By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

An earlier weekend curfew for youth approved today by the City Council – targeting the French Quarter and Frenchman Street’s entertainment district – sparked two days of contentious hearings in council chambers.

Those opposed to the measure say it will encourage racial profiling of young African Americans, and they encouraged the council to make the change citywide, so it applies equally.

Youths under 17 aren’t allowed in the French Quarter after 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night, under an ordinance passed today by the City Council. Photo by Karen Gadbois

Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer pushed for the earlier hours, saying she wants to protect underage youths from the permissive attitude and prevalence of bars in the city’s prime party areas.

Though his Twitter account, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the move protects the entertainment areas, presumably from the youths.

“I plan to sign this & put it into effect on Monday. This is about keeping these neighborhoods safe,” reads a tweet from the @MayorLandrieu account, marked with the hashtags nolalove and sosnola.

The curfew ordinance becomes effective upon the mayor’s signature. A spokesman said Landrieu plans to sign it today or tomorrow.

That means it will be in effect in time for Monday night’s college championship football game being played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Many of the same community members who opposed the measure at a committee hearing Wednesday came out in force today for the full City Council action.

With a 6-0 vote, the council moved the curfew for those under 17 up to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The curfew had been 11 p.m. on those nights. The council’s action does not affect the 8 p.m. curfew citywide on the other five days of the week.

Many opponents said the earlier curfew would lead to racial profiling.

W.C. Johnson of the Community United for Change organization said council members should just tell it like it is and should “just tell blacks they are not welcome in the Quarter.”

Tracie Washington of the Louisiana Justice Institute spoke just as bluntly saying, “There is a desire to take young black males out of the Quarter.”

Washington went on to say there would be a citywide “black out” of the Quarter beginning on Martin Luther King Day.

Many opponents addressing the council entered in to angry exchanges with various members of the council, but most often it was Council President Jackie Clarkson who was the object of their ire.

Clarkson responded to various taunts from the audience by asking the police officer working security to remove speakers who went over the time limit or behaved in ways she deemed disrespectful.

After one particular blistering exchange, Johnson stormed out of chambers yelling, “People are tired of you insulting folks Jackie.”

Marjorie Esman of the ACLU also asked the council to postpone the vote until they could determine if curfews had an impact, citing lack of data to back up the assertion that the expanded hours will help keep children safe.

Speaker after speaker questioned the motivations and efficacy of the proposed expansion and challenged the council to enact and enforce curfew citywide.

While the majority of the speakers were opposed to the amendment as written, a few French Quarter residents and organizations supported it.

Carol Allen, president of the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Residents Association, called the proposed change a “win win” suggesting that the Quarter is a place that “young people can spin out of control”

A frustrated Councilman Jon Johnson admonished those in attendance, “We have got to come together” and look for solutions to the homicide problem not just “isolate the curfew issue”

Council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell also suggested that the change be effective citywide.

But the city attorney said the council couldn’t take such actions today because there hadn’t been proper advance notice.

The council passed the narrow change and promised to come back with a citywide change as soon as the next meeting, in two weeks.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...