A real woman 'warrior' reigns as queen of the Nefertiti parade in New Orleans East (2023)

It’s unusual to interview a Carnival queen who’s carrying a sidearm. But Summer Turner isn’t your usual Carnival Queen. She’s a detective sergeant in the New Orleans Police Department, assigned to property crime in New Orleans’ busiest precinct, the 7th, in New Orleans East.

On Sunday at 1 p.m., Sgt. Turner will be stationed atop the queen’s float in the Nefertiti parade, preparing to toss purple beads to her subjects along Lake Forest and Read boulevards.

She’ll be wearing a white gown surmounted by one of those huge Medici collars — the giant, glittering accessories that resemble a peacock’s tail. It will be emblazoned with green palm trees.

The sergeant will carry symbols of power — a crook and a flail — just like the real Nefertiti of ancient Egypt, and she’ll wear the same sort of cylindrical crown you see on that famous statue of the Queen of the Nile.

In the spotlight

Every eye in the East will be on her, for sure.

Which may be a little uncomfortable because, Turner said, “being in the spotlight isn’t my thing.”

“To be part of Mardi Gras royalty is something absolutely unbelievable,” she said.

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Turner is a stalwart member of Nefertiti, one of those people who’s always there at meetings and activities, always willing to pass out flyers or take on whatever job. Always a cheerleader. But always behind the scenes.

When she filled out the krewe’s application to be queen, she didn’t really think she had a chance.

Turner, 44, is New Orleans born and bred. She’s a Touro baby who went to Warren Easton High School and studied criminal justice and substance abuse at Southern University New Orleans. She joined the Army and learned to drive a big truck.

“There weren’t a lot of women driving trucks at the time,” she said. “An 18-wheeler yet.”

At the tender age of 22, she became a cop. And she loves it.

“I grew up with the NOPD,” she said. “And I’ve never wanted another job.”

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Being a cop is a commitment

What’s a day in the life like for the queen, when she's not the queen?

Auto theft is big these days, she said. When you go out to investigate a missing car, you first scope out the scene to see if there are any security cameras anywhere with video that you can download, or maybe there are nearby stoplight license plate readers. You issue a BOLO — a be on the lookout alert — and consult the computer for patterns or suspects.

“It’s like a puzzle,” she said.

Asked if her department catches the bad guys, she said: “Sometimes it’s a good day, sometimes, not so much.”

There’s no routine. Turner can’t be sure when she’ll get a crime report. Sometimes she’s in the office at 4 a.m., still working. She’s got a futon in case she needs to nod off for a while. For company, she’s got a big stuffed black bear with a necktie named Dakota.

Sometimes when it’s just her and Dakota, alone, “I talk to him about my life and purpose,” she said.

Being a cop is a commitment, she said. “You don’t do it for the money, and you don’t do it for the “attaboys.”

“I’m embedded in the city,” Turner said. “I may not be able to make a huge difference, but knowing that I’ve made a positive difference in somebody’s life at some point is what’s the most gratifying for me.”

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The grim reality

Asked (clumsily) by an interviewer if she ever has those daring car chases and arrests we see in TV shows, Turner replied somberly.

Yes, she’s been in a few car chases. Worse yet, back in 2004 her partner LaToya Johnson, who was standing beside her, was shot and killed, she explained.

“We were on patrol, responding to a call about an emotionally disturbed person,” she said.

“I’ve had some traumatic challenges,” she understated. “There are people who literally die for this job.”

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Turner recently visited Pierre A. Capdau Charter School to talk to young women about her profession. She said she’d like to be a role model. She likes the kids to see somebody who looks like them, who comes from a modest background, who was made queen of a Carnival krewe and is successful in her job.

Sure, New Orleans East may have more than its share of crime. But Turner points out that crime doesn’t care about neighborhood borders. It happens everywhere.

She likes the East. She lives there with her 17-year-old daughter, a track and field athlete. When Turner’s not at work, she’s mostly at track events cheering on her daughter.

Becoming a queen

If you stand at the entrance to the 7th District station, you can see where the parade will roll by on Sunday. It's about a half-block away. The queen will pass her domain.

Sergeant Turner’s supervisor, 7th District Commander Wayne DeLarge is aware of the implications of having royalty in the ranks. With tongue in cheek, he said he may allow her majesty to deviate from the dress code to wear a crown — but only her.

But, he wrote via email, “All kidding aside, Summer is a dedicated professional and there is no doubt that she loves her community and is committed to making a difference in every way. As Queen of Nefertiti, she is out in the community, giving back and revealing her humanity and compassion. There is no difference when she is wearing the badge— she is just as committed and dedicated to the mission of helping people.”

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Turner used to belong to the Krewe of Nyx, but she left the group before the big meltdown in 2020 when the membership resigned in droves due to disagreements with the captain.

When her fellow NOPD sergeant Zenia Smith, who was also a former Nyx member and who also lives in the East, founded the all-female Krewe of Nefertiti in 2020, Turner joined immediately.

Nefertiti is the East’s only parade. It’s for the neighborhood folks who maybe can’t easily get to the Uptown parades, or maybe don’t want to.

It’s the kind of parade where people watch from their own front yards, kids run along with the 13 floats, and the high school bands come from the neighborhood. Nefertiti is devoted to public service. It’s exactly the kind of parade that wants a detective sergeant as queen.

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Smith won’t say why the krewe chose Turner. It comes down to a series of secret questions and a vote. But the choice seems perfect.

The 2023 theme “Nefertiti Roars” is dedicated to women who stand up for what they believe in and aren’t quiet about it.

“Every woman in the krewe embodies that theme,” said Smith, “but she is a warrior.”

Turner said she’ll be busy Sunday. She’s not only riding as queen, but she’s helping cook breakfast for all the officers in the 7th district. It’s something she and friends do for her fellow officers throughout the Carnival season.

All hail!

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