Katy Reckdahl
Date Published: 
October 2, 2007


Posted by Times-Picayune October 02, 2007 10:34PM
By Katy Reckdahl
Staff writer

Monday, at about 8 p.m., nearly 20 police cars swarmed to a Treme
corner, breaking up a memorial procession and taking away two
well-known neighborhood musicians in handcuffs.

The brothers, snare drummer Derrick Tabb and trombonist Glen David
Andrews, were in a group of two dozen musicians playing a spontaneous
parade for tuba player Kerwin James, who died last week of
complications from a stroke he had suffered after Hurricane Katrina.

The confrontation spurred cries in the neighborhood about the
over-reaction and disproportionate enforcement by police, who had
often turned a blind eye to the traditional memorial ceremonies. Still
others say the incident is a sign of a greater attack on the cultural
history of the old city neighborhood by well-heeled newcomers
attracted to Treme by the very history they seem to threaten.

Police say Monday's response was in part generated from unspecified

Tabb and Andrews face misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and
parading without a permit. But both returned Tuesday night to the
intersection of St. Philip and North Robertson streets to lead another
procession for their friend.

"I got to be here," Andrews said. "Because I have to stand up for what
I believe in."

Peaceful parade

Tuesday's parade was without incident. It was peacefully escorted by
the New Orleans Police Department, thanks to a newly issued permit,
the result of lengthy meetings Tuesday between community groups and
police officials.

Funeral director Louis Charbonnet, a longtime supporter of music in
Treme who also is in charge of James' Saturday funeral service,
confirmed the permit came from those meetings, which he participated
in. He was vague about who paid for the permit. "We've got a permit
and it's paid for," he said.

Some neighbors said buying a permit was a cop-out, arguing the
traditional parades should be unencumbered by the bureaucratic

"It is" a cop out, Charbonnet agreed. "But sometimes you have to do
what you have to do."

As Charbonnet stood waiting for the parade to start, he emphasized
that the meetings already had an effect. "Look around," he said.
"Today you've got police out here protecting people. Yesterday it was
harassment," he said.

Jerome Smith, who runs the Treme Community Center a block from
Monday's arrest scene, said the police response was heavy-handed and
culturally insensitive. He compared it to the Police Department's
heavily criticized treatment of the Mardi Gras Indians on St. Joseph's
night in 2005, which was the topic of Big Chief Tootie Montana's City
Council testimony the night he collapsed and died in the council

First District Capt. Louis Colin avoided such comparisons, defending
his officers' response Monday night. "If a law is being violated, we
have to uphold the law," he said. But after Tuesday's meetings, he
said he is determined to work with neighbors to find "long-term
solutions" to this issue.

'I need to be here'

Lifelong Treme resident Beverly Curry, 65, is one who believes that
permits should not be required for the neighborhood memorial parades.
Despite a failing leg, Curry made it to the procession's start Tuesday
night. "I need to be here, to show my support for our heritage," she

For a century, she said, that heritage has included impromptu
second-line parades for musicians who die, "from the day they pass
until the day they're put in the ground," she said. Those memorial
processions still occur with regularity, without permits, as is the
tradition. But, increasingly, NOPD officers have been halting them,
citing complaints from neighbors and incidents of violence at similar

In some ways, the police complaints parallel those NOPD officials
raised earlier this year, as they defended the high permit fees that
the department was charging New Orleans' weekly second-line parades,
hosted by social aid and pleasure clubs. Ultimately, the NOPD settled
that suit, assessing much lower rates to allow the clubs to parade.
Club members saw the court victory as an admission by police officials
that they had been insensitive to New Orleans' culture.

But Curry and other longtime residents point fingers at Treme
newcomers, who buy up the neighborhood's historic properties, then
complain about a jazz culture that is just as longstanding and just as
lauded as the neighborhood's architecture.

"They want to live in the Treme, but they want it for their ways of
living," Curry said.

For newly arrived neighbors, Curry sometimes serves as a cultural
interpreter. "I tell them, 'When someone dies in the Treme, you're
going to hear a band,'¤" she said. But to those neighbors dismayed by
the noise or the crowds that come along with those bands, Curry is
stern. "I say, 'You found us doing this -- this is our way," she said.
Mourning a friend

On Monday night, about 25 of the city's top-rung brass-band musicians
mourned Kerwin James the way they hope to be mourned themselves: They
paraded around Treme, taking the same well-trod route that the
spontaneous parades often take. They started at the corner of North
Robertson and St. Philip streets, then criss-crossed through the quiet
streets of old Treme, which stretches from Esplanade Avenue to Basin
Street, from Rampart Street to Claiborne Avenue.

On horns and drums were James' lifelong friends, bandmates from the
New Birth Brass Band and members of the Rebirth Brass Band, including
James' brother, tuba player Phil Frazier. Dancing along with the band
was a crowd of about 100 people, including about 30 children. At some
street corners, the band stopped and played for a few minutes while
fancy dancers strutted and dipped and elderly neighbors in bathrobes
stepped out onto their stoops to wave and give their condolences to
James' family.

Then, about 8 p.m., a squad car pulled up behind the parade, which was
just yards from its ending point, back at the corner of North
Robertson and St. Philip.

When a New Orleans Police Department car approaches, musicians say
they never know what's ahead.

Sometimes a squad car arrives and quietly follows the parade. Other
times, an officer will emerge and ask for the bandleader, then discuss
the reason for the parade and the planned route. In those cases, the
two parties may negotiate a different route or ending point, but the
parade typically is allowed to continue.

But on Monday night, the squad car meant the parade was over. The band
had just launched into the funeral hymn, "I'll Fly Away," and some
musicians had tears running down their faces as they sang the lyrics:
"One glad morning, when this life is over, I'll fly away. When I die,
hallelujah by and by, I'll fly away." At that point, officers used the
car's intercom to tell band members that if they continued playing,
they would be arrested.

Most musicians kept playing, as they walked into the parking lot. "I
wasn't trying to defy police," one trombone player said. "But I was
just carried by emotion."

Officers repeated their message, with little effect, so they began
running into the crowd and grabbing anyone with an instrument. Some
officers grabbed at mouthpieces, others tried to seize drumsticks out
of hands.

James' sister, Nicole James-Francois was shocked. "There were so many
police cars," she said. The scene was so peaceful and beautiful while
the band was playing the hymn, she said. "Then it become almost
something demonic, with all these officers saying, 'Don't you play.' "

Soon, 20 squad cars were lining the blocks of North Robertson between
St. Philip and Dumaine streets, filling the night with red and blue
flashing lights. 

'A part of life'

Warren Johnson, 65, who had walked out of his door and followed the
parade, said that he knew that James had died, so he wasn't surprised
to see the procession. "Second lines in the Treme are a part of life -
that's what the Treme area is known for," he said quietly to an

Sgt. Ronald Dassel, among the first ranking officer at the scene,
understood Johnson's point, but said it didn't matter. "We don't
change laws for neighborhoods," he said.

Oddly, one result of Tuesday's marathon meetings may be exactly that:
relaxed standards for these impromptu processions, specifically to
accommodate Treme's musical tradition. "Good things came out of our
meetings," Colin said. But the charges against Tabb and Andrews, he
said, would move forward.

At the end of the parade, Tabb walked around and thanked all the
officers personally.

Kerwin James' brother, Phil Frazier, also greeted officers along the
parade route. But he wasn't sure about the need for a paid permit. "I
feel odd," he said, slipping his tuba off his shoulders. "Because
we've never had to do it before."

Katy Reckdahl can be reached at kreckdahl [at] timespicayune [dot] com or (504)