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Vice contributor Mason Miller recently investigated a recent onslaught of attacks in New Orleans against local artists and members of the LGBT community by middle schoolers in the Marigny and St. Roch neighborhoods.
After sundown, Michael Martin, who is 56 and takes care of his dementia-ridden mother, was suddenly attacked while walking home after helping a friend move. Martin was anxious to get home to his sickly mother who was being taken care of by his long-time partner, Eric Webb.
‘I really was walking through a neighborhood that I don’t think the people who live there walk through at night,’ Martin said.
Late in the evening, under an interstate overpass, Martin heard laughter from behind coming from a group of kids who he believes were no older than 13. Thinking nothing of it, he continued on his way, until he was hit from behind and thrown to the ground.
Miller reports, ‘He was then thrown to the ground as the children kicked and slammed fists into Martin’s head and chest. Eventually, he was straddled by one of the kids and choked out until he fell unconscious. While Martin is wary of calling the assault a hate crime, he does feel the rapid gentrification happening, in both the St. Roch and Marigny neighborhoods, could have something to do with his beating.’
‘That neighborhood is under a ferocious amount of gentrification pressure,’ Martin said. ‘I mean gay is a bonus… if you don’t like gentrification, you probably don’t like old white faggots either.’
Martin tells Miller that this was not the first time he’s seen horrible things happen in the surrounding neighborhoods, ”Eric and I were held up at gunpoint by a young man on a bicycle,’ Martin began. ‘That was on our way to a Harry Potter movie. I had my arm broken with an iron pipe in a French Quarter assault, back in 2002. We also had someone break into our house looking for drug money,’ Martin said. ‘Mother fucker came in through the bathroom window.’
‘Were there any others, honey?’ Martin asked Webb.
‘Oh, right,’ Martin said, glancing over, ‘Eric found a dead body in the front yard once.’
Miller says that despite the huge levels of gentrification going on in these two neighborhoods, they are still ‘the most criminally violent places in the United States’.
After a violent and awful summer ridden with shootings, some ending in death, locals are concerned. The children of these neighborhoods seem to be taking out their frustrations on two main groups: artists and gays.
A local artist, Bill Murphy, was the second victim attacked. Murphy was also walking alone in the evening when he was jumped from behind and knocked to the ground. By a group of about eight children, Murphy said he was kicked, struck, and stomped on.
Murphy said, ‘I don’t remember much… But when I woke up the next day I had a bunch of sneaker prints on my forehead.’
Murphy, who is a friend of Tysean Riles, a 21-year-old New Orleans native and fellow artist who claims that at one time, he, too, was a troubled adolescent.
Miller writes, ‘Riles believes these children aren’t necessarily targeting any group or type of person in particular, though Riles says older white men are “less likely to be packing heat,” especially if they have an effeminate walk about them.
‘Kids be bored. And then they see an old white person walking funny or something and they want to fight them,’ Riles said. ‘If they think you look weak, they’re going to mess with you.’
The kids perpetrating these assaults, many of whom, Riles says, attend an elementary school across the street from Murphy’s house, need to find guidance and mentorship through whatever means possible.
‘The community needs to reach out to these children. We need computer labs or basketball games,’ Riles said.
‘I think it’ll work. I’ve been around these neighborhoods long enough to see it work. It worked for me. It worked for my friends,’ Riles said. ‘But then once it stops, people gonna get killed because they don’t have anything to do.’
Another victim who was attacked when it was completely dark, Christopher Brumfiled said, ‘Luckily I was paying attention and could run,’ Brumfield said. ‘Once they caught me though, I had to crawl into the street to get away. They were hitting me the whole time.’
Miller says that Brumfield’s pants were pulled down in an attempt to emasculate him; his feet and head were stomped on by the dozen or so teenagers, while others hit him with clubs.
Even weeks after the attack, Brumfield said that he was still experiencing severe headaches and trauma, and even had to stay with family in Baton Rouge to recover. He says that he isn’t willing to write the children off as ‘lost causes though and feels that poverty and systematic neglect have led to this escalation in violence.’
‘The real problem is that we’re failing the kids all over New Orleans. We’re failing them socially, educationally, in every way.’ Brumfield said. ‘I’m watching kids in this city not get what they need again. It’s about poverty and it’s about kids and families that don’t have resources.’
Even with all the information, Miller reports that the local police have not made any arrests in regards to these assaults.