Imagine going to a Mardi Gras parade with your family in New Orleans. You pick a good spot on St. Charles Avenue, unfold the lawn chairs and tell your kids to stay out of the street once the parade starts. Then the floats start moving. You enjoy the moment until the shooting begins. That was the scene in Central City on Fat Tuesday last year, when two men died in a gunfight as a parade rolled past. It wasn’t an isolated incident.
Months later, 10 people were shot on Bourbon Street. The shooting – believed to be a violent battle between thugs that caught innocents in the crosshairs – took the life of a young nursing student and spilled blood on a French Quarter street that is always thick with tourists. Gunfire during broad daylight often competes with the clatter of the streetcars throughout New Orleans.
As a father, the violence concerns me. Our kids shouldn’t have to invest in bulletproof vests just to attend a Mardi Gras Parade on St. Charles Avenue. As state treasurer, the violence concerns me from a financial standpoint. New Orleans generates more than $300 million a year in state sales and income taxes. That money helps support the state budget, and it comes from tourists and residents, who won’t visit or will move if the violence continues.
We’ve got to get the thugs, the dope and the illegal guns off the streets. The only way to do that is to empower our police by allowing them to use the law enforcement procedure called stop-question-and-frisk. Stop-question-and-frisk, sometimes called stop-and-frisk, was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Court held, allows a police officer to stop, question and, if necessary, frisk a suspect without probable cause to arrest if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the suspect has committed or is about to commit a crime. “Reasonable suspicion” is not hard evidence, but it is more than a hunch. For example, reasonable suspicion exists if an officer sees someone with a coat hanger peering into parked cars. The officer does not have probable cause to arrest the suspect – the officer has not seen the suspect commit a crime – but the officer can stop, question and, if necessary, pat down the suspect for a weapon.
Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg used stop-and-frisk to clean up New York City. Violent crimes fell 29 percent from 2001 to 2010. The violent crime rate in NYC has gone up since Mayor de Blasio curtailed the use of stop-and-frisk. Now I know the ACLU is going to object. The ACLU thinks stop-and-frisk inevitably leads to racial profiling. The ACLU thinks that every New Orleans cop is a racist. I don’t. Racial profiling is wrong, but the NOPD is one of the most diverse police forces in the country, and I don’t believe the NOPD will engage in some vast conspiracy to deny people their constitutional rights.
Please don’t get me wrong. New Orleans is a magnificent city. People flock there from across the globe to sample the food, the jazz and the history. New Orleans is the town of Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino. It’s where many Acadians first set foot on Louisiana’s shore after their expulsion from Nova Scotia. It’s where a college dropout named William Faulkner discovered he had a knack for writing. In many ways, New Orleans is one of the cultural cornerstones of Louisiana.
When you’re presented with a problem, you have to settle on a solution. It’s the only way ahead. And New Orleans has a problem: crime. Crime has the city by the throat, chasing away tourists and hard-working Louisiana citizens.
There is also a solution. We’ve got to pursue a stop-question-and-frisk program in New Orleans to get the thugs, the dope and the illegal guns off the streets. Once the thugs get the idea that they can be stopped, questioned and frisked, they won’t carry illegal guns. Once they stop carrying illegal guns, there won’t be shootings at Mardi Gras parades and in the French Quarter. It’s that simple. New Orleans is too important to the rest of the state for us not to take action.
John Kennedy is Treasurer for the State of Louisiana.