An Anti-Crime 'Night Out' for New Orleans

Hundreds of New Orleans residents came together for Tuesday's National Night Out, hoping that collective action could help curb the crime wave hitting a city still crippled by the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Many neighborhood organizations rallied to raise money for local policing efforts.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Last night, people turned out in cities across the U.S. to march against crime and violence. In New Orleans, the march was particularly urgent. The city is struggling with a summer crime wave. And as NPR's Molly Peterson reports, New Orleans residents are taking matters into their own hands.

MOLLY PETERSON reporting:

New Orleans has a history of doing it big for the National Night Out Against Crime, and one of the reasons is Nelson Savois(ph). Tuesday night in the Bayou St. John neighborhood, a thousand people came to his house - same as before Katrina.

Mr. NELSON SAVOIS (Resident, New Orleans): We accolade syrup over, I'd say 1,000 pieces of baked chicken and about 2,500 pieces of fried chicken. This is what it's all about - about getting together, and about doing something together.

PETERSON: With free flowing drinks and a live band, Savois' party drew plenty of city officials, and not just police brass - the mayor and the fire chief stopped by, too. Along this part of Esplanade Avenue, lawns are neatly manicured and houses are grand. Savois raises funds for police year round. Tonight, he raffled off a shiny red Vespa.

Mr. SAVOIS: I think we've raised a good — I would say a 10 to 15,000. Now, I would be disappointed if we didn't.

PETERSON: Savois' event hums with generators for the daiquiri machines. Over in Holly Grove, generators for FEMA trailers in a construction site hum behind the more modest celebration.

(Soundbite of music)

PETERSON: Bell South just restored phone service two weeks ago, and the neighborhood is still having trouble with gas and water services. Still, a few dozen Holly Grove residents grill hot dogs and hope for a breeze. Holly Grove's not raising money for cops, it has none to give. But neighbors say police protection is key. One of July's 22 murders in New Orleans happened in Holly Grove. And even though the other killings were further away, neighbor Carol Dodson(ph) says she can't ignore them.

Ms. CAROL DODSON (Resident, Holly Grove): New Orleans is a small big town. And, you know, more than likely you know somebody who knows somebody. How you doing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DODSON: You know, crime in one area affects crime in the other areas.

PETERSON: Dodson and other Holly Grove dwellers say they're now lobbying the city for their fair share of law enforcement and city services, the way areas back on their feet have been doing for months. The working class Broadmoor neighborhood flooded deep, but came back quick. The night out event moves like clockwork. A few hundred people show up. Event coordinator Rusty Barrage(ph) says lately, looting in abandoned neighborhoods has pulled cops away from Broadmoor.

Ms. RUSTY BARRAGE (Event coordinator, Broadmoor): We're having real bad problems with looting and burglaries, and this is like in the middle of the day when people are there. So it's really very frightening.

PETERSON: This night out event benefited the Broadmoor Improvement Association. Barrage says from grant writing to neighborhood watches, her group has to do a lot of crime prevention on its own.

Ms. BARRAGE: So we are looking at doing the lights. We have the car magnets that we're going to identify people who are supposed to be in Broadmoor. And if they don't have a car magnet on their car, we're going to ask them - nicely - what you doing here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRAGE: Or do you belong here? This is another area where we can meet our neighbors and watch out for our fellow neighbors. And we will. We will.

PETERSON: Now it's not just neighborhood associations who take action against crime. Down along the Bayou, the Parkway Bakery and Tavern spent this year's night out collecting donations for the police department to buy bulletproof vests. Owner Jay Nicks has styled the Parkway as a cop hang out. The reason, he says, it's an oasis of safety. Now that the National Guard is also patrolling city streets, he's got an incentive to draw their attention.

Mr. JAY NICKS (Owner, Parkway Bakery and Tavern): We want all the National Guard to come here and eat for free.

PETERSON: For NPR News, I'm Molly Peterson in New Orleans.

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