New Orleans. -- One can be perversely amused by the spectacle of corrupt Louisiana politics, but in truth there is little to laugh at. These rotten officials have destroyed the public school system, sold the state to gambling interests and created a cynical and fearful electorate that almost elected a Nazi to the U.S. Congress. We live in segregated and paranoid neighborhoods, armed to the teeth, where virulent racism is openly tolerated and encouraged. The middle-class suburbanite from Baton Rouge who shot Yoshi Hattori, the Japanese exchange student who mistakenly knocked at his door, was a typical white citizen of Baton Rouge.
I heard people in Baton Rouge say that they never go to New
Orleans without a gun. "Too dangerous," they say, meaning "too many black people." We were discussing guns in my Baton Rouge class one day and one of my students, a cheery young woman, took a pearl-handled Derringer out of her purse to show everyone.
"I used to date a guy in New Orleans," she said, "so my daddy gave this to me for self-protection."
"Did you ever use it?" I asked her.
"Once. I got a flat tire on the Causeway and this bad man stopped his car and said he didn't have time to change the tire but he'd give me a ride to a telephone. I took out the gun and said: "Change that tire.' He did." The class burst out laughing, but they were laughing with her, not at her. Seemed reasonable to them.
"How do you know he was a bad man?" I asked her. "Well, I just knew . . ." she said awkwardly, and everyone knew. There was no need for explanation. The man was bad because he was black.
The jury that acquitted Rodney Peairs upheld the American right to bigotry and the supreme authority of the gun lobby which holds this country hostage. Yoshi Hattori was Japanese. He was trying to enjoy the local tradition of Halloween by learning the once-neighborly custom of trick-or-treat when he knocked on Rodney Peairs' door. He probably believed what he had heard about Louisiana's famous carnival traditions and the natives' ability to enjoy life. He didn't know that it was only a mask for racial hatred and death.
Andrei Codrescu is editor of Exquisite Corpse.