Only the Times Picayune/NOLA.com would be upset that the French Quarter in the city of New Orleans is getting cleaned up thanks to a plan by famed businessman Sidney Torres.
On Monday, the Times Picayune posted a story that portrayed French Quarter “gutter punks” or “freight hoppers” as victims at the hands of Torres’ crime plan in which he is paying off-duty New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers to patrol the French Quarter 24-hours a day in groups of three on police go-carts. Additionally, the public can engage quickly with the patrol via a mobile phone crime app created by Torres.
The piece by the Times Picayune came immediately after news broke that Torres’ French Quarter patrol and Louisiana State Police (LSP) had made 28 arrests last Friday in a raid to clean up the city’s most famous part of town.
But, the Times Picayune isn’t happy. See their headline here:
And then, in the beginning of the Times Picayune piece, writer Jonathan Bullington writes this:
“In New Orleans’ French Quarter, they are called many names: “Gutter punks,” “dirty kids,” “freight hoppers.” To some, they’re a frightful and aggressive nuisance – one targeted by a recent police sweep fueled by businessman Sidney Torres’ pocket book and his task force.”
“Fueled by businessman Sidney Torres’ pocket book and his task force.” This sentence alone explains the rest of the piece. But, here’s more describing Torres’ supposed “regime” over the French Quarter:
Friday’s raid a sign of new regime
Enter Torres, the former trash collection mogul who recently began personally paying for a crime-reporting app and off-duty NOPD officers to patrol the Quarter on all-terrain vehicles. Torres said he spoke with police about the challenges of addressing complaints related to transients, and agreed to donate $4,000 to have LASPCA officers join NOPD officers and off-duty task force officers in targeted enforcement efforts.
“It’s a big problem,” Torres said, relaying his own experience of an aggressive encounter with a transient outside his own home last week. “They make people feel unsafe.”
Apparently, while citizens of New Orleans took to the Keep The French Quarter Facebook page praising the NOPD and State Police for their efforts in quickly cleansing the French Quarter, the Times Picayune sees the clean-up as a bad thing.
On Friday, 22 gutter punks were arrested for charges like loitering, aggressive panhandling and obstruction of public right of ways. Anyone who has visited New Orleans recently, knows that the gutter punk crowd is collectively known for their aggressive panhandling of tourists and residents alike.
And, truthfully, is that something tourists in the French Quarter and residents should really have to endure while walking down the street? Also, should business owners in the French Quarter have to deal with agressive gutter punks panhandling outside their business?
Of course, the stories of actual residents and business owners who have had ban experiences with gutter punks are never mentioned in the Times Picayune piece.
Nonetheless, the Times Picayune article does go on to profile the gutter punks, using quotes from some of the panhandlers which infer that they are merely friendly travelers, saying that some are kids who have been kicked out of their homes.
But, as the multiple Times Picayune photos show, there are nothing but 20-30 something year old adults, no children gutter punks in sight. One gutter punk profiled in the piece makes the claim that cops simply “don’t like the way we look, or the way we dress.”
Torres, though, has painted a different picture of the gutter punks that live on the French Quarter streets.
In an interview with WWL-Radio’s Garland Robinette, Torres described how the gutter punks avoid being arrested, abusing the police system and coming up with medical ailments in order to get out of an arrest.
Torres’ portrayal of the gutter punks, whom he said are mostly rude about asking for money, is much more in-line with what everyday tourists and residents see in the French Quarter.
While homelessness is an issue in the city, so are the constant stream of gutter punks on the streets.
For the NOPD and State Police to be trying to clean up the French Quarter only to have the Times Picayune take issue with it is disheartening, especially considering the amount of positive support online the efforts are getting.
Then again, we cannot say we are surprised that the Times Picayune is portraying a clean-up of a major city as a cruel operation.