It was precisely the kind of crime city leaders always hope to forestall. Yet even at the height of Carnival, New Orleans gun violence knows no holiday.
Thursday night, as the celebrated Krewe of Muses rolled down St. Charles Avenue, a shooting claimed two young lives and thrust New Orleans into the spotlight for familiar, if undesirable, reasons. The killing appalled people near and far, many of whom registered outrage over the latest brazen slayings.
But for decades now, New Orleans has been acquainted with the glare of emergency lights along parade routes. Double murders are by no means a regular fixture of Mardi Gras, but the holiday has been stained again and again by similar acts of violence despite a concentrated presence of law enforcement.
“We don’t see situations where there are shootings at every parade or even every other parade, and for the most part, Mardi Gras is a nice, family-oriented event that people from all over the world look forward to,” said state Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, who in 2012 advanced legislation that toughened the penalties for firing a gun near a parade.
“But it’s marred,” Bishop added, “when you have somebody who does that kind of foolish act, and then the whole city gets painted with that entire broad brush.”
The shooting Thursday night, which happened on St. Charles Avenue between Clio and Erato streets, was troublingly reminiscent of a 2012 incident in the same area in which two teenagers were wounded by gunfire. Muses rolled that night as well, but the shooting that year erupted as the earlier Krewe of Chaos was passing.
“There’s a history at that intersection, and that’s exactly why we had officers along the route,” Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said Friday, noting that about 20 officers had been assigned to the immediate area.
About a dozen blocks away, on Mardi Gras Day 2009, an afternoon truck parade following the Krewe of Rex encountered a frenzied crime scene: A hail of bullets struck seven people, including a toddler, gathered along the route.
A surgeon who happened to be near the scene of that shooting, near St. Charles and Second Street, told The Associated Press at the time that the situation seemed “more dangerous than Afghanistan,” a war-torn country he was headed to that summer.
Like the 2013 Mother’s Day shooting, in which 19 people were shot and wounded during a second-line parade, the 2009 Mardi Gras shooting stemmed from a simmering dispute between rival groups. The controversy, The Times-Picayune reported at the time, had been rooted in a murder the year before in Central City, a notoriously violent neighborhood that directly abuts the Uptown parade route.
“At a parade, you have thousands of people you’re drawing from a cross-section of society and a cross-section of neighborhoods in New Orleans, so that could be the place you’d come across somebody you’ve got some sort of beef with,” said Rocky Sexton, a professor of anthropology at Ball State University who has researched the effects of alcohol consumption at Mardi Gras. “When you’re in a setting like that, where things are already chaotic, it sort of sets the tone.”
Violence accompanied the Krewe of Muses procession in 2004 as well, when four teens were arrested in a shooting that killed a 20-year-old mother and wounded three other paradegoers. The authorities, seeking to ease the fears of residents and tourists about the city’s safety, said the killing of Latasha Bell, while senseless, had been an isolated event.
A City Council member at the time blamed Bell’s shooting death on “urban terrorism,” a term used last month by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to describe the activities of the city’s gang members.
A half-dozen police officers had been standing 20 feet away when the shooting broke out at St. Charles and Josephine Street, underscoring the limitations on law enforcement officers’ ability to prevent violent crime.
“I’m not sure what else we could have done,” then-Mayor Ray Nagin told reporters. “It is safe and OK to go out to parades.”
The 2004 shooting interrupted a period of relative calm and was even described as the first at a Mardi Gras parade in “recent memory.”
In 1995, though, actor John Larroquette reportedly ducked for cover aboard his float in the Krewe of Bacchus parade as a gunbattle broke out in the 2300 block of St. Charles. Four people, including three women, were wounded in the shooting — innocent bystanders who also found themselves caught between feuding groups.
In 1989, an LSU employee named Randy Robichaux who had come to New Orleans to see Bacchus was fatally shot by robbers who demanded his money. News accounts at the time said the shooting happened two blocks from the parade route.
“It’s a horrific thing,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said after Thursday night’s double killing along the parade route. “You saw the worst of it at the Mother’s Day shooting. So obviously, we’re thankful that nobody else got hurt.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.