That didn’t take long. On Thursday night, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell threatened the possibility of canceling Mardi Gras in 2023 because of the hemorrhaging of police officers in the city. She quickly moved to clean up her remarks as the criticism came quickly. She didn’t mean to say she would cancel Mardi Gras when she said she’d cancel Mardi Gras.
You be the judge. “If we don’t have adequate police, it could mean that there will be no Mardi Gras. That’s a fact,” Cantrell said at the conclusion of a community meeting Thursday night. She was sending a message during the community meeting that without adequate personnel, public safety is compromised during such huge events as Mardi Gras, an event that brings more than a million visitors to parades and activities each year.
Like cities across the country, New Orleans Police Department is experiencing shortages of personnel. The reasons are many but the Defund the Police movement and the general attitude by large parts of the population toward police officers has taken a toll. Recruitment is down. Retirements are up.
New Orleans had by far the highest murder rate per capita of any U.S. city during the first half of 2022, Cantrell will ask that a federal consent decree put into effect during the Obama administration be dismissed as she thinks it adds to the problems of the police officers. It handcuffs them and causes distrust between officers and management.
One festival has been canceled due to concerns about monkeypox.
New Orleans canceled the Bourbon Street Extravaganza concert that had been scheduled for September 3 due to concerns about the spread of monkeypox. The concert takes place during Southern Decadence, one of the largest LGBTQ+ events in the United States. City health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno has warned Southern Decadence “will be a superspreader event” if the city does not receive significantly more monkeypox vaccines.
There is really no such thing as truly canceling Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is a holiday rooted in Catholic tradition and celebrated in many places around the world. On Thursday night, Cantrell said the safety of police officers was her top priority.
“Look, you know I don’t want to cancel no Mardi Gras, no not at all,” Cantrell added soon after. “But when it comes to jeopardizing the safety of the men and women who make that ultimate sacrifice and kiss their families when they leave every day and hope to come home at night or in the morning, they are the priority.”
By Friday, the mayor released a statement that no, Mardi Gras will not be canceled.
The statement suggested Cantrell was considering a repeat of the drastic step taken in 2021, when she canceled all parades and other public Carnival events to slow the spread of COVID-19. But this time, it was due to the struggles of the NOPD in recruiting and retaining officers.
By Friday afternoon, however, whatever Cantrell had meant to say, she had unsaid it.
“We ARE NOT canceling Mardi Gras,” the mayor said in a prepared statement.
The mayor can limit parades and public celebrations, though. In her statement on Friday, she didn’t really explain what she meant on Thursday night. But, she stressed that she’s committed to public safety.
Cantrell’s statement affirming that Carnival would proceed didn’t explain what she had meant the night before. But it provided some details on the NOPD manpower shortage and the city’s efforts to boost its ranks, including improving facilities, adding new technologies and other steps.
“The City of New Orleans remains committed to delivering critical resources needed for our public safety agencies, while also continuing to safely host large-scale events that allow us to celebrate our beloved culture,” Cantrell said.
While the prospect of canceling parades or other events due to issues with the police force was surprising, it wouldn’t have been unprecedented. In 1979, a police strike led to the cancellation of parades in Orleans Parish. And earlier this year, several parades were shortened or rerouted from their traditional paths because of concerns related to how many officers would be able to provide security.
City Council members and Police Chief Shaun Ferguson are asking for planning, not panic.
And even before Cantrell affirmed on Friday that Carnival would take place in 2023, others were also urging a measured look at the situation. During a City Council meeting on Friday morning, Police Chief Shaun Ferguson told council members the NOPD still needs to conduct a needs assessment on Mardi Gras before making any decisions.
“I don’t think now is the time to panic. Now is the time to plan,” the chief said.
Council President Helena Moreno agreed, though she added a swipe at the mayor.
“Let’s not make irresponsible comments and create panic,” she said.
We’ll see what comes next.