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Month: January 2007

Field Hearing Notes

I made it in to the Louisiana Supreme Court for the Senate field hearing, “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Outstanding Need, Slow Progress.” Just getting in was an object lesson. First we (members of the publiuc) were shoved back out the door to wait in the cold, then we went through the obligatory metal detectors, then we were photographed and tagged. I’m now wearing a sticker with my name, picture and barcode. I’ve been told more than once that cell phones must be turned off but I see plenty of people using them so that’s how I’m posting this. I may be able to post updates here throughout the day or I may wait until it’s all over…

Update: The hearing started off with a bang. A young man stood up and unfurled a sign that said “PROBE THE WHITE HOUSE.” He urged Senator Lieberman to “probe the White House” and was yelling “stand up for justice!” as he was escorted from the chamber.

There were three senators at the hearing: Barack Obama, Joe Lieberman, and Mary Landrieu. All Democrats, you’ll note. Hmm. Coincidence? Or could Katrina be shaping up as a campaign issue for 2008 after all?

I’ll be the first to admit I’m out of my depth. Nevertheless here are my notes on the day’s hearing, rough and unfiltered…

Paul’s Plea

I haven’t talked to Paul since he left New Orleans. I saw him only briefly in the lobby of the hotel by the airport, the night after Helen was killed. For the first time in my life I was literally at a loss for words. I just couldn’t think of a thing to say. So, really, I haven’t talked to Paul since New Year’s Eve, when he and Helen and Francis stopped by our house for a visit.

I need to write Paul a letter. I still hardly know what to say, but I will have to find the words.

Helen Hill Will Not Be Forgotten

Yesterday morning a friend of mine was murdered. Those are some words I never wanted to type, never thought I would type, words I still can’t really believe.

If you ever met Helen, she was a friend of yours too. I believe she befriended everyone she met. If you never met her, well, now you never will, and that makes me so sad I can barely stand it.

She was, quite simply, the nicest person I’ve ever met. I’m not exaggerating. She was so nice you thought it wasn’t real, that maybe she was putting on an act. But she was for real.

Besides being a kind, sweet, gentle and happy person, Helen was also a creative genius, a talented artist, a maker of animated films. That’s how I first met her. We both had work in a show in Shreveport, curated by Courtney Egan, and we shared a ride on the way back to New Orleans. That was six years ago.

Since then I’d always hoped to collaborate with Helen more, and now I will never have the chance. The closest I got was a segment for ROX #90, wherein we had a good vegan lunch with Paul & Helen and their pet pig Rosie. You can watch it if you like. That was three years ago. It was shot at their home on Cleveland & Clark in Mid-City.

Here’s a photograph of Helen & Xy. It’s not particularly glamorous, but it’s the only one I have.

Helen & Xy

This was taken a year ago, just before Mardi Gras, when they stopped by our house for a visit. Helen and Paul were still trying to get back to New Orleans then. There house was rendered uninhabitable by the flood. I believe Paul was a little skeptical. He wondered if coming back was the right thing. But Helen really wanted to return.

She loved this city.

It galls me that I have to use the past tense.

How could this happen? We live in a violent city. We often say, “It could happen to anyone,” but we also figure most of the murder victims and perpetrators are part of that big game of drug trade and blood feuds. Helen was not a part of that game. She was shot in her own home. Police aren’t speculating as to motive, but it was likely an attempted robbery. Knowing Paul and Helen as I do, it’s safe to assume they were not armed and would offer little resistance or threat to an invading robber. I can’t imagine they were targeted as individuals. I can only conclude that this was a case of collateral damage, a panicked kid with a gun and no respect for human life. In other words, completely senseless.

It’s tempting to think of this as a post-Katrina phenomenon, but that would be a mistake. We should not forget that in June of 2004, eight people were murdered in just over 24 hours. We cannot blame everything on Katrina. It is a societal problem.

It’s still shocking, appalling. A talented artist and a doctor gunned down in their own home with their child right there.

When I say “doctor” you might think they were rich, and thus a target for robbery. But Paul is like no doctor I’ve ever met. He has dedicated his professional life to helping with the poor. Trust me when I say they did not live an ostentatious life. They had nothing to steal.

How to respond? Should we give up on New Orleans and flee the city? Should we arm ourselves to the teeth? I’ve contemplated both options. But I believe that Helen would have wanted us to keep fighting for justice and a better city. If you are reading this in New Orleans, and you’re not actively involved in working for the future of this city, I challenge you to get involved, now. We are, quite literally, fighting for our lives.

Helen Hill had friends all over this city and the world. Creative people, politically engaged. Check Nola Nik for some pix and links. is already in place with more to come. A march on City Hall is already being planned:


It is time for our elected officials to face up to the violence that is strangling our neighborhoods.

Come march with us to City Hall to demand action Thursday, January 11

Marigny-Bywater residents and ALL concerned New Orleanians, please come to a planning meeting this Sunday, January 7 at 1pm at Sound Cafe (2700 Chartres St.)

More info: 504-948-0917

But I believe this is only the beginning. We will never forget you, Helen. We couldn’t forget you even if we wanted to. But we want to remember. Your life was too inspirational to be forgotten, your death too unfair.

We need to go place some flowers on their doorstep. I’ll close this entry with the article that appeared on the front page of today’s paper.