The second-line culture has never been about violence
28th May 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Awareness began when on June 27, 2005 Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana stood at the podium in the New Orleans City Council Chambers and declared, “This has got to stop!” Montana, the Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian gang and recognized as the Chief of Chiefs of the Mardi Gras Indian Nation, was speaking of the disrespect for and the harassment against the Black Indians in general and the horrendous mistreatment of the culture during their traditional activities on St. Joseph’s Night, March 19, 2005, when the police went wild zooming around trying to get the Indians off the streets.
Those were the last words of the great Chief, who then collapsed and died surrounded by his fellow chiefs and Mardi Gras Indians from throughout the Nation.
When such a respected man dies, especially in such a public and dramatic manner, people far beyond the neighborhoods where the rich Indian and street culture are a way of life take notice. After all, Montana, 82, had been celebrated in an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art and thus was no ordinary citizen or someone to be feared or controlled by the populace or the police.
Things changed after Tootie stood up. Those who, perhaps, had never even experienced the Mardi Gras Indians or a social aid and pleasure club parade became interested in and concerned about the culture. During the subsequent St. Joseph’s Night activities, the police helped rather than hindered the movements of the Indians as they roamed in all their glorious splendor under the moon and street lights.
Things changed at the social aid and pleasure clubs’ annual anniversary parades as well. Where at one time, the sirens from the police cars would cause an ungodly racket as the officers would try to push the second liners along or break up a crowd at the end of the four-hour parades, the New Orleans Police parade escorts, which are required at every social aid and pleasure club second line, mellowed while still doing their job to protect the crowd and control traffic.
It was Tootie’s stand that ultimately resulted in both the City’s and the New Orleans Police Department’s separating the mass shootings at the Original Big 7 Social Aid & Pleasure Club’s parade from the second-line culture itself. Not that long ago, the second-line tradition would surely have been blamed for the violence. In many instances, if a shooting occurred even blocks or hours away from a parade, it would be cited by the police and reiterated by the media as being central to the incident. “Good citizens” would thus look askance with horror.
On the street, the let’s go get ‘em tune, “Who Dat Call the Police?” with its response, “Dem hoes called the police!” raged all over the anniversary parades when it was introduced by the Soul Rebels in 1997. Almost every brass band played the rousing anthem, which was also recorded by the New Birth Brass Band. It was guaranteed to get a crowd rolling every time. The obvious message was that only “hoes” or low-lifes would dial up the authorities.
It has been reported that a number of people did call the police to identify the alleged shooters at the Original Big 7 Social Aid & Pleasure Club’s Mother’s Day parade. The crime was so horrific that the response does seem natural. Yet, it’s interesting to contemplate what the reaction would have been by the City, the police and the street community without Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana’s final words on his magnificent, last stand evening, “This has got to stop!” It is hopeful that the respect of the culture by the establishment has helped gain the trust of the community.
The first second line following the horrifically violent incident was presented by the Divine Ladies Social & Pleasure Club and was dedicated to the 19 victims who were viciously and senselessly shot. Considering what had occurred the previous Sunday, some in attendance thought there might be an unusually, or even uncomfortably, high police presence at the event. Instead, the police, who were, of course, out in force, maintained a low profile and many rode bicycles along the route. It was a happy day for all with many people celebrating the mere fact that the second-line tradition lives on.
This article originally published in the May 27, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.