The Queen City of the South is under siege. No, not from hurricanes. This time, the siege is from within. New Orleans is known as the city that care forgot. But it’s been hard to let the good times roll in the Big Easy when the dice keep coming up snake eyes.
In the movie called Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Nicolas Cage plays a corrupt New Orleans cop, and tells a fellow cop to “Shoot him again.” “What for?” says his companion. Cage casually observes: “His soul is still dancing.” You can’t kill enough in New Orleans. It is the murder Capital of America with one of the worst murder rates in the world. And the killings continue at an ever-growing frequency.
When it comes to killings, America surpasses the developed world at some five per 100,000 people. New Orleans has more than ten times that number. For every 1,700 people in the Crescent City, one will be murdered. These figures were based on last year’s numbers. The murder rate so far this year is way ahead of last year’s. So it’s the bad guys vs. the good guys in the criminal justice system, right? Maybe not.
New Orleans has always pushed the limit of what is acceptable to those running government and to its citizens. The city is often referred to as a corrupt third world country and the most northern of the Caribbean nations. But in recent years, the bottom seems to have fallen out of the criminal justice system itself.
The system that is supposed to protect the citizens of New Orleans is rife with corruption and incompetence. In too many instances, those who are charged with safeguarding and serving have betrayed their mission to see that the public is protected, and that justice is done. A report in The New Statesman observes: “Something terrible lies at the heart of New Orleans – a rampant, widespread and apparently uncontrollable brutality on the part of its police force and its prison service. The horrors of its criminal justice system from decades before Katrina and up to now lie somewhere between, with little exaggeration, Candide and Stalin’s Gulags.”
New Orleans is in a battle to stay afloat as it deals with major street crime, corrupt politicians, and a dysfunctional criminal justice system where even federal officials can no longer be trusted. Author James Lee Burke writes about this corruption and dysfunction in his novel Last Car to Elysian Fields. “One of the most beautiful cities in the Western hemisphere was killed three times, and not just by forces of nature.”
The Queen City of the South for years has had the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, where multiple killings often happen on a daily basis; a city that is rated as one of the five most dangerous cities in the world. But even with such a reputation, it is hard to fathom the recent up rise in shootings. The New Orleans District Attorney reports that more than 700 people have been shot in the past 12 months, a 50% increase in less than a year.
Many crimes go unreported out of the sense of frustration that nobody will do anything about it, anyway. Recently, a young relative of mine was walking uptown from the French Quarter. Just across Canal, in one of the busier sections of the city, a man stepped out of nowhere and without rhyme or reason, punched him in the face. In an instant, my relative had become a victim of the “knockout game,” a brutal ritual where street thugs approach an innocent bystander and try, in one blow, to knock him out. He suffered a concussion and had his jaw wired shut for weeks. This type of street violence seems to happen way too often.
What happened to my friend of many years, Congressman Steve Scalise, is hard to fathom. But so are the numerous killings in the Crescent City. New Orleans can be either a unique place to live and work, or it can slowly drift into the cosmos due to a justified fear of crime. There’s a fight to keep the bright, dynamic young leadership in the city and be an integral force in molding the future of New Orleans. But it all begins with feeling safe, doesn’t it? And right now, the Crescent City still has a long way to go.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com