Revolution #104, October 14, 2007

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New Orleans:


On Monday, October 1, Kerwin James, a well-known and much-loved New Orleans musician, passed away. Following a long-standing New Orleans tradition, musicians gathered that night in the Treme section of New Orleans to “bring him down.” That is, to play music into the night to memorialize James. They played the kind of music James would’ve been playing if he were still alive. And they began to lead a procession, a 2nd line, in his honor. Usually this would go on from the day the musician died until he or she was buried. But as the band struck up “I’ll Fly Away,” a funeral spiritual, something very untraditional happened.

New Orleans police rolled onto the scene and told the musicians to stop playing. They cited complaints they had received and threatened to arrest the musicians if they didn’t stop playing. The musicians and many people who had gathered to watch or to march in the procession told the police that this was something that happened every time a local musician died. But the cops were adamant. If the music and the 2nd line didn’t stop, the musicians would go to jail.

Finally, the musicians stopped playing. But the cops arrested two of them anyway. Glen David Andrews and James Tabb, two brothers who grew up in the New Orleans music scene, were handcuffed and taken away on charges of disturbing the peace and parading without a permit. The police say Andrews and Tabb continued to play while the other 25 musicians stopped, but witnesses say they were singled out because they were vocal in their protest of the suppression of this long-standing tradition and because their height made them stand out.

Police also vowed they wouldn’t allow any more 2nd lining in that neighborhood to continue the memorializing of Kerwin James. This angered many people in the Treme neighborhood where clubs that feature jazz musicians and 2nd lining is a way of life. Area business people quickly set up a meeting with police on Tuesday, and one of them came up with the money to secure permits for parading through the period of bringing Kerwin James down.

But this isn’t a fight that’s been smoothed out. Andrews and Tabb have been released from jail, but the authorities intend to press forward with the charges against them. And they intend to not back off from stopping what they call parading without a permit. And the musicians aren’t backing down either. Andrews and Tabb have said they won’t accept any deal to make the charges go away.

Andrews said, “How am I breaking the law by lifting my voice to god, in honor of my friend?” Tabb said, “…in our eyes, the police were wrong for stopping a peaceful procession.” And, “When it comes to musicians, I don’t feel a dollar should go to permits.”

Activist Jerome Smith condemned this police action as an attempt to suppress the culture of New Orleans. He saw it as linked to the vision the authorities have for New Orleans—they want to see post-Katrina Disneyland-style tourist attractions with co-opted, sanitized aspects of Black culture. And with authentic New Orleans culture, along with much of its Black population, driven out.

It is definitely in line with the way the cops vamp on the people in New Orleans and all across the country. The case of the cops who gunned down people in the back on the Danziger Bridge in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is winding its way through New Orleans’ courts. A minister’s son is going to court this month in neighboring Jefferson Parish, site of the Gretna Bridge where cops forced people back into New Orleans to face Katrina’s flood waters. His crime—being Black and driving a nice car into Jefferson Parish where the sheriff had vowed numerous times to stop Black people driving through his Parish. Just last week, police chased a youth till he jumped into the river and drowned. They say they were trying to apprehend him for fishing without authorization!

Outrages like these point to why it’s right on time to mount powerful resistance to police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation on Oct 22nd.

For more information on the October 22nd protests, or to get involved, call 888-NO BRUTALITY or e-mail

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