As Shandreka Leonard’s young son pecked at a slice of pizza, she gave thanks for a beautiful night in St. Roch Park.
Last fall, a 14-year-old member of a youth football team was shot in the park along with his coach, 46. On Sept. 17 of this year, a 15-year-old boy was shot just outside the park.
Sometimes Leonard, 29, fears letting her son play even in their own nearby backyard, worried about stray bullets or fleeing criminals. But on Tuesday night, as hundreds of residents gathered at the park with the mayor and the police chief for the kickoff to the citywide National Night Out Against Crime celebration, she felt safe.
At block parties and inside churches, in front of stages and inside firehouses, residents gathered across the New Orleans region, from a Crimestoppers event at the Bonnabel Boat Launch in Metairie to the Covington Country Club on the north shore to the Hi-Tide Bar & Grill in Venetian Isles in New Orleans East.
At a time of increasing national concern about rising rates in some crime categories including homicides, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and City Council President Jason Williams acknowledged such concerns while emphasizing the importance of community support in fighting crime.
Inside the park, Landrieu said, those in attendance were “standing on what I consider to be sacred ground.”
“This a sacred space to make sure that kids learn the values of life: hard work, discipline, how to resolve differences peacefully,” he said. “This is a community, and it takes all of us to raise children.”
Landrieu was joined by Police Superintendent Michael Harrison and Sheriff Marlin Gusman as well as state and federal officials at St. Roch.
More than 200 events were planned across the city, with more in other nearby parishes.
City worker Debra Johnson said she had considered going to Metairie for the Crimestoppers event because of crime concerns about the St. Roch park, but she decided to stay closer to home because of the heavy police presence.
“It’s different,” she said. “You can come out and feel safe.”
Johnson said she would like to see more cops around more often.
Leonard said nights like Tuesday give her hope for the city.
“It’s helpful to let people know that you care about them,” she said.
When she sees community groups like the Peacekeepers patrolling St. Roch’s streets, she said, she swells with pride.
Leonard said she looks forward to a time when everyone can enjoy the neighborhood in peace.
“Don’t let the crime deter you from New Orleans,” she said.