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Title: Oral History Interview with Pamela Mahogany, June 4, 2006. Interview U-0243. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Mahogany, Pamela, interviewee
Interview conducted by Guild, Joshua
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2008
Size of electronic edition: 68 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Wanda Gunther and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-06-12, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Pamela Mahogany, June 4, 2006. Interview U-0243. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s. Southern Oral History Program Collection (U-0243)
Author: Joshua Guild
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Pamela Mahogany, June 4, 2006. Interview U-0243. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s. Southern Oral History Program Collection (U-0243)
Author: Pamela Mahogany
Description: 67.3 Mb
Description: 15 p.
Note: Interview conducted on June 4, 2006, by Joshua Guild; recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Pamela Mahogany, June 4, 2006.
Interview U-0243. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Mahogany, Pamela, interviewee

Interview Participants

    PAMELA MAHOGANY, interviewee
    JOSHUA GUILD, interviewer


Page 1
Why don't you just start by saying your name, where we are. I'll just hold it up, so.
Okay. Hi, my name is Pamela Mahogany, and we're right here in front of the Saint Bernard Housing Development, where I'm formerly from.
Okay. Tell me where you grew up.
In Saint Bernard Housing Development, in New Orleans all my life. I'm forty-three years old.
Uh-huh. Tell me about your family.
Okay. I grew up back here in the Saint Bernard Housing Development with me and my mom. I have two sisters and one brother. My brother's incarcerated. My two sisters, I have one that works at Amtrak and the other one is a licensed cosmetologist, she does hair. And I have one son, he's sixteen years old, he's in eleventh grade at Old Perry Walker. I'm not gonna say his name. [Laughter]
What else?
What was the neighborhood like when you were growing up?
It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun growing up in public housing. I mean, public housing has always had its share of crime—it just would be unrealistic to not admit that, you know, they has always had crime in public housing, but I don't know if you should say that when you grow up around it. You kind of learn to live with it, you know. I don't know if that's fair to say. Some people might feel like it's a normal situation. New Orleans is a fast-life city, and where some people in certain areas might prefer to hide and not publicize the crime, it is actually there, you know? I have friends all over the city, and

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it's in the best of the neighborhoods, just like it's in what people might call the worst of the neighborhoods. To me, public housing is home, and I personally just don't believe that where you live dictates how you live, you know? I just believe that if you're a good person, with good morals and values, then wherever you live, then you'll be that person. So living in public housing has just never been a problem for me, and I've raised my son pretty much with his father until we separated when my child was about nine. We wasn't married but, you know, we did as parents raise our children together and then when we separated, he decided to go his way or whatever and I've never taken up relationships as far as common-law. But I raised my son to the best of my ability, and so far I think I'm doing a good job. He's never wanted to participate in drugs, he's always been an outgoing person, he likes to have fun. He's always involved in school. If it's not the band, it's football. And I've always supported him wherever he is on that.
And everybody in public housing, we know everybody. You know, I go to work—I don't want to name my job's name for personal reasons—but I've worked in a hospital, I've worked in nursing homes, and now I do home help where I make the visits to the people's homes. And I basically, prior to Katrina, I lived, I worked in the hospital. But when I came back, because of the situation of being permanent staff in the hospital, that it put us in, not being able to evacuate, being a practical nurse, I chose when I came back to do a home help setting type of thing. So if, in effect, we have to evacuate again, I won't be tied into, you know, worrying about losing my job if I evacuate with the rest of them. So if I choose to evacuate with my child, you know. That's basically why I swapped up. But I prefer it to working in the hospital. I like working with children, I love children. I had a girls' group back here in the Saint Bernard, was called after my last name,

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"Mahogany's Youth Organization," and I work with a lot of youths, basically females because from raising my son alone, I kind of realize that there's not a whole lot that a female can teach a man. You can't really teach a boy how to be a man, you know. So my preference was girls, because I think that I'm a positive person and I wanted to have a positive influence on them. So that was the reason that I chose girls, but basically if I thought that I knew exactly what to do with males, it would be males because I think the males in public housing, they really need positive roles because a lot of the men today, they choose to exit out for whatever reason, and then you know the kids are left being raised by females.
What kind of things would you do with the girls?
I educated 'em on drugs. None of 'em are too young to know about sex, so I educate 'em on sex education, basically building up their self-esteems, and taking 'em out of here, out of the Saint Bernard development, so that they'll know that there's other places to see and do and then if they choose to stay, it's not because they've never been anywhere. You know? So we travel. We go to Disneyworld, we go to Washington, D.C. Last summer, right before the hurricane, we had just come back from Texas, and we went to Sleddabine[??] just so they could have a different setting. Just to have fun and enjoy themselves. And then you know we talk about things like, look at this environment, is this what you want, do you want better, what kind of jobs you want, and you let 'em meet and talk and deal with people that's doing positive things. You go to the school, and you communicate with the teachers, to help 'em out with their grades and stuff. You know, just encouraging and interacting kind of things. They're good kids, it's just a matter of being introduced to other things. I mean their parents are like me. They don't have

