I grew up in a neighborhood that had its fair share of outward signs that organized criminals were afoot.
They spoke Italian and wore sharkskin suits or sport coats, driving boat-length Lincolns and Cadillacs, falsely presenting themselves as “men of respect.”
More than a few kids got their heads turned by the local displays of short-term wealth, but most got over the allure by the time they got out of high school. A few did not, and it was too bad for them, especially as New York grew up and authorities got serious about routing the hoodlums.
We don’t have the same things going on here, not in that way. But in some Houma neighborhoods, just like the old neighborhoods in New York, you can find the people who blatantly run contrary to the law, and sell the things that are outlawed which people want anyway, making a profit and recruiting by default the children who don’t know any better.
On Morgan Street or over near the Family Dollar on West Main, they could be seen thick as thieves, especially a few years back, strutting and swaggering, declaring their loyalty to some ridiculous “West Side” concept and showing out, wearing red and declaring ridiculous allegiance to some California street gang that wouldn’t know them for anything, and wouldn’t claim them either.
For the past week I have been poring through court records and conducting interviews, trying to learn more about the time not so long ago when the thugs were making life dangerous for all the good people living in these central Houma neighborhoods.
I visited a family whose matriarch begged me not to identify her or the relatives, because she – like everyone else – had learned that her grandson’s drug sales, for which he is still doing time, enriched the coffers of a Mexican drug cartel that could almost make ISIS look like amateurs.
It is like this when the young ones turn to the quick buck, easy to do when there are not a lot of legitimate bucks to be made. The parents, grandparents and little kids suffer. One house on Columbus Street, during the raids in 2009 which are detailed today in this newspaper had $40,000 in cash bundles, to be used for buying cocaine at wholesale prices from the real bad guys, when the cops busted in.
In Central Houma most own their own homes, but there are obvious pockets of poverty and things that need to be cleaned up, and $40,000 could have gone a long way to help some of that. But nobody was spreading their Franklins and Hamiltons around the neighborhood, because the drug trade is all about greed.
Back when the cops cracked down even they didn’t know just how high up in the world of badness this drug distribution thing went. But people were starting to get shot and it never got as bad as New Orleans but it was bad nonetheless. Law enforcement, to their credit, did not turn a blind eye.
The evidence of their hard work, of the risks they took, is contained in the story of how Mexican blood money circulated here in the bayou country.
Today the drug of choice among those who don’t know any better is heroin, and the supply networks are different but they are equally distasteful. The cops are trying to get their arms around that too, without turning neighborhoods into camps of oppression.
On Sunday afternoon the only threat visible was that of rain, which came down in buckets a little after 4 p.m.
Other than that the little neighborhood that flanks a dollar store and a few small businesses, with its tree-lined streets between West Main and Tunnel Boulevard was still and quiet.
A few family gatherings – some obviously inspired by the ill-fated meeting between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons – were still going on. On one corner two little girls played in the doorway of a wood-framed house, neatly kept, seemingly without a care in the world.
And this is how it should be.
I was in my car at Morgan and Main and a middle-aged fellow, thin with a beard and moustache, came to the window.
“You dropping off or picking up?” he asked.
Neither, I told him. Just looking at the scenery.
I got a little tense, as someone who had been reading over arrest reports for drug action might under such a circumstance.
Had I just gotten myself into something that might be hard to get out of?
“Okay,” the man said. “Just checking. The fellow next door does shoe repairs and people come sometimes. Thought I could help out.”
The rain stopped.
The skies cleared.
I put the car in gear and headed home.