by Tim Tagaris, Fri Dec 01, 2006 at 10:48:00 AM EST
As the party raged, police manned nearly every corner on Bourbon Street last weekend -- some on horses, some on foot, others massed in groups on intersections. About a half-mile down the street from the lively French Quarter, fights began breaking out near the Central Business District off Canal Street; business owners began closing early for the evening; a man was stabbed multiple times and died.
Add another to the counter in New Orleans, the "most murderous" city in country.
Crime, that old menace of the old New Orleans, is back, and it's bedeviling a city trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina. There have been 147 people killed in New Orleans this year, police say, down from 204 by this time in 2005. But the city's population is about half what it was before Katrina flooded 80% of the city, forcing an almost-complete evacuation.
That means New Orleanians are murdering each other at a rate of 73.5 murders per 100,000 residents. That figure is above that of the nation's most murderous city -- Compton, Calif., whose rate was 67 murders per 100,000 people in 2005, according to the latest FBI statistics.
Because many traditionally violent areas flooded and remain nearly empty, crime has moved to upscale, high-traffic areas such as the Marigny, the French Quarter and Uptown, leaving residents with one more reason to question their decision to remain in the city.
"This is a city out of control," says Fine, 78, who stands drinking a beer outside the Spotted Cat as a Billie Holiday song wafts out of the bar's open doors. "Something's changed here."
Maybe now that the crime and murder are beginning to directly impact the more affluent (see "white") communities in New Orleans, the problem will receive more national attention than the easy to digest storyline of black folks shooting black folks over drugs. This is a dangerous city, I could see it nightly on my drive from the CBD to Uptown every evening. It was one of the first things I talked with Stoller about after arriving in NOLA. One of Karen Carter's staffers was apparently car-jacked during the campaign.
Amazingly, this isn't really an issue I've heard much about from either candidate in the press. It was an issue in the Mayor's race, but in this one ... not so much. And like all issues in this election, it's all part of Katrina. Whether it's exacerbated poverty problems since the storm, a lack of police on the street, or post-storm psychological issues, it's yet another indication this city has been left to fend for itself since the storm.
And it's not just the East Bank of the Second District suffering from high crime and murder rates, it's happening on the other side of the bridge as well:
Sheriff Harry Lee said he's ready to take "extreme" measures to curb Jefferson Parish's highest homicide rate since at least 1980, including using video cameras _ some in armored vehicles _ to monitor streetcorner groups and the license plates of cars that travel through targeted areas.
Lee, who last month prompted outrage by suggesting his deputies could randomly question young black men gathered in high-crime areas, said he expects his latest plan to offend some people. But added, "I don't give a damn."
"We will go right up to the line," Lee told a news conference.
So far this year there have been 53 homicides in Jefferson Parish, an 83 percent increase over this time in 2005. Lee said he expects the figure to top 60 by year's end. Most of the victims and the alleged killers are black, sheriff's deputies said. About 45 percent of the killings are drug-related.
Lee said he's frustrated by the growing number of killings, a problem he believes has spread to Jefferson from neighboring New Orleans. That city, which has less than half its pre-Katrina population, had recorded 140 homicides _ also mostly black-on-black _ as of Tuesday afternoon, a police spokesman said.
I have been trying to get in touch with Mayor Nagin's office to quiz him on this issue specifically, but have been fruitless in every attempt to even get a simple call-back. For his part, the Mayor's team insists NOLA's crime strategy is "second to none," but many aren't buying. The Police Chief plans on asking the National Guard to stick around to complement a depleted force. It was only this week, a full year-plus since the storm and food that the first police recruits began training to fill city's thinning ranks.
This election is going to come and go. Maybe Congressman Jefferson will get re-elected, or maybe Karen Carter will provide a new voice for the district in the House. Who knows. But whatever happens, this city needs a tremendous amount of help that simply has not been forthcoming. It's hard to imagine the greatest country in the world would abandon an entire population center, but while some things have gotten better August 2005, neglect has led others to sprial out of control. It's now in the hands of a Democratic-controlled Congress to pick up the pieces left behind by the old guard on their way into the minority.