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excellent paying jobs, but they go to work. I mean, I'm a practical nurse, I work for Housing Authority for maybe about six years. Minimum wage job. Five-something an hour. I love my job. I worked for them, I loved it. But I chose to go to school, and trying to raise my son, I started out, I was going to pursue a registered nurse career. But then trying to balance taking care of my son by myself and go to school, it was difficult, so I chose a quicker—. I went to a vo-tech college over there, Sidney N. Collier, was located on Louisa, it's not operating right now, since the flood, and I went to school there. It was an eighteen-month program, and I just haven't [gone] back to further my education. But I do plan to, I think I'm-a go and get my RN, probably coming up in the fall. I'll probably go get it, it's not going to be hard for me to do it, it's just right now, I'm just in this struggle to help the poor people to come back to public housing.
Tell me where you were when the storm hit.
I started out in my apartment, at 3964 Gibson Street. Well, actually, as it was announced that it was coming in, I was at work. I got off about 7:30, I made it home about quarter to eight. My son was down the street with his godmother, on higher grounds, because her sister lived on the third floor. So I left him with her, because my job had offered that our family could come to the job. And basically, that probably would have been the best situation for us because they didn't get any water over on St. Charles Avenue. But he didn't want to go, he wanted to stay with his godmother, so I left him, I went to work, I came home about 8 o'clock, and we went to sleep. We slept through the hurricane. We woke up that morning, the sun was shining, but we—.

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Monday morning. Sunday night I went to sleep. It was drizzling, and the lights went out, the phones went out, you know, no contact. We didn't really have a clue about what was going on. We went to sleep that night, finally being able to doze off. The wind was high, it was a lot of rain, you know, a regular storm to us, cause I couldn't really tell that the storm was worse than any of the other storms that we had ever had. Basically when we got up that morning, from the rain and stuff, the water wasn't, you know, going down. We had no idea that the levees and stuff were broken. We just thinking, regular storm, and being in public housing we like, "The water just taking a long time to drain." So then they finally hit us. The water was actually in my living room and I realized something was wrong. So I told my son, we gonna eat, cause the stove is electric and gas, so when the lights are out, you can still use the stove, so I was like, "We gonna eat, and then after that, we gonna go to higher grounds."
So we left, and we went down on the other end to the third floor where I had picked him up from previous with his godmother. And we stayed there, and the water was just getting higher and higher and we were getting kind of afraid, you know, like this water not gonna stop. And we heard the stories that, you know, if we should ever go underwater, we might be looking at twenty feet of water and stuff like that, like, oh my God. So we praying, and we stayed there three nights. My friend who is my son's godmother, her son-in-law came with a boat that he had stolen from private property back in Lakeview or somewhere in the lakefront, and they came and it was just a regular boat, not with a propeller or anything, just a regular boat, and they came and they got us. And it was my son, Maurice, and a couple of his friends—it was like about five of them—and my son is about six feet. And the rest of the guys were also. And we got in the boat, and

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they had to push us to this bridge over here, the 610. And we left. Actually, the house is like this way in the middle, so they had to bring us through the [unclear] , on top of cars, the boat—. They walking on cars, and you could feel the boat riding over the cars, cause the cars are actually under the water. So we make it to the bridge, and by the time it was all of us that was together, it's like everybody's on the bridge. My God. And people still coming, you know. So we made it there, it's almost night time, and they say the helicopter wasn't coming back that night. Cause the helicopter's rescuing people from the bridge. We had actually stayed in the Saint Bernard about three days. And when we finally left, we made it to the 610 safe, and we slept on the bridge that night. Because the helicopter didn't come back. So ten o'clock that morning, still no helicopter, and it's hot.
Did you have food, did you have any water?
We didn't have anything. We didn't have anything. And you know what's so strange about it? We actually didn't worry about it. You know it's like every day you at home, and you wake up and say, "I need some water, I need something to eat," and at that point you just like, "We just need to survive," you know? So it wasn't, you know—. We had a five year old with us. And you know, she never said, "Ma, I'm hungry, Ma, I wanna eat." You know, she just like, "I gotta do what they do," you know? It was kind of sad but it was what we had to do, so when the helicopter never came back [at] ten that morning, what we did was we started walking, because prior to when the lights went out, we had heard people saying that they was having shelter at the Superdome, so in our mind it's like, "Well it's food and it's water there, so let's go there and eat." Actually that was the worst mistake of our life. We wish that we had just stayed on that bridge and tried to survive, because that Superdome was horrible.

