EMS vehicles on it. The one where cops were, now, looking for casings and bullet holes and guns.
On my street. My car. My stoop.
“Good God,” I thought. “What has happened to my neighborhood?”
Two weeks ago this coming Saturday, someone egged me and tried to run my bike into a car as I was coming back from the St. Claude Art Walk. The next morning, a neighbor of mine was mugged … on her way home from her own birthday party.
And now this. A gunfight. At 3 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon.
But to ask what has happened to Treme is the wrong question. The easy question. Or, at least, the incomplete question.
It is wrong, it is easy, it is incomplete to write off what happened yesterday as the price of living in a neighborhood like Treme. A place that some so — what is it, quaintly? dismissively? naively? -- label as a neighborhood “in transition.”
Because the truth is it’s not just Treme. It’s all of New Orleans. The fact is that we live, all of us, in a dangerous city.
I was reminded of that yesterday as word of the gunfight spread among friends, colleagues and neighbors.
I was reminded that it isn’t just Treme when a Bywater friend brought up the February shooting of a cop just blocks from his house on a Saturday morning. His entire neighborhood was put on lockdown.
I was reminded that it isn’t just Treme when a NolaVie editor who lives in the Garden District, a place where residents pay for private security patrols to keep themselves safe, told me that the recent carjacking, kidnapping and rape of a young woman had occurred one block from her house. “I have three daughters her age," she said.
I was reminded that it isn’t just Treme when a WWNO colleague told me that the brutal mugging that occurred on Burgundy in the Marigny in March happened right outside where she used to work.
And I was reminded that it isn’t just Treme when a neighbor who works in the French Quarter sent out an email last night letting folks know that three men were mugged at gunpoint on Monday morning while trying to hail a cab. One was shot and remains hospitalized.
Reminders. Reminders. Reminders. That when you live in New Orleans, you do not just read about violence. You are surrounded by violence.
It is a part of our daily life. We don’t dwell on it. We don’t deny it. And we’re certainly not desensitized to it (that would imply we don’t care and we absolutely do care). We just … what? Are numb to it?
Maybe we just see violence for what it is: a forever part of the fabric of life in New Orleans. More than anywhere I’ve lived, this is a city of extreme trade-offs. Yes, the politicians are corrupt, but the people are wonderful. Yes, the roads suck, but the food and music are like none other. Yes, there is violence, but there is immeasurable joy.
Going to bed last night, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a point at which the trade-off becomes too much. When the bad truly does outweigh the good. When would that be? When a stray bullet through the window shoots my dog? When your daughter is raped? When our friend is attacked? When you are murdered? When I am?
Perhaps that’s a question none of us can answer … or want to answer.
But, as I got into bed, I remembered a question I did answer one week ago today. I was walking by Armstrong Park. My neighbor and friend, Shannon Powell, was tearing it up on the drums at the “Thursday in the Park” concert. As I walked by the St. Philip gate, a woman, about my age, stopped me. She was with her daughter, who appeared to be in her late teens.
“Aren’t you Brett Will Taylor?” she asked me. When I answered that, at least for the moment, I was, she introduced herself and her daughter. “We’re visiting from Pensacola. I read your column every week. I’ve always loved New Orleans and you’ve made me want to move here. Because of you, I really think we want to live in Treme.”
I told that mother that she and her daughter couldn’t make a better choice. Last week.
As I turned out the light and patted my dog, I wondered what I would say this week.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern storyteller whose previous column, Love NOLA, appeared weekly on NolaVie. The Diving Board Chronicles are Will’s occasional check-ins and observations from his indefinite road trip to indeterminate places west. Follow him @bwtshaman.