Mardi Gras brings joy, but also concern about violent crime

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New Orleans' annual Carnival season entered its crescendo Tuesday with thousands of revelers gathering in the French Quarter and lining up miles of parade routes in a citywide Mardi Gras celebration fueled this year by concerns about violent crime and unrest. policy .

The celebrations began before dawn in some parts of the city. Television crews captured footage of The North Side Skull and Bones gang, revelers dressed as skeletons, sweeping through the Treme area to wake people up for Mardi Gras. As the sun rose, peeking through the gaps in the cloudy sky, parade watchers were already claiming spots along the St. Charles Avenue parade route. The smell of barbecue wafted through the Central Business District.

Revelers were undeterred by the violence that marred a dazzling weekend parade. Gunshots that erupted during a parade on Sunday night left a teenager dead and four others injured, including a 4-year-old girl. Police quickly arrested 21-year-old Mansour Mbodj for illegally carrying a weapon, later upgrading the charge to second-degree murder.

Authorities stressed Monday that the shooting was an isolated event.

“It's discouraging, but it won't stop me from coming,” said Roz Walker, 55. She and her friend Tracy Dunbar are Baton Rouge residents who were in the crowds waiting for the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the Rex parades. Organization. They have been visiting New Orleans at Mardi Gras for decades.

“In our more than 40 years of attending Mardi Gras we have never been involved in any situation,” he said.

First-time Mardi Gras attendee Ken Traylor of Houston had heard about the shooting but shrugged it off. “I just think you have to be careful with your surroundings,” he said. “Things happen everywhere these days.”

The crime has contributed to dissatisfaction with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell. He won re-election easily in 2021, but has suffered a host of political troubles since then, including criticism of crime, the slow pace of major street repairs and questions about his 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-ditch effort.

“We're going to have people walking the parade routes,” Carter said. “That has been really helpful for us.”

There was no sign of political rancor as Cantrell watched the St. Charles Avenue parades from a restricted-access checkpoint with city council members outside Gallier Hall, the 19th-century Grecian Revival building that once served as City Hall. . He greeted the Zulu parade leaders with hearty shouts of "Hail Zulu!" in a traditional tribute to the mayor's office.

It was a stark contrast to a scene from the weekend when Cantrell was captured on social media video gesturing the middle finger as a parade passed a city checkpoint. What prompted 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 when satire and jokes are on full display," spokesman Gregory Joseph said in a prepared statement. “The city has been enjoying a safe and healthy Carnival,” the statement said, adding that the mayor looked forward to continuing the celebration.

It was a non-stop costume party through the streets of the French Quarter, where carnival revelers often gather for a more mischievous experience. And some costumes were topical.

Jerome FitzGibbons wore a fake nose, mustache and glasses and used binoculars as he strolled down Chartres Street with a large white sphere strapped to the top of his head - it was a Chinese spy balloon. He and his wife, Jennifer, dressed similarly, moved to New Orleans from New Jersey.

“This is our kind of crazy,” he said.

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

New Orleans' raucous celebration is the best known in the country, but the holiday is also celebrated in much of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Mobile, Alabama, claims the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country.

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