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When we got there, there was this National Guard, and a guy said, his exact words to us, and it was not coming out as saying, "Please don't go in there." He was a Caucasian male, but you could feel the vibes. He said, "If you go in, you go in at your own risk." He used the word "risk." "You go in at your own risk, and when you go in, you can't come out." To me, that was my clue not to go in, but for some reason I just bypassed it, you know. And I was like, "Alright, we shouldn't go in," but we went ahead and we went in, and Lord. It had so many—. By the time we made it, it had millions of people in there. It was nasty. You could just smell the urine and the feces, and we were in and they were searching us down to make sure we didn't have guns and stuff. So they finally started coming with—. They had lines outside. And you could go outside and you had to stand in the line to get food. And you had to get it yourself, you couldn't get it for anybody else. It was a big old controversy, because they wanted all the males to go in on one side, and the females to go on the other side, and we had about five males with us, and three of them were underage, and one of 'em was my son. And I was important with him, you know, I wasn't about to leave him. So that was a big old thing. They was like, "Well, they have to be searched in this line and you have to be searched in that line," so I'm like, "Well okay, this is how this is gonna go. I'm-a get in this line, and I'm-a get searched. But you gonna allow me to come back and get in the line with my son, or either you gonna allow my son to be searched with me. But we will not separate, at all." So then one of the guys, he said, "Okay." He let him get in the line with us. So he got in the line with us, we got searched, we went in.
And Jesus, I think I cried the whole three days I was in there, it was just horrible. People was getting killed. I actually witnessed somebody shooting somebody, and it was

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like only thing the National Guards did was, the Army Corps or whoever they was, only thing they did was stood at attention with rifles pointed at us. It was just like, at any means necessary, keep them contained. That's all it was about. You were not to go a certain distance to them, you had to stay away from them and not invade their privacy. And they were just to keep you in a certain area. So, you know, people crying, they frustrated, they hungry, you're walking in about this much of urine and feces on the floor, and that was just a horrible experience for me. I'll never in my life visit the Superdome. I don't care how many millions of dollars they put into it, fix it up, what they have in there. Mentally, my mind will never allow me to go back that way. It was bad. It was bad for all of us that was there.
And finally, my girlfriend had a little radio. And we could hear Nagin [Clarence Ray Nagin, Jr: mayor of New Orleans, La., from 2002-] on the radio saying, "They lying to you," because we had stood in a line like thirteen hours, waiting for buses. Actually millions of people, just lined up in rows and waiting for buses that never came. It never came. And then you hear the mayor saying, "Somebody get off your ass and do something, these people are dying, and they're lying to you, there are no buses outside the Superdome or wherever." And then finally, within hours and stuff, buses started coming. There were people in the line, the guys were fighting. And the army was just standing with their rifles pointed in the crowd like, "Just long as y'all don't come up here, y'all stay back there, you okay." And you have to keep getting out of the line to protect your family, so it's like you're in the front, finally, you're starting back off at the back, and it's just bad.

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So when the buses finally came and they were letting us through the gates, it was chaos. Everyone wanted to get on the bus, so people trampling over each other and they running, and then you trying to maintain the group of people that you with, so that everybody could stay together. And we did accomplish that. One of the people, somebody did broke through the line with him, one of the local guys that was with us. His family wasn't with us, so we couldn't leave him. So we was like, "We can't go." So one of the guys promised us that when the next opening came that they would get him out to us. So he asked, he said, "Could y'all just go in the exit port" that they was bringing us to—I don't know if it was the Convention Center that they brought us through to get to the buses, I really don't know, I was so distraught at the time. But we waited. We wouldn't get on the buses. To see if he was going to come through. And maybe about forty-five minutes after waiting, he did come. So we all got on the bus together. And when we got on the bus, they told us we was going to Florida. We didn't go to Florida. They took us to Dallas.
One of my friends' sister talked to one of her friends, who was Caucasian, and she used to work for her, and she had family in Plano, Texas. So they came and picked us up. So we was only in the Dome like maybe three days, but I really have to say that the setup that they had in Dallas was ironic. It was 100% better than what we got in the Superdome, from our own hometown. I mean, the people had food—and I'm talking about real food, I ain't talking about that Army Corps stuff. And I wanna go back and tell you. When we was in the Superdome, those people actually treated us horrible. I mean. At one point they got tired of letting us get in the line for the food. They just threw the water out on the ground off the truck and threw the food off the ground, and we just refused to go

