Just about a year before the Super Sunday parade, the virtuoso Hot 8 trombonist, Joe Williams, got shot and killed for nothing nobody who was there could fit to the tales the police and city officials would tell of it. There were many witnesses. Joe was shot inside his truck by the police while his hands were up, sticking out the window like they’d bull-horned him to do. The bright lights on him, the police all around, guns drawn, they just opened fire. They had all kinds of horseshit stories for why it was right for them to shoot him down dead like that. These are the kinds of things that can happen in New Orleans.
They waited around for three hours to call the paramedics, Joe still moving, blood leaking out, body hanging out the half open door of his truck. They stood round and watched him die. Some took their uniforms off, sick to their stomachs. Some stood there, angry, sweating, scared in the hot August night heat. They pushed the growing crowd back from the scene so nobody else could see how it looked, so nobody could see what the po-po had done. They knew though. Everybody knew.
There were meetings and overtures and even the mayor said he wanted to get to the bottom of it. But forgiveness is hard when people are forced to just accept and move on.
Not too long after the shooting, around St. Joseph’s night, the 12 Mardi Gras Indian tribes gathered, the fly boys and big chiefs there in full plume regalia. The police let loose again, with billy clubs this time on the Mardi Gras Indians for nothing more than gathering for the parade.
Folks weren’t so surprised it happened, but people can only take so much. When the police do what they want without consequences it creates friction and in this ancient city of music that angst often comes out in the sound.
Heavy sound, which you can hear when you listen to this Super Sunday parade: a great gathering of the Mardi Gras Indians and brass band tribes. Open air music outside in the city streets, the sound moves round New Orleans changing shape in your ear depending on what’s sliding across the city soundscape, motorcycles and buses roaring overhead, co-mingling with the music flowing from the Hot 8’s brass as they march and step down Orleans Street, round the bend, beneath the Claiborne underpass. On Clairborne Avenue you can all but see the ghosts of the giant live oak trees that used to line the most beautiful street in the city, the traditional black meeting place where families would put on their finest and stroll the neutral grounds in the warm springs. The avenue’s been torn up now to make way for a highway over the Tremé, one of the oldest free black neighborhoods in the country.
The Hot 8’s crowd feeling it, charged up with Mardi Gras Indian energy, the lingering memory of Joe Williams death, the police shootings and beatdowns, all these things that never make much sense. The crowd singing and chanting, keeping rhythm, pace and time as their ancestors had done, moving and dancing to warrior rhythms from a long, long time ago. The parade seemed to go on and on, all of us, every one moving through this City of Sound, yearning for that release, to be let go, to be let alone, and for a moment, in the sweep of sound, in a moving sea of black faces, everyone was free.