1.28.2009

The City That Can't Forget Crime

New Orleans crime. It's on everyone's minds. At least, everyone in the New Orleans blogosphere. Clay. Eli. Maitri. Liprap. Amy. And too many others to count.

I picked up the Times-Pic yesterday and opened it to the metro section first, as I always do. I was immediately struck by the headlines. Of the 12 headlines, 8 of them referred to violent crimes committed in the city and surrounding parishes. "Juvenile court judge says 14-year-old Kenner boy can be held in killing of French Quarter bartender. "Son accused of killing father, beating mother." "5 wounded in shootings at Iberville." "Trial delayed for mother accused of arming son." Eight out of 12 of those articles. And if that wasn't bad enough, one of the articles of the remaining four was a report of a man being arrested for sexually molesting an eight-year-old girl. All of the letters to the editor were from people voicing their anger, their fear, and their disgust at the sad state we're in.


Last Tuesday night, I went out Uptown with a friend to celebrate Obama's inauguration. Because I lived there for almost 10 years, I suppose I've always had a somewhat false sense of security in Uptown. You can't live in constant fear in your own neighborhood, right? But then, a friend of my friend, a bartender, told us that one of her customers had recently been robbed at gunpoint, right around the block from the bar. After the robbers took his money and his keys, they made him lie down underneath his car. Apparently, they planned to run over him with his own car, but fortunately it stalled and they left on foot instead, leaving one very freaked out guy underneath his own car. Again, this is just an anecdote, a story told by a friend of a friend--but it was enough to seriously scare the shit out of me as I walked to my car, alone, a couple of hours later.

Because we're taught that if we're alert, if we take in our surroundings, we're less likely to be seen as prey. And then, if it happens, if we are approached, we're told to surrender our wallets, our purses, our cell phones, our keys--anything the robbers want--and that then, most likely, they'll leave us alone. But all of the rules have changed. Now, thugs are taking over this city. Children shot Wendy Byrne in the back. A young man slit his toddler's throat and dumped that little boy's body in a park rather than pay child support. Helen Hill was killed in her own home. Dinerral Shavers was killed in his own car, in front of his family. And at least a hundred nameless, faceless young men are gunned down in this city every year, most of them in broad daylight.

Where in the hell do we go from here? Can we hope that the problems in this city will begin to improve once Ray Nagin and Warren Riley get the hell out of town? Can we hope that perhaps we'll then have a chance a electing a competent mayor, who will hopefully hire a competent police chief, who will hopefully begin to make the desperately needed changes in this city, like focusing less on catch-and-release petty crimes and focusing more on things that actually make a difference, like community policing?

I remember the late 90's in New Orleans, and how disgusted we all were then. Antoinette Franks gunning down the workers in the restaurant where she worked as an off-duty police officer. The horrible execution-style killings of the employees at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. The little boy of about five years of age--I think his name was Kevin--who was missing for several days before his body, bound and strangled, was found in an abandoned repair shop on Leake Avenue. I still think about him every time I drive by the place where his body was found. And they never found his killer, did they?

But then Richard Pennington came to town, and we all began to feel a little more hopeful--like someone actually got it and knew what needed to be done to start turning this city around. Do you think Ray-Ray is cutting off his nose to spite his face? That the mayoral race between him and Pennington became so contentious that he'll be damned if he's going to do anything the way Pennington would have done it? Do you think Ray-Ray and Riley sit around and talk about how much they couldn't stand Pennington? Riley worked under him back then, didn't he? I'm sure it really doesn't have any bearing on their refusal to do anything substantive to address the crime problem, but sometimes I wonder.

And if we do get that problem solved and actually get some competent leadership in this town, then what? Will that be enough? How do we stop 14-year-olds from not giving a shit about their lives or anyone else's? We all know some of the answers, I suppose. Access to a good education. Responsible parenting. A stronger sense of involvement from the community as a whole. The list goes on and on. And there is so much that needs to change that it's exhausting to think about and seems overwhelming. Where do we go from here? What's the first step?

We're all losing the New Orleans that we love. So many of us, including myself, say, "This is the first time I've lived somewhere that felt like home." But I often wonder, do I have a breaking point? What, if anything, will make me finally say that enough is enough and leave? Will it be when I'm robbed? When someone breaks into our house? When my husband is robbed? When someone we know is killed? And god forbid, when and if that time comes, will we stay? Or will we leave and regret having stayed that long?

I don't have any answers. Just lots of questions.

2 comments:

kelly said...

My husband would say that by leaving we are contributing to the problem.

I say that by staying, we are being wreckless.

I often ask what has to happen for him to leave. How close to home does the crime have to hit?

I keep saying that I want to leave while I still have love for the city.

Amy said...

I feel so torn on the issue. Part of me thinks that if I go, I am surrending the city to those that are making it unsafe. Part of me thinks if I stay, I am putting everyone I love in danger.

I, too, am overwhelmed by it. I want to make real change. But how? where do we start? It is especially difficult being relatively new to the city.

I know where we would go if we moved. I have done research on the schools, the job market, and the housing. It is just a matter of waiting to see.

I live in uptown, so you have me curious as to where this took place!