By Lolis Eric Elie
The first thing we do when we develop stories for 'Treme' is look at the real-life news events that took place during the time period of the upcoming season. We use these news articles as guides and backdrops. Sometimes they figure directly into our stories. Sometimes we use some details while excluding others. Sometimes we make stuff up. Our show may be fact-based, but ultimately, it’s fiction.
Our third season covers the period from the fall of 2007 to the spring of 2008. Here are some of the headline stories that took place in or near the relevant period.
As if living in a FEMA trailer isn’t bad enough, news reports confirm fears that things are worse than originally thought. Not only are the trailers contaminated with formaldehyde, the government knows it and still allows people to live in them.
Using blighted houses in the St. Roch neighborhood as a backdrop, Kirsha Kaechele and her KKProjects host several art happenings. Sophisticates, gutter punks, young transplants, art critics and visiting celebs all check out the work.
Former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas is appointed to head the Recovery School District of Louisiana.
Former NOPD officer Lance Schilling, 30, commits suicide, about a month before his scheduled trial for the videotaped beating of Robert Davis, a 64-year-old retired schoolteacher. The beating took place on Bourbon Street shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
Beauty salon owner Robin Malta is found beaten to death inside his home in Faubourg Marigny. His death devastates the neighborhood where Malta was well-known and much-loved. Later, it becomes clear that the New Orleans Police Department bungled the investigation.
George Brumat, owner of the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, dies in his sleep of a heart attack at age 63. Brumat’s club, the premier modern jazz club in New Orleans, was one of the first venues to reopen with live music after Hurricane Katrina.
Jeremy Davis, a mentally disturbed 23-year-old man, leaps from an ambulance on his way from University Hospital to a state psychiatric hospital in Mandeville. He dies the following day at University Hospital. Family members cite the closing of Charity Hospital as a factor in his death, as it necessitated his transport to the North Shore for treatment.
Terry Johnson, 26, and Chauncy Smith, 30, are shot and killed in a hail of AK-47 gunfire after a recreation league basketball game in the Treme neighborhood. Terry Johnson was a material witness in a pending murder case.
Levees.org accuses the American Society of Civil Engineers of whitewashing a report of its findings regarding the culpability of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the New Orleans levee failures. Later, Levees.org releases a video spoofing the report; ASCE comes out against the video and criticism.
Five homeowners sue New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and his administration for demolishing their homes under the city’s imminent-health-threat law. They contend that the homes were salvageable.
The New Orleans Musicians’ Union holds a silent second line in order to bring attention to hardships facing local musicians post-Katrina.
President George W. Bush dines at Dooky Chase, which reopened after $500,000 in repairs.
New Orleans’ first-ever inspector general, Robert Cerasoli, starts work. The Massachusetts veteran comes in with $250,000 in the 2007 budget earmarked for his office, but finds himself without an actual office or working phones on his first day of work. In true New Orleans fashion, the office of inspector general was actually approved by voters in 1995, but it took Katrina and a renewed interest for it to finally happen.
Brad Pitt announces his $12 million Make It Right project to build 150 affordable, storm-safe, environmentally-friendly houses in the Lower 9th Ward. The project promises to build houses by world-renowned architects on homeowners’ existing parcels of land.
Trombonist Glen David Andrews and snare drummer Derrick Tabb are arrested at a second line held in memory of New Birth Brass Band tuba player Kerwin James. Andrews was reportedly back on the street the following night in another procession.
Southern University at New Orleans students and faculty hold a rally to protest the slow pace of rebuilding the predominantly black university’s campus. It’s the only New Orleans-area institution of higher learning that hasn’t returned to its campus.
Ambitious plans for a National Jazz Center in the Central Business District are effectively scuttled when the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which would have been an anchor of the center, is sold.
Bobby Jindal, an Indian American, is elected governor of Louisiana. In a show of New Orleans’ changing racial politics post-Katrina, for the first time in decades, white politicians secure majorities on the New Orleans City Council and Orleans Parish School Board, as well as several judgeships long held by black judges.