At the stroke of midnight this past Tuesday, the New Orleans Police Department shut down the street to let municipal cleaning crews restore the city to its pre-Mardi Gras state. Several hours later, sleepy-eyed travelers with bags of plastic beads wheeled their suitcases down the freshly hosed down sidewalks on their way to the airport. The city is tired. The visitors are tired and the locals are tired. So marks the end of another successful parade season.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for other large metropolitan cities that tried to import the historic pre-Lenten party.
According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly five dozen people were injured during the riotous melee in Seattle. On of these was a man who fell off an overpass during the festivities. In Fresno, Ca., people were setting fires, throwing bottles at police offices and overturning portable toilets.
The events in Seattle have prompted the mayor to reconsider holding the celebration again next year.
However, nothing is more disturbing than what transpired on the streets of Philadelphia. Drunken partygoers smashed windows, looted stores and attempted to over turn cars. Nine were charged with burglary, three with robbery and two with the aggravated assault of a police officer. The saddest part is, according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, most of the offenders showed no remorse for their actions.
Storeowners are blaming the bars for opening at 7 a.m. and continuing to serve alcohol until late into the night. Truthfully, someone who has been drinking for 12 consecutive hours wouldn’t have the mental or physical capacity to cause a great deal of destruction.
For New Orleans, Mardi Gras isn’t just two weeks of debauchery and binge drinking. It is a part of the city and a part of its history. The locals take pride in decorating their houses and camping out for good seats along the parade route.
The fault for what happened doesn’t lie with the bars nor does it lie with the fact that most of the offenders were from out of town. New Orleans has held Mardi Gras for over 150 years and this year attracted a record 2 million people. According to the NOPD, arrests were down 13 percent. During the 12-day party, NOPD made 589 arrests. That’s about 42 arrests a day; half were for lewdness and 100 were for public drunkenness.
The police have to be commended for their outstanding crowd control. In the past years, they have learned to take a hands-off approach and even interact with the crowd leading sing-a-longs while waiting for the next parade to roll through.
This isn’t to say that the NOPD isn’t lax on those who endanger the safety of the public. Partygoers who are arrested are sometimes paraded down the street to the cheering, taunting and pointing of onlookers.
While fear filled the streets of Philadelphia, another f-word could be used to describe the party going on simultaneously in the Big Easy – fun. The only fear is from getting a concussion from heavy beads, doubloons and cups that are hurled off floats by overzealous, overly drunk Krewe members.
There isn’t any fear walking down St. Charles Street at 3 a.m. because New Orleans has something the other cities didn’t: Respect. Visitors respect the town and the locals. No one wants to walk by the portable toilets on Bourbon Street much less knock one over. But more importantly, people respect each other. They understand ‘no’ means no.
In 150 years there has never been a massive violent outburst so obviously New Orleans is doing something right. It goes to show that you may be able to import King Cakes, but you can’t import the party.