A CAUTIONARY TALE
It’s that time of year again. Mardi Gras.
That means drunkenness, fisticuffs, battles with police, and the police turning a blind eye to arrests so as not to give the parades a bad name. Police informants have told me how teenage drunks are corralled and then let go so the numbers don’t show up on the rap sheets. That way, the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau can brag about the millions of dollars of economic impact the parades have on the city. Really? I don’t know of anyone who believes that. For me, I have never believed those figures and consider them just a bunch of hype.
But the krewes of Centaur and Gemini have done a good job of embedding themselves into the Shreveport fabric. They have become all-powerful, fearing neither the mayor, the city council or any other government entity for that matter. Never mind that the costs to put on these parades eat up most of what profits come from them. And if the parades are such a money-making business, how about contributing to the costs of putting on the parades?
I remember several years ago when we came close to changing the route of the parades. I was scheduled to speak before the Public Safety Committee of the city council. That’s when Preston Friedley, who owned a UPS store on Shreveport- Barksdale Highway, showed up. He had taken a survey of all the stores in Shreve City and along Shreveport-Barksdale Highway. He reported to me that all but two stores were opposed to the parades."These areas are in virtual lock-down, unable to leave their homes for any reason. And heaven forbid should there be a fire or medical emergency.”
Armed with that information, we proceeded to the committee meeting. But then a strange thing happened. When we arrived at the committee, Friedley saw some of his old buddies sitting with krewe members. He immediately abandoned me and went and sat with them. So much for the survey. He changed his whole story. I lost a lot of respect for Preston Friedley on that day.
Oh, there were a few allies, such as then-Fire Chief Brian Crawford, who said the parades were a disaster waiting to happen. But the members of the Public Safety Committee bought into the krewes’ bombastic description of the parades and what a great thing they were for the community. Go figure. I bet a similar survey today would produce the same results that Friedley had back then.
Of course, most of the members of the committee are not directly affected by the parades. The areas that have to suffer on two Saturdays each year are Shreve Island, Broadmoor, Kings Highway and the Captain Shreve area. These areas are in virtual lock-down, unable to leave their homes for any reason. And heaven forbid should there be a fire or medical emergency.
There are many stories about trying to get people out of the area for medical treatment. Carrying someone blocks until they could reach an ambulance is one of them. But it was all done hush-hush so as not to create a problem for the krewes. Through it all, the krewes are oblivious, pushing their way into the residential neighborhoods. And the revelers show no mercy to the yards of residents, even doing their business in them.
To be sure, there have been bad accidents through the years along the route of Shreveport-Barksdale Highway and along Kings Highway. But they receive little publicity because even the local news media has bought into the parade fiasco. One station even televises the whole parade and makes a big deal out of catching some cheap plastic beads. They televise the loading of the floats and go bedazzled over it all.
For years now – far too many years – residents of the lock-down areas have been calling for the parade routes to be changed. Their cries have fallen on deaf ears. The logical route for the parades would be for them to stay on Clyde Fant Parkway. Doing so would allow businesses in Shreve City, where most of the drunkenness takes place, to remain open, as well as the businesses on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway. And most importantly, it would end the lockdowns in the residential neighborhoods.
The problem is the lock-down area is a small part of the city and has little clout with city leaders. City Councilman Oliver Jenkins has been reluctant to take on the krewes and discuss the parade route. So have Commissioners Mike Middleton and Matthew Linn. If the parades were given a different route each year, you would likely see some opposition to the parades. But unless you are adversely impacted, there is little concern.
Wouldn’t it be a miracle if one of the high mucky-mucks with the krewes would do the right thing and propose a change to the parade route? Well, I don’t look for that to happen. They prefer the childish titles they give one another to make them feel important. So be prepared to go through another Mardi Gras season. God help us have a safe one.
Lou Gehrig Burnett, an award-winning journalist, has been involved with politics for 44 years and was a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., for 27 years. He also served as executive assistant to former Shreveport Mayor “Bo” Williams. Burnett is the publisher of the weekly “FaxNet Update” and can be reached at 861-0552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.