NEW ORLEANS — A clean-up effort drew more than 50 people to the French Quarter on Saturday morning to remove graffiti and show citizen commitment to fighting vandalism in the historic neighborhood.
The event, put on by the Vieux Carre Graffiti Abatement Program and French Quarter Business Association, invited volunteers to rally at 9 a.m. at the New Orleans Police Department’s 8th District substation, 334 Royal St.
There, groups of 10 formed, grabbed supplies, and quickly dispersed to locations from the river to Rampart Street and from Iberville Street to Esplanade Avenue.
Volunteers, easily spotted in their free, neon-green T-shirts, scraped and scrubbed stickers and marks from a variety of city surfaces including walls, signs, and waste cans.
One volunteer, Metairie resident Janet Freitag, said she and her husband volunteered to clean up the area because, “Ever since Katrina, we’ve wanted to do something to volunteer but never could make it, so it was just time to give back to the city.
“There is graffiti on signs and poles and it is not artwork, it’s defacing the property,” she said.
Annie Flettrich, executive director of the French Quarter Business Association, spoke out against graffiti, too.
“It’s actually a felony to put graffiti on any of the buildings in the French Quarter because the entire neighborhood is a historic landmark and so that’s a state law,” Flettrich said.
Vieux Carre Graffiti Abatement Program founder Gene Sausse explained he cares so much for the neighborhood because he is a lifelong resident of Louisiana.
“I’m New Orleans to the core and this is just something that’s important to me and it’s our image, it’s the perception that people take home when they leave,” Sausse said. “It’s not just a party place, it’s also a beautiful place.”
“Graffiti is so offensive on these historic buildings,” said abatement program volunteer Gail Cavett. “There’s only one French Quarter and when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Graffiti, Cavett said, “is a serious criminal offense. The police take it seriously and the district attorney takes it seriously and so do we.”
Flettrich said of the neighborhood, “You want it to be clean and you want it to feel safe and I think graffiti is perceived as unsafe.”
Robert Simms, retired aerospace engineer, has lived in the French Quarter for more than five years and currently serves as chairman of the security task force of the French Quarter Management District.
Simms agreed measures could be taken to improve security in the Quarter. In fact, that is why he has been so active with an initiative known as SafeCams8.
“If you have a camera on your business or residence, you register it with the police and they now know you have that camera, so if a crime occurs … they can immediately pull this database up,” Simms said in explaining how SafeCams8 operates.
There are now 650 such cameras linked with the Police Department’s 8th District in neighborhoods including the Central Business District, Marigny, and French Quarter, Simms said, with 550 cameras in the Quarter alone.
“NOPD doesn’t have enough resources, nobody will disagree with that, so if we’re going to make the Quarter a safer place, we’ve got to help NOPD,” Simms said.
Businesses or residences looking to register with SafeCams8 are asked to visit fqmd.org.
“If we’re going to thrive as a city,” Simms said, “we need a vibrant French Quarter.”