The Making of Chopper City: Black Life In New-Orleans (Hood Series)

In the public eye, New Orleans is a wonderful place to retreat for Mardi Gras parades; the eager tourists anticipate collecting beads and “Who Dat” souvenirs. Or they come to the Crescent City in anticipation of the annual Jazz-fest, topping their evening off by treating themselves to beignets in the French Quarters. At the heart of Bourbon Street, there are many clubs and bars providing much entertainment to sightseers. This is the New Orleans that attracts tourists far and wide! Yet, beyond these affluent attractions there exists another world that tourists do not dare journey into, and it is colloquially referred to as Chopper City.

The etymological origins of Chopper City are due to one fundamental reality: an AK-47 is needed for survival in these war zones. In Chopper City, there are excruciatingly high levels of poverty, the drug economy is dominant, and black on black violence is omnipresence. City planners do not devote nearly as much time to the well-being of Chopper City  as they do tourist attractions; while driving through streets riddled with potholes, choppers can be heard blasting. The Magnolia rapper Souljah Slim describing the consequences of this dire social neglect in Chopper City proclaims, “M’mma pray for her baby ‘cause I stayed in war.” Black youth are indeed at war, not only with one another, but with outside forces as well.

The declaration of Magnolia artist Lil Wayne which is ”a young nigga screaming f*ck the world,” is often perceived as anti-social; such messages are often why Hip-Hop artists are lambasted throughout the conservative media. Rappers are condemned for conveying negative social messages and embodying every flawed element of urban city culture: ignorant, rowdy, and violent. Yet, this s assertion of Lil Wayne is much deeper that one may suppose, as it demonstrates a fundamental fact about black existence in America: Lil Wayne has no choice but to put his middle finger up to the world; the world that he lives in is anti-black.

Following the Civil War, the black forefathers of the New Orleans artist endured a variety of repressive black code laws which intended to neworleansfreedomandindsolidify a white over black hierarchy. Within this post-plantation slavery period, the police of New Orleans were active Klansman who would terrorize the black community through lynching and even sexual assaults of black women.   Despite the fact that there was no source of employment for blacks, vagrancy laws were passed to prosecute unemployed blacks. These laws built the newly formed convict leasing system by ensuring that blacks would be used as slaves even after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This oppression ensured that whites would continue to benefit from the enslavement of blacks, and continue to amass vast wealth from black suffering.

In 1937, a racial caste system would be enforced by the New Orleans Housing Authority who explicitly established segregated housing for neworlean4blacks, intentionally putting them in areas most susceptible to flooding. Blacks were continuously segregated and their lives were treated as though they were worthless; in the sixties, chemical plants were constructed near black neighborhoods. This would work to ensure that toxic pollution contaminated the air that blacks had no choice but to breathe in. Through lyrics, Lil Wayne states, “Stuck in the hood like they put cement on us,” which is a reality: the planning of New Orleans was structured firmly upon a racist ideology that intended to segregate blacks into impoverished social neighborhoods.

“The presidential double R, call that Ronald Reagan.” Though Lil Wayne is able to enjoy cruising in a Rolls Royce due to the hip hop industry, Reagonomics trickled down and devastated the black community at large. Social services were drastically cut, and the tax code was constructed to favor the wealthy. In the eighties, due to Reagan, the dreaded figure of the “black criminal” emerged within political advertisements. White politicians would chastise black youth as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists and call for ‘law and order’ in order to protect the good, white citizenry. Within New Orleans, whites began settling in Slidell and other suburbs, the local black population would still be in segregated public housing. The wealth never actually did trickle down; instead, as jobs moved out of the inner-city, New Orleans began cutting back on social services. There would be little opportunity for social mobility for black Americans. Describing these hectic times, C- Murder describes his teenage years saying, ”I breaks bread with these baseheads,” indicating he had to sell coke to make ends meet.

poli43The dominant mode of life for black New Orleans residents consisted of selling drugs, evading the police, and going in and out of prison. Eventually, the New Orleans Police Department declared a ‘War on Drugs’ against black youth. C-Murder, growing up in these repressive times, describes ”on the spot money bustin’ out my socks, boy its hot and now these cops on my jock, boy.” Though the drug economy is quite profitable, black youth must successfully evade the police to survive. As Mayor Sidney Barthemely lost control of the Police Department, their increasingly corrupt practices would classify them as nothing more than another gang.

benardhousingPolice would routinely rob drug dealers for quick cash, and even plant drugs on innocent blacks and bring them up on false charges. Police brutality became the norm; black mothers living in housing projects feared their small children would be brutalized by police, thus, even when there was genuine problems in their housing projects, they were hesitant to call the police. The police corruption within the city was so notorious that African-American Marc H. Morial became mayor by campaigning on the platform that he would overhaul the entire department. But, even as a black mayor, the city planning, institutions, and all other facets of New Orleans had been set up to discriminate and oppress African-Americans. This institutionalized racism would not be something that his administration could overcome. The years of discriminatory public housing, years of disenfranchisement, and police repression would concentrate both anti-social behavior and poverty in the black community, and this would be showcased during Hurricane Katrina with helpless blacks drowning in water or stranded on top of roofs begging for help.

In the next article, we will demonstrate how the impact of Hurricane Katrina more severely impacted blacks due to the racist urban planning. We will also take a look at institutionalized racism in the post-Katrina era.


Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and african american activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina by Leonard N Moore

How Do Hurricane Katrina’s Winds Blow?: Racism in 21st-century New Orleans  By Liza Lugo