New Orleans crime concerns underpin celebration as Carnival season kicks off

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans kicked off its annual Carnival season Friday, a weeklong celebration of merry street parties, lavish dancing and colorful parades, complicated this year by concerns about crime and a dwindling police force than last year. forced shortening of the Mardi Gras parade routes.

City officials ushered in the pre-Lenten season by dancing at an event amid marching band music, costumed revelers and giant figures of jesters and fantasy characters at Mardi Gras World along the Mississippi River. The cavernous place is where many parade floats are assembled and stored.

Other signs the city was ready for Mardi Gras: Restaurants and bars began selling King Cake, a sugary seasonal delicacy, in earnest; a group of masked revelers known as the Phunny Phorty Phellows heralded Carnival with their annual nightly trolley ride down the historic tracks of St. Charles Avenue; and the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc, would march through the French Quarter.

But the celebratory mood was underpinned by concerns about the continuation of violent crime that has taken hold during the pandemic, complicated by a police force that by various estimates has dwindled to around 900 members. That’s hundreds less than what local experts say is needed.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell addressed the topic of policing at the morning event, announcing that the city planned to pay officers from outside law enforcement agencies to bolster local law enforcement during the season.

He also remained hopeful that parade routes could be restored to their traditional lengths, a potential boon for restaurants and bars that lost revenue last year due to shorter routes and the year before when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled parades. parades completely. And he said that arrangements have already been made to restore the traditional route for one of the most popular processions, Endymion, on February 18.

“If we collectively find the necessary officers to support our teams returning to the streets of New Orleans, there won’t be a real discussion about which routes will or won’t be affected,” Cantrell said.

Carnival officially begins each year on January 6, the 12th day after Christmas, known as King’s Day in New Orleans. It continues through Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras falls on February 21 of this year.

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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