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get it. You know. I told my son, "Do not go out there." Mentally, I was like, "That's horrible." It was like we was dogs or something.
But anyway, when we got to Plano, Texas, the people came to pick us up. They were really friendly. We didn't know 'em, Angela did know 'em, and we stayed there. But, you know, it was a comfort zone like we were in safety but it wasn't where we wanted to be. It was like we still wanted to get back home. And we stayed there three days. And the day after Labor Day, a Monday, we went to picnic by one of the family friends' house, and they fixed hamburgers and stuff for us. We left, and we took our own money that we had, and we combined it. We got tickets for everybody, cause Red Cross hadn't started yet paying for people to commute back and forth. So we went to the bus station. They brought us, their family brought us to the bus station. And we got bus tickets, and we went to Baton Rouge.
And we got to Baton Rouge—that was where we all separated. We started getting in touch with our family members. I had one sister in Mississippi, one sister was living in a hotel with my little niece and them—the Holiday Inn Select, was on Constitutional Drive. So we stayed there. For free. You know, the people had set up an area in the ballroom for a lot of families to stay in, so we stayed there, and for like thirteen days we was trying to find an apartment, so that we could just live there until we were able to get back home. And we couldn't find anywhere to stay. So the people started saying it was nearing the time that we was gonna have to leave. So we left them, and we went to Greenville, Mississippi. And my sister, in the same situation there—this is my baby sister—she was in a hotel somewhere in Greenville, and the people were putting them out, and they were on the news and whatever, and this lady had a house that she had started

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getting together to do a—what is that when you take in a lot of residents and stuff? It's on the tip of my tongue, but I can't think of it. But anyways, it was like eight rooms in the house. So we all went with my sister to stay there. And then as we stayed there a while, we all found our own apartments. And me and my middle sister, we found somewhere to stay in Leland, my momma was in Arkansas, and she finally came from Arkansas by us in Greenville. So her and my baby sister lived in an apartment in Greenville, and me and my other sister lived in an apartment in Leland which is about fourteen minutes away. And it's like a straight shot.
So we stayed there, and then I just was getting sick, every day. I needed to come home. I was stressed out. I was having chest pains, and I was like, "You know what? I gotta go home. You know. As close to home as possible." And when I was in Baton Rouge, I really felt comfortable, because I felt like I was home, close to home, but I just couldn't find nowhere to stay. So after that, we stayed in Mississippi till December, and in December I came. I got a voucher from Housing Authority because I was living in public housing and they had these [unclear] vouchers at the time. I got a voucher, and I looked every day to find me somewhere to stay. That's when I moved on Green Street, and I been here ever since.
Now tell me about this effort to try to get back into public housing.
What it is, is I have a lot of my friends that's family members, old and young. Children. And I talk to them on a daily basis. And they everywhere. One of the little girls that's in my youth group, her mommy's in California. She'll be here, I think, on the ninth. She'll be here. That's one of my other friends, Sharon, her and her daughter, they're in Florida. And her husband is a close friend of mine. We grew up, back here, in the

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projects. And he's sick, right now. He couldn't come, so he sent them down here. But what it is, is everybody wanna come home. And a lot of people, they don't know how to go about doing it. And some people are not as strong as others. You know. Some people be like, "You know what? I'm gonna go to New Orleans every day, I'm gonna stay in a hotel, I'm gonna stay with a friend, I'm gonna stay on the streets, I'm gonna stay where I can stay until I get a job, get a house, whatever it takes, you know, to come home." A lot of people have vouchers out there in Texas. But with all of everything going on with them—getting put out, and not gonna have nowhere to stay, and they don't know what's going on, then they broke, the FEMA money has run out, you know. These are people that you're talking out that was on a fixed income, you know what I'm saying? And the ones that was working, they worked, but their rent was based off their income. You know what I'm saying? So it's like, okay, if I'm in Houston, and I work, and I got a job, then my rent is still gonna be expensive. They just feel shut out, like they can't make it. And they want to come home. And somebody have to fight for them.
I mean, these people to me, they are illegally evicted. The mayor said that it was a mandatory evacuation. That mean you have to go. Because a lot of people wouldn't have left, if they didn't have to go. Actually, they came in this development and made a lot of people leave. You know, people didn't want to go. So the same way it was mandatory for them to leave, it should be mandatory for them to return. For those that wanna, that don't wanna return, that should be their choice. They should not be kept. And HUD is not telling us what their plans are for public housing, but it's a section of our mind that know. We know that they do not intend on opening Saint Bernard, Lafitte, a lot of the developments, rebuilding Desire. I'm-a speak for Saint Bernard cause I'm from Saint

