To begin with, three episodes in an unfolding story:
United States House of Representatives - Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security of the Committee on the Judiciary (16 April 2007):
"... A January 2006 article in the Houston Chronicle titled ‘New Orleans Gang Wars Spill into Houston Area,' (cites) ... a criminal such as Ivory ‘B-Stupid' Harris, who had been arrested over 19 times, including 2 murder charges, in New Orleans prior to the hurricane, was wanted in Houston for his involvement in several murders in November after the hurricane (Bryant and Khanna, 2006)..."
" ... Harris and Magee discussed pictures and other information that some of their friends, family, and associates put on the website ‘MySpace'. In one of the calls Harris states ‘If the feds find the stuff on MySpace, they will convict me of RICO'.
Agents found a ‘MySpace Web Site called ‘K-UNIT', and obtained numerous pictures, including photos showing Harris holding cash in his hands with the caption "we movin keys and taking over the blocks", and another photo showing Harris, holding a gun and cell phone while wearing a shirt with a picture of (his murder victim) Jermaine Wise that read ‘rest in peace'. It was also learned that both Harris and Magee had ‘K-Unit' tattoos on their bodies..."
New Orleans Times-Picayune, 4 October 2007
"B-Stupid didn't go quietly to prison.
As a federal judge gave him twenty-five years for leaving a trail of violence across New Orleans in 2006 - from a killing on Mardi Gras to dealing cocaine and heroin out of a Kenner apartment - the criminal known on the streets as B-Stupid worried about polishing up one fragment of his reputation.
He is no jailhouse snitch.
‘... He is mentally disturbed, he has a lack of educational skills', Harris' sister wrote to the court in June.
Keshawn Harris blamed the news media for spreading the word that B-Stupid had agreed to rat out his cohorts.
‘Fights have occurred', she wrote. ‘Slogans and slants has been thrown. What's the next step, a bloody war'."
A cyberspace memorial
Nothing to be said further about the name.
But Ivory "B-Stupid" Harris's sister was obviously proud of her brother, in spite of his being "mentally disturbed". She and his family and friends decided that he deserved a memorial to his accomplishments, and that the web was the place to do it.
They built a loving website on MySpace that (among depictions of other significant feats) showed him gloating over the death of Jermaine Wise, one of the men he had recently murdered. Harris was pictured wearing one of the now-standard New Orleans "death notice" RIP memorial t-shirts featuring Wise's picture and name, holding in one hand the phone on which he was informed of his victim's location, and in the other the gun with which he supposedly had ended Wise's life.
It was an advertisement for, and celebration of, murder. On a website called "K-Unit".
I looked for the site this morning, but it seems to have been dismantled, maybe by the FBI who used it to track Harris down and convict him.
He knew the site would "out" him, once he discovered what had happened. But by then it was too late. His admiring relatives had inadvertently given the government all it needed to finally, after almost two dozen attempts, put "B-Stupid" behind bars. The evidence was right there for the Feds, on the K-Unit MySpace, displayed in a relatively attractive web layout format. All they had to do was print it out on heavyweight glossy photo paper and bring hard copies to a judge.
Jim Gabour is an award-winning film producer, writer and
director, whose work focuses primarily on music and the diversity of cultures.
He lives in New Orleans, where he is
artist-in-residence and professor of video technology at Loyola University.
His website is here
A selection of Jim Gabour's recent articles in openDemocracy:
"This is personal"(23 April 2007)
"Cutting loose"(4 May 2007)
"Mahatma 189"(11 May 2007)
"So, you ask, just what is this ‘mojo'?" (30 May 2007)
"Undercurrent"(22 June 2007)
"Cry Oncle!"(12 July 2007)
"Lessons in the classics" (6 August 2007)
"The recurring anniversary of wilderness" (28 August 2007)
"Native to America" (26 September 2007)"Twenty-five years", said that judge, who did not believe Harris's "lack of educational skills" was a fitting excuse for multiple murders and uncountable drug-related felonies. To the end "B-Stupid" had no remorse. He was, however, worried that his fellow inmates might think that he had ratted out some of his bloody-handed brethren as part of his plea agreement. "B-Stupid" was smart enough to know the judgment inside the slammer requires no jury, and that execution there in prison requires no closing arguments.
But what was left of his K-Unit memorial?
When I googled "K-Unit+MySpace", all I found was a three-piece semi-punk hair-conscious girl band of that name from Birmingham, England, and, ironically, a thug image-conscious website called mobstaz.com whose front-page feature was a reprinted news story about a young boy who had killed himself over his penis size. In a related story just below, the lead mobsta blogged on how he killed a dog the first time he attempted to drive a car.
