One day after the U.S. Department of Justice released its report limning the New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) constitutional abuses of citizens in scathing detail, NOPD had its first big test of the department's relations with the public. March 19 was St. Joseph's Night, the traditional evening each year when Mardi Gras Indians take to the streets in their elaborate plumage.
NOPD and the Indians have clashed in the past, most notably in 2005, when a skirmish between the two groups led to a City Council hearing at which Big Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas tribe was stricken with a heart attack while at the podium and died in the Council Chamber.
This year, though, relations between Indians and cops Uptown were quite cordial, according to Alison McCrary, an attorney who has worked with the tribes as a legal observer for the past six years. "It was an unprecedented weekend, and we had really been worried," McCrary says, referring to pre-St. Joseph Night flare-ups between the cops and the Indians. Right before the event, members of Mardi Gras Indian tribes had met with NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas, Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo, 6th District Commander Capt. Robert Bardy and others, including representatives from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's and Police Monitor Susan Hutson's offices. "Officers had a notable presence, but they were helping to facilitate the event," McCrary says. The result? A problem-free St. Joseph's Night — and the following day's "Super Sunday" daytime celebration came off without a hitch as well.
The following week, the Indians sent a sheet cake to the Uptown police station. On top, inscribed in icing, was the message "Thank You, 6th District, For a Wonderful Weekend." — Kevin Allman