On January 19 and 24, New Orleans police and Louisiana state police raided eight strip clubs on Bourbon Street, the city’s tourism center. Male officers reportedly stood in the dressing room while the women got dressed, took pictures of the undressed women, announced the women’s legal names in front of customers and made derogatory comments. This is part of what many see as a war on nightlife by outgoing Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He has also proposed shutting the city’s famous all-night bars early, and the city just spent tens of millions of dollars on surveillance cameras all across the city. The city and state have used the justification of “fighting sex trafficking” for the raids, but no trafficking victims were found. However, hundreds of workers are unemployed as a result of the raids.
As journalist Melissa Gira Grant has reported, this crackdown is rooted in sensationalistic and inaccurate reporting by The Times-Picayune, the city’s formerly daily newspaper. As Grant writes, the newspaper “referred interchangeably to stripping, selling sex, and trafficking, and concluded, vaguely and without data to support it, that victim advocates and law enforcement told them that French Quarter strip clubs were a ‘trafficking opportunity.'” As a result of his biased reporting, Kevin Litten, the lead reporter on the Picayune series, has now caused over a thousand women, many of whom are already living on the margins, to be harassed by police and lose their jobs.
Now the workers are fighting back, as this video shows. They protested and stole the headlines away from a press conference on Bourbon Street infrastructure improvements led by city leaders. Last Thursday, hundreds of strip club employees and their allies marched through the French Quarter in a raucous protest. The following night, they came out again. Today, the workers are organizing to make their presence felt at a City Planning Commission hearing for zoning restrictions on strip clubs. Whatever happens next, this struggle is clearly not over.