February 20th, 2012
02:13 PM ET

Strict new French Quarter curfew nets almost 200 Mardi Gras arrests

New Orleans’ infamous French Quarter is awash in memorable sights and sounds, especially during the busiest and most colorful weekend of the year the one just before Mardi Gras Day. However, a strict tightening of the city’s curfew policy means revelers under the age of 16 must now be accompanied by a guardian if they’re going to visit the French Quarter after 8 p.m.

Proponents of the new curfew include New Orleans Police Cmdr. Jeffrey Walls, who’s quick to cite an ever-present mix of booze, nudity and violence as the reason for the change.

“We were having kids that were being victims and perpetrators of crimes,” argued Walls, who said prevention is his primary focus in the crackdown.

The newly strengthened curfew regulations apply seven days a week, but only in the French Quarter and the nearby Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. Other areas of the city will continue to enforce an 11 p.m. curfew for those under 16, which was already on the books.

New Orleans City Council members unanimously passed the curfew change in January. Like many things in New Orleans, the change did not come without controversy. Critics have called the new curfew racist, arguing the new law specifically targets African-American neighborhoods where, they say, the presence of poor, black youth is too often considered a blight on the city’s treasured tourism and revenue.

Walls, tasked with leading the nightly curfew enforcement in the raucous French Quarter district, maintains it’s strictly “a public safety issue."

"It keeps the kids safe," Walls said. "This is an adult entertainment area. It's not like Disney World. … There’s really no reason for kids to be out after 8 o’clock unsupervised."

French Quarter vendor Henry Stapleton agrees. He runs a popular hot dog stand on legendary Bourbon Street. He has a unique nightly vantage point on some of the world’s most famous nightly debauchery. After too often watching 17- and 18-year-olds “chaperoning” 12- and 13-year-olds, Stapleton said a tightening of the curfew is in order.

“You’ve got children watching children. … That’s not a good combo,” Stapleton said.

A concern often repeated in opposition to the recent curfew change was its unintended impact on young African-American talent, specifically those seen tap-dancing and playing musical instruments for tips throughout the French Quarter’s evening hours. Walls contended such an argument is a nonstarter.

“We want to keep these kids safe. We don't want them to be victims of crime,” Walls said.

Another disagreement came from parents whose teenage children hold paying jobs in the French Quarter’s hundreds of restaurants and small souvenir stores. Police say exceptions are made for any curfew violators who can show proof of employment and provide confirmation of their late work schedules. So far, that has not been difficult to enforce, Walls said.

While critics initially argued the new curfew is likely to be ineffective and rarely enforced, initial 2012 Mardi Gras statistics may suggest otherwise. Out of 816 total Mardi Gras-related arrests so far this year, 170 have been curfew-related. Violators are arrested and taken to the city’s “Curfew Center” where a call is made home to parents. Walls said feedback so far from parents has actually been positive.

Charles Dorsey was visiting the French Quarter with his wife and four young children. He's an African-American military veteran, originally from New Orleans, who now lives in Oklahoma. Dorsey said he spent a lot of time in the French Quarter as a kid, although most visits were supervised by his parents. He echoed some of the policy’s critics in wondering about the motivation for a curfew change, but as a parent of two teenagers, he believes the curfew is a good idea overall. “I think it’s good to keep kids off the street late at night. There’s probably a lot down here they shouldn’t be exposed to." “I think it’s going to help the city business-wise in the end,” he added.

Along Saturday night’s packed Endymion Parade route, the Fitzgerald family from Atlanta was decked out in colored plastic beads, smiling from ear to ear at the passing floats. The public debate over the curfew has largely stayed off the Fitzgeralds’ radar, as they were in compliance celebrating the Mardi Gras season as a family.

Both Matthew and Michelle Fitzgerald insist their visit to the notorious Big Easy has been a fantastic family experience, and they’re not worried at all about the party atmosphere having a bad influence on their children, a teenager and three kids who looked to be between 6 and 12.

“I felt safe and everyone was very friendly. … It’s been a great time,” Matthew said.

If the Fitzgeralds are a good measure, it seems the new restrictions have gone largely unnoticed by those in compliance. For 170 other families that have received a late-night call from police at the Curfew Center this Mardi Gras, one thing seems clear: Police are taking the new curfew’s enforcement seriously.

soundoff (174 Responses)
  1. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe"

    Aren't these the same people recently featured on CNN, AS Occupy Space people....where was it?....oh yeah Beagle Street.

    February 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy ©

      WARNING!
      Gratuitious reference to OWS.....lol

      February 20, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dibert

      These were the people who Sarah Palin was trying to convince, that if they go to Alaska they could see Russia from her backyard.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe"

    Jeffrey Walls – Why do you waste my time like this? Get some funds from your state, and erect a 10' high chain link fence with concertina wire and box in the "evil" Mardi Grass.

