This sign is situated in the median between the up- and down-river lanes of St. Claude Ave., just around the corner from my house. It intends to direct citizens to the temporary station the New Orleans Police Department set up inside an old furniture store post-Katrina. The parking lot behind the cop shop shares my street, and when I moved in I thought the abundance of cruisers and in- and outgoing officers might make the street safer. My neighbor informed me upon our first encounter, however, that the police were by far the worst neighbors on the block—loud and boisterous during their shift changes in the middle of the night, perhaps enthralling each other with tales of people’s asses they’d kicked on their shifts—and he was happy that they’re soon moving out. Apparently, after the police are gone the building is going to be turned into a “wellness center,” which will include a yoga studio and a badly needed food co-op.

It took me a couple of passes before I figured out exactly what this sign was—I tend not to associate childlike cheerfulness with law enforcement. I imagine it was an art project delegated to some unwitting fifth-grade class at the neighborhood charter school, or, even better, its creation was a twisted punishment meted to some young no-goodnick at a juvenile detention facility by a cruel and demented warden. Maybe the cops at the station painted it themselves during some down time for kicks.

The New Orleans Police Department needs all the help it can get, image-wise, especially since the recent confession of an officer who finally spilled the beans about the brutal assault and murder of several New Orleans residents at the hands of police just after Katrina. Also, two days ago, the FBI confirmed that it has opened its eighth separate civil-rights investigation of the NOPD—this time in regard to an incident during which cops allegedly assaulted and falsely arrested some transit workers during Mardi Gras 2008. I always said that, in Chicago, a city of tough and dangerous gangs, the C.P.D. was by far the scariest. The N.O.P.D. doesn’t seem to be much less menacing, but at least there are fewer of them.

The eeriest aspect of this sign is that none of the people, except maybe the grandma in the lower left corner, have faces. Was this the result of its artist not yet having developed the motor skills to draw something as intricate as a nose and cheekbones? Was it a purposeful statement implicating that any member of the community has the potential to get along with any police officer in sunny harmony? I doubt it. My theory is that, in a bought of brilliant foresight, the building owners anticipated the eventual transition of their property into a wellness center and ordered the sign made so that it would be easy to alter so that a yogi stood atop the arrow with the little girl, and the N.O.P.D. logo transformed into the logo for the Green Lotus Peace Studios, or whatever.

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