OP-ED: Deadly beads and the Feds

As Mardi Gras weekend beckons to us for the next several days of fun and frolicking, we are reminded of the high cost that can be paid for trying to catch throws or even to ride in a parade.

Through decades of improvements, the Mardi Gras krewes have gone from throwing common glass or plastic beads of no more than seven to nine inches to today’s massive strands that can stretch more than a yard in circumference. Following innovations like doubloons and cups, today’s krewes have become more interested in throwing individually-crafted collectibles like the Zulu coconuts, the Muses shoes, the Iris sunglasses and the Nyx purses or branded products unique to each krewe and thrown only by them.

It is only human nature to want to get as many goodies as one can, either for one’s self or to save for little ones. That is part of the joy of the Carnival season, but on Wednesday night that joy turned into tragedy when a festive parade goer thought she could negotiate the space between a moving float and tripped on the hitch that connected the second portion of tandem float number 21 in the Krewe of Nyx.

Falling uncontrollably onto the pavement, she was crushed beneath the moving float’s wheels and died immediately at the scene. Float 21’s tractor driver was stopped a block away and was visibly shaken up by the ordeal. He was unaware of the accident at the time.

The festive mood turned ghastly very quickly as police cordoned off the area that was once a parade and transformed it into a crime scene. Mayor LaToya Cantell met Chief of Police Shaun Ferguson at the scene and he made the judgment that no further floats or marching units would be permitted to move from that spot.

Yesterday, the Mayor and N.O.P.D. officials were forced to make an unenviable decision in cancelling all parades scheduled for Thursday night. The Krewe of Nyx and Knights of Babylon will roll early this afternoon prior to the Krewe of Hermes parade that leads the way for the satiric Krewes D’Etat and Morpheus. The Knights of Chaos chose to follow the Krewe of Thoth on Sunday afternoon several hours prior to the start of the Krewe of Bacchus.

But the decision to cancel the parades due to high winds  as a precautionary measure did not come initially from the N.O.P.D. or the Mayor’s Office. That decision was made by Homeland Security, the federal agency that typically protects our community from the threat of man-made or natural disasters. Ever since the City of New Orleans was forced to sign off on a federally-mandated consent decree due to irregularities, it is Homeland Security that supersedes the home rule charter these days.

And while we can’t second guess those officials as to whethr they were right about the winds, it is curious they have power over all of the city’s first responders and can direct the mayor’s office to take action. Were the consent decree ever to be lifted, we can only wonder if that would make a difference.

Meanwhile, as the death of the 58-year-old victim at the parade is still on people’s minds, don’t let the party atmosphere of Carnival let you drop your guard in looking after the little parade goers. It’s so important to keep them safe and remember to tell them there is not any throw worth risking their lives at Carnival time.

Laissez les bon temps rouler! But be careful out there.

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