St. Bernard street name change sparks heated debate

St. Bernard street name change sparks heated debate

ST. BERNARD PARISH, LA (WVUE) - "I mean, if the street's name has to change, which is ridiculous, then name it after someone who's done something for this parish," a St. Bernard resident said.

Some described Tuesday's public hearing in the Council Chambers as heated with racial overtones. People showed up to take sides on an issue facing the St. Bernard Planning Commission, that is, whether to pass a motion to change the name of Colonial Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"My experience is that streets that are named MLK has been crime-ridden, drug-infested and unfortunately, it's known to be black populated," another resident said.

"Every street that's name after Martin Luther King is not drug infested and crime ridden," another resident countered.

"It got a little rowdy last night, but we were there to listen to everyone," the Rev. Kevin Gabriel said.

Gabriel is the president of the NAACP in St. Bernard Parish. He said the idea first came about back in October 2014.

"Then in March, I got a petition and came around the neighborhood," Gabriel said. Five houses said no and 28 of them said yes."

While the majority of homeowners on Colonial Boulevard are black, Gabriel said this is not a racial issue.

"All people should see what Dr. King was about," Gabriel said. "He wasn't for the black. He saw the hearts of people, and that's what all people in St. Bernard should see - the hearts of people."

Roy Gross is Planning Commission chairman.

"Anytime you have an issue such as this, you can expect a certain amount of emotion to be in this decision," Gross said.

He said the Sheriff's Office was present at the meeting, and several people were stopped from speaking because of comments that were made. In the end, the Planning Commission unanimously passed the motion for the name change.

"The main reason I think the Commission had an obligation is because the people who live on that street, almost 80 to 90 percent, signed the petition to change it, and they live on that boulevard," Gross said.

The St. Bernard Parish Council will make its decision when the motion is introduced Aug. 4. Another public hearing is set for Aug 18 at 3 p.m.

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