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The Mother's Day shootings

Alex Woodward on the week following a bloody Sunday in New Orleans

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A figure in a white T-shirt lifts a gun from his hip and steps from a sidewalk into the street. He raises the gun and fires into a crowd of 200 people. The crowd parts in all directions. The figure runs away.

  Frames from surveillance footage show the panic that interrupted The Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club's annual Mother's Day second line, during which a gunman, alleged to be 19-year-old Akein Scott, sprayed bullets from a 9 mm handgun into a crowd of hundreds. Nineteen people were shot and another was injured in a fall while fleeing the gunfire.

  Victims were rushed to three area hospitals, including LSU Interim University Hospital, where doctors treated 11 people — three of whom were sent to the hospital's intensive care unit and remain in critical condition. Two 10-year-old children were wounded when bullets grazed them.

  By sunset on May 13, less than 48 hours after the shooting and just a few hours after crime scene investigators cleared the area, 200 people once again gathered at the intersection of North Villere and Frenchmen streets, the 7th Ward corner where the shooting happened.

  A few mayoral aides moved a microphone from the sidewalk and into Frenchmen Street. A 10-person-deep crowd of news camera operators, social aid and pleasure club members, local politicians, families and neighbors surrounded Mayor Mitch Landrieu as he rolled up his sleeves and approached the mic. The crowd hushed.

  "Everybody on this street knows that what happened yesterday has nothing to do with the cultural beauty of New Orleans," he said. "It happened during a sacred event. ... We all came out here to reclaim this spot and to say what happened yesterday does not reflect who the people of New Orleans are or what we're about."

  Landrieu echoed New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who addressed the media outside NOPD headquarters on May 13 and said the shooting should not impact second-line culture.

  "There is no question that second lines are a culturally important factor and fact of life in the city of New Orleans," he said. "This we believe had nothing to do with the second line, except it occurred near where the second line was happening."

  Social aid and pleasure clubs made clear there wasn't a question they would second line again. "It's something that's got to go on," said Dismas Johnson, business manager of the Original Big 7.

  A few hours later, NOPD announced Scott was the suspect. Fifth District Detectives Robert Hurst and Rayell Johnson, with supervisors Lt. Chris Hart and Sgt. Gary Lacabe under 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly, were assigned the search for Scott and any accomplices to the shooting.

  On May 15, Big 7 organizers announced its Mother's Day second line will be restaged June 1 — and will try to engage a broader audience.

  Big 7 President Edward Buckner told Gambit the social aid and pleasure club's June 1 second line is not only a chance to "re-do" the Mother's Day event, but to stage a march and take a stand against violence.

  "We're hoping to really push out that we don't just want the march against violence to happen here in New Orleans," he said. "We want this to happen on YouTube, Facebook, all over the country, on June 1, symbolically."

At the May 14 rally, Buckner handed the microphone to 11-year-old Jason Foucher, who had run from the sound of gunshots at the parade.

  "It sounded like a big ol' explosion," he said. "At least my family was safe. At least nobody got killed. ... I was the first one to run."

  "He wasn't scared," said his mother, Monique Foucher. "We asked God to protect us and put a shield around us."

  NOPD procedure for second-line coverage calls for an equal number of officers working around the neighborhood as there are officers working the parade. Social aid and pleasure clubs pay for a police detail, which typically includes 10 to 12 officers for a large parade, and NOPD matches those officers on the streets.

  "There's an agreement between the city of New Orleans and the second lines ... that determines how many officers the clubs will have to pay for on their own," Serpas told Gambit. "We have virtually matched the number of people who are being paid for by the club with our on-duty resources to make sure there are officers present."

  In the event of an emergency, Serpas said officers' priorities are twofold: provide aid to injured people and set up a perimeter and broadcast scene details to other officers.

  "At the end of the day, our first responsibility is to do anything we can to protect life," Serpas said at the May 13 news conference. "Obviously with that many people getting hurt and falling down, our officers were making sure that they were taking care of that first."

Meanwhile, headlines questioned whether the shooting should be considered terrorism and, if so, whether it should receive the sort of attention paid to terrorist acts like the Boston Marathon bombings. Hours after the shooting, FBI New Orleans spokeswoman Mary Beth Romig told the Associated Press that as far as federal investigators knew, the shooting was not an act of terrorism. "It's strictly an act of street violence," Romig said.

  The mayor disagreed. On May 14, Landrieu told WWL-TV's Sally-Ann Roberts he considered the shooting to be an act of terrorism.

  "I've talked about whether people are terrorized by activities," he said. "People use that term in a dramatic way, like it has to be somebody from outside threatening us on the inside. But the truth of the matter is, every day in neighborhoods across the city — this city and other cities — you have families that are afraid of going outside."

