By Mark Guarino
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A Mother's Day shooting in New Orleans marred a century-old tradition: The second line, a community parade designed to strengthen pride in hardscrabble neighborhoods, residents said.
Police are seeking 19-year-old suspect Akein Scott in the Sunday shooting in which 19 people, including two children, were wounded. A gunman shooting into a crowd of people is a tragic event in any city, but in New Orleans, having it take place at a second line is perceived as a cultural affront.
"It happened during a sacred event — a second line," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told a crowd that gathered Monday night at the intersection in the city where the shooting took place.
Second lines, which typically take place in African-American neighborhoods, date back to the days before jazz music, when they functioned to lift spirits at funerals through music and dancing.
The name second line comes from funerals when a second line of neighbors and friends would follow the family in a procession.
They evolved to become "a means of regenerating hope within the community," says Bruce Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Local clubs save money all year to host their annual parade, which typically takes place on a Sunday between September and May, and features brass bands, costumes and dancing.
Ten men, seven women and a girl and a boy, both 10 years old, were shot when one or more people opened fire at the parade on Sunday. The children were grazed but in good condition, police said.
"The word ‘hurt' is the only word to sum this up to explain it," says Dismas Johnson, 26, the business manager of The Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the second line organization that sponsored Sunday's parade.
"The second line gives us the opportunity to relax and enjoy ourselves and create a friendly atmosphere and have something for the community," Johnson said. The shooting was "like someone taking presents from a kid on their birthday."
The Original Big 7 said it plans to reschedule their parade for June 2.
"One reason why violence at these events is so tragic is it undercuts their very purpose and installs a kind of terror in the community by disrupting the things that have the greatest value to them," Raeburn said.
Besides the high cost of holding the parades — organizers say they need to raise at least $10,000 for expenses including permitting and band fees — there is also the potential cost to tourism. Second lines are not typically advertised, but their image has become indelible in television shows and films set in New Orleans, which means they are attracting more people from outside the neighborhoods where they take place.
At Monday's community meeting, the impact of violence in New Orleans, including shootings on Martin Luther King Day in January and just before Mardi Gras in February, suggested to some that tourism dollars were now becoming vulnerable.
"Who wants to send their convention here to use it as a target practice?" asked Fred Johnson, chief executive of the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Foundation, which advocates for low-income families.
Second lines were on the wane when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, but have returned with vibrancy.
"The violence is still there," Raeburn said. "The lack of economic opportunities, these problems still exist and the culture won't take us beyond that. We're going to need more than music to solve these problems."
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune; Editing by Bernard Orr)