Authorities turn blind eye to suspicious NOLA package

Brett Michael Dykes

In case you haven't heard, the United States is conducting a vigilant crackdown on terror threats. But New Orleans, despite its value as a high-visibility target, appears to be off the law enforcement world's radar.

The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the New Orleans Police Department don't have the time or inclination, it seems, to address any potential terror attacks on New Orleans, to judge by what happened Tuesday in the French Quarter.

As reported by the Washington Post's Jeff Stein, all three law enforcement agencies ignored warnings from a retired judge about a bag left unattended near Jackson Square -- a particularly historic section of the Quarter home to St. Louis Cathedral and frequented by many tourists. Stein reports that when Joseph T. Wilkins called the NOPD to report his concern, he was transferred by an operator to the "complaints department," where the phone just rang and rang without being answered.

After 45 minutes passed with the bag still sitting unattended, Wilkins told Stein, he then called Homeland Security. He described the situation to the official on the other end of the line -- who then transferred him to a department where his call again went unanswered.

Wilkins then called the FBI's New Orleans office, where the same thing occurred: He was transferred to a number with no one on the other end.

When another hour or so passed without results, Wilkins said, he called the offices of the Times-Picayune, the city's newspaper. He said he spoke to someone there who could pass the information on to a police commander -- but two more hours passed, and the bag still sat unattended. In the interim, numerous police officers passed by the bag on foot and in squad cars and did nothing. Finally, Wilkins said, a disheveled-looking man walked up to the bag and made off with it.

Stein wrote that the retired judge "shudders at the thought of the casualties that could have ensued if the suitcase had really held a bomb. Only an alert citizen's call in Times Square on May 1, after all, averted such a tragedy."

But here's perhaps the most peculiar aspect to all of this: Joseph T. Wilkins wasn't anywhere near the French Quarter or New Orleans on Tuesday. Rather, he was "touring" the area -- one of his favorites during his frequent New Orleans vacations -- via a live Internet stream from his home in Brigantine, N.J.

Come to think of it, it makes perfect sense that a New Orleans local wasn't the person making a stink about an unattended suspicious package. After all, this is the same city where recently a restaurant patron's gun fell from a table and went off, and hardly any diners paid much attention. It was Friday lunch at the famed Galatoire's after all, and there was plenty of eating and drinking still to be done; since no one was injured from the gunfire, what was the big deal? They don't call it the "City That Care Forgot" for nothing.

(Image of Jackson Square: Getty)