Thus goes the web, unregulated in taste, and mostly unhindered by the laws of civilisation. One can only wonder whether the heroically disturbed "B-Stupid" will have internet access in prison.
So, his given name, "Ivory", wasn't befitting. Mr Harris decided to be "B-Stupid".
When will you arise?
Sometimes, what seems like randomly chosen nicknames have deep psychic roots, both in themselves and in their method of acquisition. In Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, politicians also seem to have a fondness for such tags. Possibly they think a nickname will render them homier, folksy, more approachable.
There was a statewide election in Louisiana on Saturday 20 October; in listing the candidates (Times-Picayune, 14 October 2007) the local newspaper specifies nicknames for forty-seven of what I estimate to be approximately 300 candidates for local office. There is a personal definition set in quotation marks between first and surname in each of those cases.
The handles range from the common ("Tony G", "Spanky", "Vinny", "Buddy") to slightly less familiar ("Snookie", "Zig", "Black", and "Rock"). In one listing in nearby rural St John the Baptist parish, five out of the first seventeen candidates can be found sporting nicknames ("Lipper", "Dokie", "Bosco", "Casual" and "Netty" , in that order.)
The election for Louisiana's governorship was won by Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, the Indian-origin Republican candidate (who adopted his moniker at the age of 4 from a character in the television series The Brady Bunch). New Orleans's recent mayors include "Moon" Landrieu and "Dutch" Morial. It is rumoured among the punters that soon, due to his continuing verbal gaffes, our current mayor may universally be known via medial quotation marks as Ray "Chocolate City'" Nagin.
I myself, in my own not-so-macho days as an unwilling draftee in this nation's army, owned a nickname peculiar to that situation. Forty years ago the vast majority of the American army was composed of young men like myself, mostly in their late teens or early 20s, who desperately wanted to forget where they were. Who wanted to forget that they now had a job where, instead of being fired, they would be put in jail if they talked back or did an assignment incorrectly. Or, as a slightly more terminal solution, shot. To that end there was a great deal of drinking and imbibing of modestly illegal substances. For much of each day and night, they/we forgot.
While immersed in one such passage of time, my comrades-in-arms (actually my comrades-in-typewriters - we were all clerks, making carbon-copies on the less dangerous fringes of Asia) and I decided that henceforward we would all carry names suitable for comic-book hero-superpowers. We would be immortal, and as a side-effect, impervious to the rants of both non-commissioned and junior-grade officers. There was Ant-Man and Lurch (the giant from The Addams Family) and Speed-Man, and Fly - on and on.
One of the instigators, I was, when it came my turn, at loss for a new, inventive name. And then it came, out of the dark ether of my brain. I will never know why this occurred to me just then, but it did. "I'll be Dead Man," I said, "because nobody can beat a Dead Man. Nobody." The name stuck.
To this day, I've friends who call or write the Dead Man.
Four decades later I sit musing at these lists of names, all the "Red" & "Marty" and "Coach" candidates who are asking for the power to make decisions that will affect the lives of 100,000 fragile and vulnerable residents of this city.
Then I picture "B-Stupid", who never asked for the power, just took it, in the process also taking innumerable lives and ruining many more.
He was not alone. During the second weekend of October 2007, the number of people killed in this city rose to 186, topping the 183 murdered in all of 2006, when New Orleans was declared the murder capital of America, with the highest per-capita homicide rate of any major urban city.
It is getting better, please understand. Especially in the repopulated parts of the city. There are the cops on twelve-hour shifts and the national guard and state police and night-sight helicopters, but with all that plus the Feds it still took the authorities here eight years to capture Ivory Harris and put him away. And even then, twenty-five years seems a short time to keep such an unrelentingly dangerous creature in custody. Besides, there another hundred or so other murderers still out there, roaming.
As I look around me every day, I see New Orleanians still trying to act and react based in "normality", moving through their daily lives as if nothing was amiss, making a positive difference, helping each other. This self-giving warmth was the hallmark of the multi-ethnic multicultural civilisation that characterised the city pre-Katrina, and is still central to its character and its people.
We try to ignore the nicknames, whether tagging predators or politicians. We continue to try and interpret the real world as being "normal".
There go those quotation marks again.
Unfortunately, the reality of New Orleans 2007 makes me wonder ever again if even the "Dead Man" would be safe.
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