The Bourbon Street Shootout

Unless you live under a rock, than you have probably heard about the shooting that took place last Saturday night on New Orleans most famous thoroughfare, Bourbon Street.

Earlier on in the week, RB&L re-tweeted an article by the author Artists Spaces about the “24 Reasons Why Bourbons Street Sucks.” The article made some valid points about the licentious quality of the clubs and promoters, the inescapable odor and the laissez-faire attitude concerning, well, just about everything. The article was written in February and seem to hit home harder after this past weekend.

Although there are regular criminal activity, violence and a recent string of alarming rapes, the French Quarter and particularly Bourbon Street, aim to be a place where people can feel free to let go of their inhibitions and enjoy a strong drink and a lazy trumpet, not a place to be preyed upon. Unfortunately, this drunken utopia can turn into a dangerous scene quickly as was seen on the late hours of June 28th.

Brittany Thomas, 21, died of a gunshot wound to the head Thursday morning
Brittany Thomas, 21, died of a gunshot wound to the head Thursday morning

As the news outlets have reported, around 2:45 AM early Sunday morning, an altercation broke out on Bourbon Street between two men. Shortly thereafter shots were fired into a typically large Bourbon Street crowd. In the midst of the mayhem of people fleeing both men managed to elude law enforcement. The collateral from this altercation is 10 victims who suffered both severe and minor injuries. As if the incident wasn’t alarming enough, Thursday morning reports indicated that one victim, 21-year old nursing student Brittany Thomas from Hammond, passed away. Brittany’s tragic death has elevated this urban violence incident to a full-fledged homicide investigation.

According to the Uniform Crime Report, a federal database that provides reliable crime statistics, both violent or common crimes in New Orleans have been on the rise in comparison to last year’s rates. While murder rates appear to be down 27% and burglary down 2%, everything else appears to be increasing, particularly rape and armed robbery. If you have lived in New Orleans for any extended period of time, then you probably know that crime rates have always gone up in the summer months. Maybe because parents are sick of their kids being at home, maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the lack of football season, who knows? Regardless of the reason, and especially with the 4th of July traffic and the crowds that will be forming for Essence Fest this weekend, these statistics are worrying to say the least.

How could shooting into a crowded street like Bourbon have seemed like a good idea to these perpetrators, is my first question? According to a recent Times-Picayune article, gang interactions could have been the catalyst for the altercation. Tulane criminologist Peter Scharf had this to say about the gang mentality of violence and the disregard for crowds or bystanders:

“If you don’t shoot someone because there are some white people around, you’re called a ‘pussy’. This is to them the ultimate macho act. These are the samurai of the city. And this is, you know, the culture in a certain way — killing no matter what’s in the way.”

Other city officials and academics explain that this kind of behavior is extreme, yet common, and has been seen regularly for over “30 years.” The post-college generation seem to be growing up in an environment where random, unwarranted violence seems to be the ticket to fast fame and street cred. The Times-Picayune article mentions a direct increase in school shootings over the last 20 years along with tragedies like the Aurora Colorado Movie Theater Shooting, the San Diego misogynist that killed 7 people before himself, or the recent string of violent outbursts in the city such as the Gentilly graduation party shooting that killed one 15-year old and let’s not forget the Mother’s Day 2013 shooting that wounded almost 20 people or the Bourbon Street shooting that took place on Halloween 2011 killing 2.

We’ve always known that the city has a oscillating kind of relationship with violence, it waxes and wanes, but this latest

Justin Odom has been cleared by the NOPD in connection to the shooting
Justin Odom has been cleared by the NOPD in connection to the shooting

Bourbon street shooting reminds tourists, and most importantly, residents that we aren’t as safe we think in places that should be.  Earlier this week, NOPD released a photo of 20 year old Justin Odom who was believed to be a “person of interest” as he was seen running away from the scene “looking over his shoulder and carrying a bag.” Just as quickly as news arrived that Odom had turned himself in, he was released from NOPD due to “overcrowding” leading citizens to believe that Odom may have had nothing to do with the shooting. As of the morning of July 4th, NOPD revealed they had arrested Trung Le, a 20-year old Belle Chasse man in Mississippi with uncertain gang affiliations and misdemeanor offenses in connection as well.  Have they found the right one? Can they find the right one?

So where does the NOPD and Mayor Landrieu’s office stand with trying to find the ones that committed this act of violence? According to NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, they don’t have a lead as inferred from this vague placation “We know more today than we did yesterday, and we’ll know even more tomorrow. We have not stopped working on this case since it started.” Mayor Landrieu has also requested the help from Governor Bobby Jindal in sending Louisiana State Troopers to NOLA, and imploring the Louisiana Congressional Committee, even writing President Obama, seeking help to “stem the epidemic of gun violence in this country.” Which is why you will be seeing more and more security and watches being performed over this 4th of July weekend, and while the increase in security is slightly comforting, it just brings to mind that at any moment our normally buoyant and bustling city can become a friggin’ war-zone. 

With no leads or no viable surveillance footage, most residents are about as positive about getting a conviction out of this travesty as they are about Jindal running for President. There are some good things that have come out this nightmare. The attention that first responders and Good Samaritans gave to injured victims was incredible, as well as the swift response of the NOPD who arrived within seconds of the first shots. I’m not going to spend this article denouncing what the city’s police force did or didn’t do to prevent this shooting, because in all honesty, what could they have done? They were on the scene within seconds but when these kind of incidents unfold it is undoubtedly chaos. Not to mention, the problems that led to this shooting are bigger than the Police Department, so whether this was gang violence or just a couple of idiots taking it too far, someone is dead and someone needs to answer for it.

Amy Matthews suffered wounds to her face and mouth after Saturday's shooting
Amy Matthews suffered wounds to her face and mouth after Saturday’s shooting

Besides the saddening death of  a young woman and the injuries to other victims, including tourists like Australian visitor Amy Matthews who suffered a gunshot wound to her mouth, this shooting points out things about our city that we need to recognize. If more and more stories of senseless violence arise, especially surrounding visitors, we are only going to divert more people from coming to our city. With less tourism comes less money for the city, meaning fewer jobs, more poverty and more crime. A vicious cycle that some residents seem to have no problem perpetuating.

Red Beans and Life would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Thomas family for their loss as well regrets to the other victims of this shooting.

About Morgan

Morgan was born in Georgia, raised in Louisiana, a Southern gal through and through. A graduate of the University of New Orleans, she loves her Saints, her city and inserting thinly veiled sarcasm throughout all her writing.

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