  The FBI defines terror officially as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives."

  "We're believing our suspects are local, live here, aren't politically affiliated, aren't radicals or anything like that, and they're not foreign individuals or nationals. For the FBI, that's what we mean by terrorism," Dave Riker, supervisory special agent of the Violent Crime Division for the New Orleans field office of the FBI, told Gambit. "You can say this is definitely urban terrorism, it's urban terror. ... But from the FBI standpoint and for what we deal with on a national level, it's not what we consider terrorism per se."

  By noon May 13, Crimestoppers had received nearly 30 tips related to the shooting. "Any information is helping," Executive Director Darlene Cusanza said. "We're just going to urge everyone else to take the time, think about what you saw, and make that phone call."

  City officials also encouraged people to call. "You have to see and say," New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson said at the news conference May 13. "That is critically important."

  Serpas demanded the suspects turn themselves in to police. "I can assure whoever did this, we know a lot more about you than you think we do," he said. "My recommendation is to collect yourself and turn yourself into the nearest police facility, DA's office or anywhere you may want."

  At a news conference outside Orleans Parish Criminal Court May 14, Landrieu blasted criminal court judges for allowing Scott an opportunity to get back on the street; the teenager was released on bail last month following a March arrest, when he was charged with possession of heroin, possession of stolen firearms and resisting an officer, according to Orleans Parish Criminal Court records. Scott was released on $15,000 bond April 29.

  "I think it was a mistake," Landrieu said, adding that he repeatedly has asked judges to set bail no lower than $30,000 for gun charges. "Unfortunately, some judges in this building have ignored that request."

  Around 10 p.m. May 15, NOPD and the U.S. Marshals' Fugitive Task Force found Scott in the 7500 block of Kingsport Boulevard in Little Woods, a neighborhood in eastern New Orleans. He was processed at Orleans Parish Prison at 3 a.m. and booked with 20 counts of attempted second-degree murder.

Noon, May 16: Two SWAT cars blocked one side of the intersection at North Villere and Frenchmen streets. Dozens of law enforcement officers and officials, including Serpas and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, shook hands before standing alongside Landrieu at a podium set up at the intersection.

  "We all came back here to make it clear that the culture of death and violence of death in New Orleans is unnatural, it's unacceptable and the people of New Orleans have had enough," Landrieu said.

  That morning, Orleans Parish Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen set Scott's bail at $10 million — $500,000 for each count of attempted second-degree murder. (Coincidentally, Scott already was scheduled to appear in court May 16 for drug and gun charges.) Law enforcement officials also announced the arrest of Scott's brother, 24-year-old Shawn Scott, who also was charged with 20 counts of attempted second-degree murder. Serpas also announced the arrests of Justin Alexander, 19; Brandy George, 28; Bionca Hickerson, 22; and Nekia Youngblood, 32, who allegedly helped hide Akein Scott. All have been charged with accessory after the fact to attempted second-degree murder and obstruction of justice for harboring a fugitive.

  "Harboring known criminals is a serious offense," Landrieu said. "These individuals will pay a price. They will pay because the people of this city have said enough is enough and we will not tolerate it."

  In 2007, Shawn Scott pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to five years probation. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin and was out on parole until December 2015.

  "Shawn has a lengthy record and has demonstrated his contempt for New Orleans," Serpas said.

  Landrieu and Serpas noted that the way NOPD and federal agencies pursue violent criminals — coupled with the success of Crimestoppers' anonymous tips — has changed "the rules of the game on the streets."

  "The message to these gang members: You can't scare nobody anymore. And you have no idea who calls us now," Serpas said. "When we say to you, 'We know about you more than you think,' it's the truth." NOPD is "working to build a case around" Shawn, Serpas said. He also said he believes the brothers "worked in concert."

  "We absolutely see some connectivity between the brothers and other crimes we'll be able to talk about in the coming weeks," he said, adding that the brothers led a "criminal lifestyle by choice."

  Serpas said it's likely the brothers are involved in gang activity with the Frenchmen and Derbigny Boys, "which have unfortunately been here since many of us were young officers," he said. "It's generational. ... Not far from here we know there are men who are a part of three, four generations of criminal behavior who choose to do that."

  "Murder and violence continues to hold us back," Landrieu said. "There's too much death and violence in the streets of New Orleans. Though we are not all at fault, every one of us that stands here today, the people in the city of New Orleans, the people in the state and the people of America, are in fact responsible for finding an answer to this problem that has been with us too long. The people of this city are going to reclaim this block, they're going to reclaim this city.

  "We will not bow down."

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