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Bernard, and I pretty much knew a lot about Saint Bernard, but private developers has wanted this land, this property for a long time. You know? A long time. It has always been, "We gonna tear down the old side, and build like they did at River Gardens." Have you ever been over there?
No, I haven't.
We gotta ride over there. It's nice. It's really what they think, I guess, everybody should live in. To me it's junk, if you ask my opinion. If a hard wind come through there, it gonna wipe their ass out. I'm saying, that's just my opinion. If I had a choice between River Gardens and this, I choose this, because it's—. I mean, it's beautiful if you just look at it, but it's cheap and it's not-worth-nothing material. Whereas if you look at this, right here, it's sound. It's sound. So we out here every day protesting because we want HUD to allow—the same way you asked us to leave, we want you to allow us to come back. And when you do things to me, like—. A lot of the people I'm working with, they're just like, "Let's just go claim our apartments. Let's just go take it back." But I'm the kind of person, I like to say, "Let's follow the chain of command." Just say it like that. And then after you follow the chain of command, and the chain of command don't work, then you do it the way you know is gonna work. And that way nobody say, "Well, they didn't ask," or, "They didn't go through the proper channels, they just broke the fences down," and, you know, you follow all the steps.
And Alfonse Jackson put in the paper the other day, "Nothing is gonna happen unless it comes from Washington." So to me you're saying, "Y'all can do all the protesting you want. You can get on all the news media you want. The final decision gonna be mine." So we've dealt with Donald Babbers [??], and Bill Thorton, you know, the

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little immediate people they send from Washington down here, and I need to say that I didn't get a real concerned feeling from Mr. Thorton, or from Mr. Babbers [??]. If it was nothing more than sympathy, I did get that he did sympathize with us. But not where I could make a decision. Like, "You could talk to me, and I could listen, but I gotta bring it back to Washington, and they gotta make the decision." And I know the decision has been made for Saint Bernard, and that's for it not to reopen. But I still have this drive like that old saying that goes, "Together we stand and divided we falls," and so I just have this drive to keep communicating with our people and just push and push till something happen. And I want to see it open because I think that you don't kick a person when they down. You come in and you say, "I did everything, so help me," and then when it don't work, you feel you did what you needed to do.
And I think HUD had that responsibility. They need to come in, and you need to educate people. And you need all these trainers that you always talking about, you need to provide these trainers. You need to mandate that our people participate in them. You know what I'm saying? And you need to make sure they get educated. You need to make sure that they become self-sufficient. And then when you talking about taking 1400 units away from people, then you have something to stand behind. But you don't take a Hurricane Katrina, where people have lost everything, lost families, you know what I'm saying? And lost everything that they built all their life. Children, the only thing they know is to be around their family, and they got family in Texas, Washington, and everywhere! Kick 'em when they're down and say, "Y'all can't come back to your home," but everybody else, Lakeview, everybody else, they coming back.

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And it's a conspiracy. Because it's only the poor black people. You know? And they say, "Hurricane Katrina affected everybody." Hurricane Katrina did affect everybody. Hurricane Katrina affected people that wasn't in this city. You know what I'm saying? Cause if you have a heart, how could it not affect you? It affected everybody, but you can't say that everybody lived what we lived. And people that have money and that's knowledgeable about what's going on with this situation, they allowed to come to their homes. But we not, cause you feel like one of the guys—. And I'm so upset with him, Howard Huska [??] I think his name was. He did an opinion in the Times-Picayune a few days ago, and he said, "Why don't we just buy 'em out?" And I was disturbed mostly by he was like, "Why don't we just give 'em a car, give 'em some money so they can rent some property?" It was a few things that he suggested that they do, like we was for sale. We not for sale. You know. And I was very, very offended—well, he wrote it for us to be offended, and I was offended. But I responded to him, because this is not about drug bait. Crime that they always talk about. We had our share of crime like the whole city, but they focus in on this because this is poor black people. But the crime that's all over everywhere, [horns blaring, people talking] the crime that's everywhere, they don't focus in on it a lot. Especially if it's in the lakefront area, or Lakeview, or you know, it'll be hush-hush. But it happens. It's there. And I don't want nobody to be under the misconception that crime is not all over New Orleans. It's in the French Quarter, St. Charles Avenue, it's everywhere, but it's more publicized here.
So, that's it. You know.