June 24th, 2024

Mardi Gras ebullience intersects with crime worry, politics

By Kevin Mcgill, The Associated Press on February 20, 2023.

Zulu king and queen couple, Nicholls "Nick" Spears Sr. and Christy Lagarde Spears toast during the annual meeting of the courts ceremony on Lundi Gras in Kenner, La., Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. (David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – New Orleans’ annual Carnival season entered its ebullient crescendo Tuesday with thousands of revelers expected to pack the French Quarter and line miles of parade routes in a citywide Mardi Gras celebration underpinned this year by violent crime concerns and political turmoil.

Gunfire that broke out during a parade Sunday night left a teenager dead and four others injured, including a 4-year-old girl. Police quickly arrested Mansour Mbodj, 21, for illegally carrying a weapon, then upgraded the charge to second-degree murder.

Officials stressed Monday that the shooting was an isolated event.

The violence appeared to have little effect on Monday night crowds. St. Charles Avenue, including the area where gunfire broke out, was again lined with people dancing, drinking and eating in a football tailgate atmosphere as they awaited the evening’s parades. The French Quarter was packed with partiers wandering among bars, restaurants and strip clubs.

Revelers shrugged off crime at an afternoon riverside park event celebrating this year’s king and queen of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

“I think whatever it was, it was a private dispute that happened in a public place,” said Chris Flug of New Orleans, referencing the Sunday night shooting. “It’s always sad when gun violence takes a life, but it shouldn’t taint the city or the event. You can’t predict people’s behavior.”

Crime has contributed to dissatisfaction with Mayor LaToya Cantrell. She won re-election easily in 2021, but has suffered a myriad of political problems since, including criticism about crime, the slow pace of major street repairs and questions over her personal use of a city-owned French Quarter apartment.

A recall petition launched last year is nearing a Wednesday deadline. One of the organizers, Eileen Carter, said she believes the movement has enough signatures, but will make a last-minute push.

“We’re going to have people canvassing the parade routes,” Carter said. “That’s been really helpful to us.”

Fueling the political tumult: Cantrell was captured in a social media video gesturing with her middle-finger as a parade passed by a city reviewing stand over the weekend. What sparked the gesture was unclear. The mayor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. A statement given to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate shed little light.

“Mardi Gras is a time where satire and jest are on full display,” spokesperson Gregory Joseph said in a prepared statement. “The city has been enjoying a safe and healthy Carnival,” the statement said, adding that the mayor was looking forward to continuing the celebration.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the culmination of Carnival season, which officially begins each year on Jan. 6, the 12th day after Christmas, and closes with the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

New Orleans’ raucous celebration is the nation’s most well-known, but the holiday is also celebrated throughout much of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Mobile, Alabama, lays claim to the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country.

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