    February 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jojo

    Aw, too bad all the young girls love getting beads for a flash....lol

    February 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. BobNAlabama

    Good idea. Let the kids get into trouble elsewhere – not the French Quarter.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ruok

    Hey guys.....I think the the New Orleans Police Dept deserves some credit on this one....at least they aren't shooting innocent people crossing bridges fleeing for safety, Oh they did that....Ok sorry.....I guess I'll have to think of something else......I can just see the cop now......watching the partiers.....thinking.....Im gonna get that one.......she gonna lift her shirt any time now for those beads......Im gonna get her...that dirty girl...that dirty little nasty drunk girl......this is a religious event dernit. LOL!

    February 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy ©

      Um...what?
      I think that's what *you* think...
      Don't go to Mardi Gras, then.

      February 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. justathought

    I argued and compared Mardi Gras Day, to the German Oktoberfest, with a friend. She argued that there could not be much debauchery in either of these festivities. I was telling her that in Germany, during the Oktoberfest any man could go to bed with any woman and visa versa and there would be no altercations with anyone involved, (she didn’t want to believe this. She said if her husband would do something like that he would have a headache and it wouldn’t be from drinking too much.) it was just accepted customs of the people and it probably about the same at the Mardi Gras Festival (Of course these people, both in Germany and New Orleans, are really loaded with booze and they are not really thinking too clearly.) I agree, this, in America, is not so good for youngsters. She didn’t argue any about the nudity, she said, “So what, that can be seen on TV’s right in your own home, even worse.”

    February 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • rmsbl4

      I think you are delusional about Qktober Fest

      February 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • umm no

      I've been to Mardi Gras in many places in the US, and I've been to several differnt Oktoberfests, both in the US and in Munich. Please don't lie to people about these supposedly accepted customs. You're full of it bud.

      February 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Superman

    Let the kids see the party! I for one would not want my daugters to be involved.they dont even want to get involved in something like this

    February 20, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joseph

    I wish they would do this in Seattle everyday. At least truancy cops or something. And yes the thug kids are a blight, and yes most are black. Why are they not at school at noon on a weekday? Oh yeah the parents suck.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dibert

      You paint a picture with a broad brush....typical lump everyone into one category....I can debate this issue until the cows come home, however, I will not stoop to the ground to look a snake in the eyes.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    Laissez les bons temps rouler

    Yah boyah, it be dat tahm auv yar ahgeen. It be dah gud tahm auv duh live.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rob

    Of course, it's always about race isn't it? African American seem so eager to play that card but conveniently over-look the crimes commited by their very own.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Bob

      Rob, Joseph: THAT IS SOOOOOOOOOO RACIST! BOO!

      February 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dibert

      Black people play the race card with the deck people like you develop and distribute.....

      February 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. enkephalin07

    Sheltering the children from adult behavior is a sound rationale to anyone who hasn't lived with the reality of New Orleans - there's nothing they won't see there they don't see any other night. Let's get real, this isn't about protecting the children, it's about protecting the profits and reducing the liabilities. I really can't complain, since I'd rather there were fewer children around when I'm partying. But I will call BS: the Quarter and Marigny are far from the most dangerous places to be at night, and barring juveniles from it during that time will just concentrate them in more dangerous areas. Can you spare police presence from your Festival to protect them where they go?

    February 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Patrick

    I'm a native of New Orleans and was introduced to Mardi Gras as a young child. I was not harmed by being introduced to all things Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras. Times have changed and parents are the ones who need to be responsibile for what they want their children to be exposed to. As a father of a teen age daughter, she is not permitted to wander through the French Quarter at any hour of the day unless she is with an adult. This rule isn't in place because of what she may see but more about the adult hoodlums that lurk about at all hours. The police force needs to be more concerned with adult behaviors in the area.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • ( . ) ( . )

      Amen to that

      February 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat) ©

      Patick
      You are absolutey right about the parental resposibilities. I have been going to New Orleans off and on for the last 35 years now and have seen a lot of changes. The criminal element has always been there, but seems so much more pronounced now. The French Quarter is an experience all should see. But never let your young children loose by themselves.

      February 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy ©

      Hello, Patrick.
      How goes the rodent fight? Lol...

      February 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. chrissy

    @ Joseph it is winter break in my state and COLOR has nothing to do with that, nor much else for that matter! You need to open mouth, then stuff a sock in it, or several, depending on the size of that mouth!

    February 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Beads for flash

    Who wants some beads?!?!?

    February 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. chrissy

    Bobcat, dont you think the criminal element is more pronounced everywhere these days? Mostly due to the economic problems faced by people.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat) ©

      @ chrissy

      Oh absolutely. The crime rate has risen to unprecedented levels everywhere. I didn't mean to make it sound like I was I singling out New Orleans. That was one of the things that made me leave Detroit so many years ago. I also think it's more than just the economic situation. We seem to be in a time of severe moral decay. There seem to be more sickos than I can ever remember in my lifetime. And it is getting worse.

      February 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
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