Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday exhorted New Orleanians to embrace “community over chaos” and division and particularly to bridge the “very real divide” between citizens and the police.
“All lives matter. From the riots in Ferguson (Missouri) to the shootings of police officers and the daily death and destruction on our streets, make no mistake, it is all part of the same whole poisonous fruit harvested from the same tree of hatred, of violence, of division, of economic injustice,” Landrieu told the crowd gathered in front of City Hall for the city’s annual celebration of the life of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Until we as a community choose community over chaos, until we weep and all march for every life lost, until we break down the barriers between the police and the community, until we speak for each other’s right and strive to fulfill that great promise of America, we will not know peace. But we will when we do,” the mayor said.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2015 comes after months of protests around the nation over police killings of black men in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere. The movement, sparked by young civil rights activists, has been summed up with a hashtag that is also a rallying cry: #BlackLivesMatter.
The holiday also follows the murder of two New York police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were shot to death while on duty in apparent retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, black men who were killed by police last year.
Landrieu said those incidents and others have left the nation divided.
“To heal our divisions, we have to be able to hear each other. We have to be able to see each other. We have to be able to listen to each other. We have to be able to understand each other,” Landrieu said. “That is what choosing community is about. It is a choice. It is a way. It is a decision.”
He urged New Orleanians to express empathy in their dealings with police, “our brothers and sisters,” the majority of whom show up to work each day and do the right thing, he said.
“The streets are a dangerous place from time to time for those who protect and serve, and so we have to take a moment not just to remember the young men and women that were taken from us on the streets, but we have to remember the police officers that were shot,” Landrieu said, recalling Liu, Ramos and Rodney Thomas, an off-duty New Orleans police officer who was killed in 2013 by a hit-and-run driver.
While empathizing with what police go through, Landrieu said it is important to pay proper attention to citizens’ concerns about some law enforcement officers. Those problems are “real. They’re deep and they’re wide,” he said.
Ultimately, however, he said all people should be unified by their common quests for peace, prosperity, safety and the desire to create a better world for generations to follow.
“If we make that choice, once we start to listen rather than speak, see rather than look away from one another, we will realize a simple truth. … We’re all the same,” Landrieu said. “Until all lives matter, all lives matter, we will not make progress.”
Landrieu delivered the final address of a morning gathering that also included remarks from several religious leaders, artist and Exhibit Be creator Brandan Odums and rapper David Augustine, who goes by the stage name Dee 1.
Augustine delivered the program’s keynote address.
Speaking directly to young people, he urged them to develop a “mission vision,” or declaration of purpose, that allows them to be solutions to the city’s and nation’s problems.
Following the addresses, hundreds of people marched from City Hall to the Martin Luther King monument on South Claiborne Avenue.
A “vision board” — a collage of affirmations, pictures, images, goals and other things that help one visualize an ideal life — was left at the site. Residents are invited to write messages and post photographs on it expressing the vision they have for the city.