The story of a New Orleans law enforcement officer tasked with policing a city that annually tries its best to lose control
By Christopher Dillon Brugge Gorman
Come 00:01 Ash Wednesday you had better get your ass out of the street or you were liable to get a whack because Mardi Gras was over!” David “Chicken” Gorman was describing the scene at the end of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is a scene he remembers with ease despite having retired from the New Orleans branch of the DEA more than twenty years ago.
Chicken, a nickname that he swears has nothing do to with “his bravery or lack there-of,” retired from the New Orleans branch of the DEA after twenty-three years. Among his duties was joining the NOPD in policing the festivities of the Carnival season. New Orleans police forces have trouble enough taming their wild city on a quite day, but the days leading up to Lent are in a league of their own. When looking back, David said “we had a hell of a time,” despite the chaos.
Dressed in plain clothes he and his policing companions would set out to monitor the crowds after receiving a complementary B12 vitamin shot. He recalled these scenes with pleasure and was always liberal in his dramatizations.
“I saw a guy raising a piece of wood to strike one of the deputy’s horses.” He recalled holding back a smile. “I grabbed the guy and tossed him into the street,” he said this while making the movements of someone throwing water out of a bucket and making a fuh sound. “A nearby officer must have seen what was going on. He ran after the man,” who was now picking himself up to meet his pursuer, “and the two started going at it.” Chicken told the officer that he was a cop and the officer, between landing blows, said “I know, I know.” Chicken’s voice rose while he relived the moment, “I kept telling the guy ‘stop fighting stop fighting!’’ Eventually, he had enough of the beatings and stopped resisting but found himself booked on the bus headed to spend a cold night in lockup. His charge: “attempted assault on a police horse.”
He described another evening, started shaking his head while looking down before starting. “Now this was the worst one,” he said with a tone somewhere between disgust and anger. “We heard this guy was selling acid so we went up to his van… We knocked on the window and the guy yelled back ‘what!.’ We’ve got money to spend,” they replied. Chicken still appeared upset as he continued. ‘Okay dude wait a minute just taking care of the baby.’ The dealer answered back. They made the deal and proceeded to arrest the guy but “after we arrested him, the dealer said ‘watch the baby, I just gave him some acid to calm him down.’’ After overcoming the shock, the felon was escorted to the lockup.
Chicken only ever policed parades in the evening after performing his regular duties with the DEA. He’d get to DEA headquarters at 10am and wouldn’t leave until around 6pm to start the long arduous task of reminding people that “law was not in abeyance during Mardi Gras.” It was a long ten days with longer hours. Some nights he was out until 6am, although “even the wildest children were usually home by 3am,” leaving the city a “ghost town.” It must have been nice to see the once chaotic streets in a period of tranquility before being consumed by the insatiable masses the next day.
The days kept coming along with the vitamin shots and masses of people doing their best to lose control. Tempers, naturally, became shorter and shorter. Chicken recalled that towards the end of the season if someone wasn’t cooperating “one [officer] would whack him on the head.” He said this while humorously making a downward motion as if to hit the top of someone’s head and added a Bip! “The [next officer] would spray the cut with mace.”
“This was a long long time ago, in an era that is far far away,” he said trying to ensure that it’s clear things are different today, a fact that Chicken made sure to emphasize throughout our interview. “We were there to remind people they couldn’t piss in the drains, smoke a joint in the street, take a dump in the trash cans and give babies LSD, all of this happened by the way.”
The “brass” wanted him and his fellow officers to maintain order but they didn’t give any further directives. The only instance he could recall being reprimanded for behavior was after using profanity over the radio. He never had to question whether something was right or wrong since no such guidelines made their way to the men on street. All the bips and fuhs, strikes and whacks seemed perfectly acceptable means to bring a bit of order to a lot of chaos. Its doubtful such a laissez-faire attitude persists today.
Chicken will not deny that, at least for him, “it was a hell of a time.” A time he will never forget, but others may not remember.