I’ve mentioned before that the seminary campus is beautiful. It’s truly a 75-acre oasis in the middle of New Orleans. The architecture and landscape is lovely. It’s also incredibly safe. This safety is a stark contrast from the surrounding area. Parts of Gentilly are beautiful. There are many gorgeous homes, schools, and trees. Parts of Gentilly are also really run-down. Poverty certainly runs rampant everywhere, but this is a poverty like I’ve never seen. Trash is all over the streets and parking lots. Police officers regularly man the doors of grocery stores. People of all ages are seen pushing carts along the street. The space underneath bridges is always filled.
I wouldn’t describe myself as paranoid. I try to be safe, but I’ve also spent a lot of time out at night and safety is not something I’m constantly anxious about. However, living here has caused me to implement a few cardinal safety rules:
- Never stop at a gas station in Gentilly or the Ninth Ward after dark. I’ve literally taken the interstate a few miles with my gas light on just to go get gas elsewhere.
- Day or night, don’t put air in your tires off-campus. I have filled my tires up near my church, which is in a better part of town, but now I only use air compressors on campus.
- Take as little to the store as possible. There are some instances where I just can’t do this, but most of the time I try to only bring cash or a card, my phone, and keys into the store. I figure if those items are taken, I’ll be less inconvenienced than I would be if I had my entire purse.
- Don’t shop after dark, especially by yourself. Working nights during the school year makes this rule pretty easy to follow, but it can definitely be inconvenient at times. I have stopped at stores in different parts of the city after dark or gone with a friend that can’t go to the store during the day, but I don’t shop by myself near campus after dark. Except this one time…
The one time I broke rule #4 I had just gotten back from a trip, worked a 13-hour-day, and desperately needed groceries. The next day I had a potluck in the middle of a 15-hour-day and didn’t see another solution. That said, I would still handle this situation differently if I were given the chance.
I got to the grocery store a little after 8:30pm and quickly gathered each item on my list. The check-out lines were packed, so I picked what looked like the shortest one and waited. The two guys in front of me each had two bottles of alcohol and were clearly tourists. They were laughing with each other when we heard a scream to our left. We could not see the source of the scream, but there was no missing the deafening wail coming from an adult woman. Soon an employee came over the intercom calling all available managers to the pharmacy. We saw several people scurry over there. The cries continued off-and-on until a police officer came to escort a middle aged woman out the door right before I checked out.
Thankfully, my one after-dark experience at the store was not one where I was harmed in any way, but hearing this woman’s screams was enough to make me never want to go to the store that late again. Her screams were unsettling, the kind that penetrate your soul. Her face and demeanor were desperate, leaving me aching for her.
I could easily make a few assumptions about this circumstance, but instead I left remembering why I implemented these safety rules in the first place and caring deeply for the people that live in my community.