The City That Care Forgot

Murder of former Saints captain Will Smith exposes New Orleans’ violent nature

            New Orleans, we’ve got a problem.

            We all know it.

            We don’t like to acknowledge it.

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            We don’t like to talk about it.

            But our city is a killing ground.

            According to the New Orleans Police Department, 6,301 people have been killed in the city since 1990. At its worst, New Orleans saw an average of more than a killing every day of the year in 1994 when 424 people lost their lives violently in the city. Even with the fewest number of people killed in a calendar year, 150 in 2014, there was a murder in New Orleans almost every other day.

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            The collective love for the Big Easy has been powerful enough for most to overlook its flaws – rampant crime, public corruption, institutional racism, an unsuccessful public educational system, unaccountable officials, and, of course, death.

            Life is cheap in New Orleans. It always has been, going back nearly 300 years to its founding. Through disease and destruction, death has always been at New Orleans’ doorstep. It’s part of the reason we are quick to celebrate almost any occasion and have developed unique cultural mores and traditions, like jazz funerals and second lines. Historically, the battle pitched man against nature – yellow fever, malaria, hurricanes, et cetera. But more recently the dichotomy has switched to man against man.

            Most of these deaths have been attributed to the city’s drug trade and associated violence. As such, they’re mostly forgotten, if acknowledged at all.

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            However, the city was sacked with disbelief and a sinking feeling that has lingered all week after news spread of former Saints captain Will Smith was shot to death late last Saturday night. Because of Smith’s high profile, the story has been at the top of local and national news broadcasts this week. No longer restrained to the shadows of the city’s economically depressed, Smith and his wife were gunned down just off the Magazine Street corridor, one of the most fashionable areas of the city. While New Orleans is treasured world over as “the city that care forgot,” the Big Easy, once again, made international headlines for another senseless killing. 

            Mayor Mitch Landrieu, of course, said it was an isolated incident and doesn’t reflect the nature of the city. But his eyes told a different story, making his statement come across more as a canned, chamber of commerce response than a sincere belief that we are safe.

            Those who had ties to Smith through the Saints didn’t give national media such a rosy outlook on New Orleans.

            Saints head coach Sean Payton spoke to USA Today, giving an astonishingly long 33-minute phone interview on Monday. He described a sleepless Sunday night and his desire to drive to the murder scene in the predawn hours to see it himself.

            “It’s like our big little secret,” Payton told USA Today. “They don’t want to kill tourism. But right now, it’s like the wild, wild West here….

            “Our city is broken.”

            On Sunday, Saints QB Drew Brees spoke to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, author of the weekly blog post Monday Morning Quarterback, about the tenor of crime in the city.

            “The problem is New Orleans perennially is way up in these homicides statistically,” Brees told King. “We become desensitized to it. And so many people die, but we pay attention when it’s Will Smith; that forces so many people who wouldn’t normally deal with it to deal with the reality of a terrible thing, the gun violence in the city.”

            Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, a native New Orleanian who played college ball at LSU, spoke to several news outlets about Smith’s murder and life in New Orleans. He lamented a lack of educational resources, safe recreational activities for youth and economic opportunity as the linchpins of societal failure in New Orleans. Because many parents are working multiple jobs to try to support their families, they are often unavailable to supervise their children, he said.

            “You go to one of these recreational parks, and they kicking you out at 5 o clock,” Mathieu told the New York Daily News. “Well what do you want these kids to do from 5 to 9? Their moms and dads aren't present. They have no other choice but to run these streets, man, and hang around people that (don’t) have their best interests. And that's what's really getting to me.”

            For a city where one is greeted by strangers with “baby,” “sweetie,” “honey,” or “boo,” it’s impossible to comprehend the lack of compassion and empathy some New Orleanians seem to have for one another.

            Going out in the French Quarter, shopping on Canal Street, eating at an Uptown restaurant, going to a Mother’s Day second line, or, shoot, sitting on your front porch, might end with you on the business end of a gun.

            Last Saturday, Orleans Parish voters rejected a tax increase to provide for more police and to pay firefighters pension funds owed them. It was rejected not because the people don’t support the NOPD, but because voters don’t trust politicians are using their money wisely. In the decade since Katrina, property assessments and taxes have been steadily raised, yet New Orleanians’ quality of life does not seem to have improved.  

            It’s beyond time everyone take a good hard look at who we are, who we want to be, and how we can improve our lot and transform our society. If we don’t, the death of a city will be the next worldwide headline.

 

NOPD Crime Statistics 1990-2014

New Orleans violent crime and murder statistics and rates based per 100,000 residents from 1990-2014. Numbers for 2005 are not complete due to population anomalies caused by Hurricane Katrina. Violent crimes and rates data for 2015 are still being sorted by the FBI and are scheduled to be released in August. 

 

Year Violent Crimes Rate Murders Rate 
1990 11,227 2,259.20 304 61.2
1991 10,969 2,190.30 345 68.9
1992 10,007 1,981.60 279 55.2
1993 10,024 2,039.00 395 80.3
1994 9,321 1,886.90 424 85.8
1995 10,876 2,232.40 363 74.5
1996 11,021 2,257.00 351 71.9
1997 8,404 1,720.30 267 54.7
1998 6,888 1,461.90 230 48.8
1999 5,931 1,273.20 158 33.9
2000 5,155 1,063.60 204 42.1
2001 5,877 1,213.50 213 44
2002 4,556 937.1 258 53.1
2003 4,596 967.3 274 57.7
2004 4,467 948.3 264 56
2005 NA NA 210 NA
2006 2,255 523 162 37.6
2007 3,451 1,564.30 209 94.7
2008 2,869 1,019.40 179 63.6
2009 2,614 777 174 51.7
2010 2,593 754.2 175 50.9
2011 2,748 792 200 57.6
2012 2,958 815.2 193 53.2
2013 2,965 786.4 156 41.4
2014 3,770 981 150 39

 

 

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