Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ignatius Reilly on Community Policing in the Flagrant Vice Capital of the World

At the beginning of A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius Reilly is threatened with arrest while waiting for his momma in front of the old D.H. Holmes department store on Canal Street, where she is buying "fancy mix" and "wine cakes" in the bakery department.

The cop asks for Ignatius' identification and then asks him about the contents of his bag. Ignatius won't tolerate this treatment:

"Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capital of the civilized world?" Ignatius bellowed over the crowd in front of the store. "This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problems with you, but don't make the mistake of bothering me."


In a New Orleans where violent crime spirals out of control but where police are spending half their time arresting people for minor offenses and hauling them off to the Orleans Parish Prison for a couple of days while they wait to go before a judge or for their paperwork to go through, it would appear that Ignatius is onto something. According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, almost half of the annual 50,000 arrests in New Orleans are for traffic and municipal offenses. (Ethan Brown wrote about this with characteristic clarity earlier this year in Gambit.) While Ignatius' peculiar preoccupation with sodomites, fetishists, and lesbians probably should not drive criminal justice policy, New Orleanians would be far better served by a policing strategy that focused on serious crimes rather than street harassment of citizens less able to defend themselves than Ignatius.


  1. I believe Ignatius' last name is spelled "Reilly", though I do understand some possibly unintended parallels with our current chief Riley.

  2. Leigh, you are very right. Thanks for pointing it out. I will save the comparative analysis between Ignatius Reilly and Police Chief Warren Riley for another post! There is simply too much to say about that here.