Title: Armed militia protects its New Orleans neighborhood
Source: The Austin American-Statesman
Published: Sep 10, 2005
Author: Bob Dart
Post Date: 2005-09-10 23:30:48 by out damned spot
NEW ORLEANS -- The Algiers Point militia put away its weapons Friday as Army soldiers patrolled the historic neighborhood across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter.
But the band of neighbors who survived Hurricane Katrina and then fought off looters has not disarmed.
"Pit Bull Will Attack. We Are Here and Have Gun and Will Shoot," said the sign on Alexandra Boza's front porch. Actually, said the woman behind the sign, "I have two pistols."
"I'm a part of the militia," Boza said. "We were taking the law into our own hands, but I didn't kill anyone."
She did quietly open her front door and fire a warning shot one night when she heard a loud group of young men approaching her house.
About a week later, she said, she finally saw a New Orleans police officer on her street and told him she had guns.
"He told me, 'Honey, I don't blame you,' " she said.
The several dozen people who did not evacuate from Algiers Point said that for days after the storm, they did not see any police officers or soldiers but did see gangs of intruders.
So they set up what might be the ultimate neighborhood watch.
At night, the balcony of a beautifully restored Victorian house built in 1871 served as a lookout point.
"I had the right flank," Vinnie Pervel said. Sitting in a white rocking chair on the balcony, his neighbor, Gareth Stubbs, protected the left flank.
They were armed with an arsenal gathered from the neighborhood: a shotgun, pistols, a flare gun and a Vietnam-era AK-47.
They were backed up by Gregg Harris, who lives in the house with Pervel, and Pervel's 74-year-old mother, Jennie, who lives across Pelican Street from her son and is known in Algiers Point as "Miss P."
Many nights, Miss P. had a .38-caliber pistol in one hand and rosary beads in the other.
"Mom was a trouper," Pervel said.
The threat was real.
On the day after Katrina blew through, Pervel was carjacked a couple of blocks from his house. A past president of the Algiers Point Association homeowners group, Pervel was going to houses that had been evacuated and turning off the gas to prevent fires.
A guy with a mallet "hit me in the back of the head," Pervel said. "He said, 'We want your keys.' I said, 'Here, take them.' "
Inside the white Ford van were a portable generator, tools and other hurricane supplies. A hurt and frustrated Pervel threw pliers at the van as it drove off and broke a back window.
Another afternoon, a gunfight broke out on the streets as armed neighbors and armed intruders exchanged fire.
"About 25 rounds were fired," Harris said.
Blood was later found on the street from a wounded intruder.
Not far away, Oakwood Center mall was seriously damaged in a fire caused by vandals.
"We were really afraid of fires. These old houses are so close together that if one was set afire, the whole street would all go up," Harris said. "We lived in terror for a week."
Their house is filled with antique furniture, and there's a well-kept garden and patio in back.
"We've been restoring this house for 20 years," Harris said.
There are gas lamps on the columned porch that stayed on during the storm and its aftermath. The militia rigged car headlights and a car battery on porches of nearby houses. Then they put empty cans beneath trees that had fallen across both ends of the block.
When someone approached in the darkness, "you could hear the cans rattle.
Then we would hit the switch at the battery and light up the street," Pervel said. "We would yell, 'We're going to count three, and if you don't identify yourself, we're going to start shooting.' "
They could hear people fleeing and never fired a shot.
During the days, the hurricane holdouts patrolled the streets protecting their houses and the ones of evacuees.
"I was packing," Robert Johns said. "A .22 magnum with hollow points and an 8 mm Mauser from World War II with armor-piercing shells."
Despite their efforts, some deserted houses in the neighborhood were broken into and looted, Pervel said.
Now the Algiers Point militia has defiantly declared it will not heed any orders for mandatory evacuation. The relatively elevated neighborhood area is across the Mississippi River from the city's worst flooded areas and has running water, gas and phone service.
"They say they're going to drag us kicking and screaming from our houses. For what? To take us to concentration camps where we'll be raped and killed," Ramona Parker said. "This is supposed to be America. We're honest citizens. We're not troublemakers. We pay our taxes."
"It would be cruel for the city to make us evacuate after what we've been through," Pervel said.
The roof was damaged on her house, and the rains left "water up to my ankles," Boza said. So she moved into her mother's home nearby.
She said she still has 42 bullets to expend before she'll be forcibly evacuated.
"Then I hope the men they send to pull me out are 6 feet 2 inches and really cute," she said. "I'll be struggling and flirting at the same time."