New Orleans is in the midst of a violent murder spree unlike anything the city has seen before or since Hurricane Katrina.
According to an excellent piece in today’s New York Times, New Orleans’ murder rate in 2010 was 10 times the national average, “long before shootings on Halloween night in the crowded French Quarter revealed to a larger public what was going on in poor neighborhoods around the city every week.”
There were 51 homicides per 100,000 residents here last year, compared with less than 7 per 100,000 in New York or 23 in similar-size Oakland, Calif.
“From September of last year to February of this year,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a recent speech, after reciting a litany of killings from one city high school, “a student attending John McDonogh was more likely to be killed than a soldier in Afghanistan.”
The causes of the skyrocketing rate can be found in the economic devastation and social dislocation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Notorious corruption in the police department hasn’t helped, leading to a great mistrust between New Orleans’s citizenry and the force that is supposed to serve and protect them.
The narrower causes are less clear. There are no large organized gangs in town, nor are there major drug wars, though some killings are turf disputes over the drug market, made worse by the drastic reshuffling of the urban poor after Hurricane Katrina and the demolition of public housing projects.
Many killings in New Orleans are a result of conflicts and vendettas among small, loosely organized groups, the analysis concluded, but in nearly half the cases, the experts listed the primary motive as uncertain or unknown. Only about half the homicide cases are cleared.
In the end, its not the living who pay, but the victims:
The killers and their victims are overwhelmingly young black men, according to an analysis of homicide cases by outside experts last March, and sponsored by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. As police officials frequently point out to the anger of some families, most victims and offenders had prior contacts with the police, often for violent crimes. Less than a quarter were listed as having a steady job.