french quarter*(Via LA Times) – From a distance, it seemed like common sense: an ordinance meant to keep children away from an open-air night-life zone with more than 350 places to buy booze, an abundance of strip joints and a 300-year-old reputation for iniquity.

But last week, as the New Orleans City Council approved a strict curfew for youths 16 and younger in the French Quarter, it sparked an incendiary debate that laid bare some of the tensions over race and police priorities that the Louisiana city — which suffers from the nation’s highest per capita murder rate — is struggling to resolve as it navigates its post-Hurricane Katrina future.

The ordinance, which was unanimously approved Thursday, revises a long-standing 11 p.m. curfew on Friday and Saturday nights to 8 p.m. for the French Quarter and part of the nearby Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.

In the rest of the city, an 11 p.m. curfew remains on weekends, with an 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. curfew on weekdays, depending on the season.

Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer, whose district includes the French Quarter, wrote the ordinance. The goal, she said, was to protect children from violent incidents like the headline-grabbing shootings last Halloween night, in which two people were killed and a dozen injured by gunfire on or around the packed Bourbon Street party strip.

“If we can, in any way, protect children from that, I think it’s very reasonable,” Palmer said.

But in a pair of emotional public meetings, a number of residents, most of them African Americans, criticized the idea. Some alleged that the lawmakers were trying to keep low-income blacks out of the sightlines of tourists.

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