Date: April 25, 2023, Author: Isaac Henry
As the city of Lafayette ramps up its preparation towards Festival International de Louisiane 2023, one of the main concerns for the event is the safety of all attendees. As reported by KATC TV3, on May 8 of last year, shortly after the conclusion of the celebrations, a shooting took place downtown on Jefferson Street, leaving 12 people injured.
Festival International’s Executive Director Scott Feehan spoke on the event’s efforts to prevent such an incident at that time, saying to KATC, “We’ve made adjustments over the past few years and that’s why we started shutting down earlier. We want some division between our patrons and whatever the nightlife looks like.”
But this was not the first time that this scenario had played out. On April 30, 2017, a few hours after Festival, WBRZ Channel 2 reported a shooting took place on Jefferson, just a block away from 2022’s attack, leaving two injured and one dead.
To get a solid grasp on the threat of tragedy at Festival, an honest look at what downtown Lafayette actually is (and if Festival International is a good place for it) might be helpful.
According to City-data.com, in 2019, the median gross rent in the 70501 zip code was $793, while the percentage of residents with income below poverty level was 31.6% (state average was 19%). The median estimated household annual income was $28,788, and the median asking price for vacant for-sale living properties was $385,031. The area around downtown Lafayette has severe economic and housing issues that the city has yet to address.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana Department of Health reported that overdose deaths increased by 219% from 2016 to 2021 in Acadiana. The situation has grown so dire that the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan is now carried by first responders and is available in most of the nearby University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus’ buildings.
As reported by LDH, Region 4 Medical Director Dr. Tina Stefanski said, “No community is safe from this crisis and the tragedy of overdose deaths is affecting our families and friends here in Acadiana.”
Despite the above-average rates of theft and assault in Lafayette as aggregated by MacroTrends, leaders in the community report no problems at Festival itself. Rev. Jessica Lowe, pastor of First United Methodist Church downtown, said, “I feel safe downtown all the time anyway, living downtown and walking down Jefferson every day and all that, so I felt safe during the festival too.”
Lowe knows about the 2022 shooting, but still felt comfortable with the job that the organizers had done that weekend, adding, “I know there’s always a challenge when any event is downtown, of the spinoff things that happen from that. So even though Festival ends at a certain time, the crowds are still down here, and the bars might capitalize on those crowds, they have their own live music and all that. And so it’s hard I’m sure for the festival organizers to know they don’t really have control of what happens outside of the hours of Festival International when they’re responsible for it.”
Lowe continued, “The fais do-do stage is a block from my house and I actually see the performers from that stage from my front porch… it’s a very well-done festival, especially given infrastructure challenges with downtown not being that large geographically and yet being able to have that amount of people moving through downtown in a pretty seamless way.”
Festival International’s official website outlines the plan for April 27: Scène LUS Internationale will have designated gates and entryways with bag checks that will close when crowd capacity is reached. The “know before you go” post received some pushback on Facebook, particularly with the standing-room only policy’s effect on the experience for festival-goers with disabilities.
Lowe went on to stress the importance of Festival International to the community, saying, “I would probably say a 10, just economically. My focus is downtown, just because of where I work and live, and I think for downtown businesses and restaurants, all of the festivals that happen and events that happen downtown are important, but that especially, I think.
Lowe continued, “Just drawing revenue from people who don’t live in Louisiana, don’t live in Lafayette, but also drawing people downtown who maybe don’t come downtown very often to try new restaurants and see the cool things that exist down here. So I would say a 10 [out of 10].”
For more of our Festival International de Louisiane coverage, click here.