Two articles published just the week before Katrina hit demonstrates that what is happening in New Orleans is not just a result of the hurricane. Besides the lack of any kind of evacuation plan for the poorest residents by city officials and the lack of long term effective flood planning by everyone else, the city's crime situation was already out of contol. First an AP story dated August 22nd, 2006 by Alan Sayre:
NEW ORLEANS -- Last year, university researchers conducted an experiment in which police fired 700 blank rounds in a New Orleans neighborhood in a single afternoon. No one called to report the gunfire.
New Orleans residents are reluctant to come forward as witnesses, fearing retaliation. And experts say that's one of several reasons homicides are on the rise in the Big Easy as other cities are seeing their murder rates plummet to levels not seen in decades.
The city's murder rate is still far lower than a decade ago. But in recent years, the homicide rate has climbed again to nearly 10 times the national average.
"We're going in the reverse of 46 of the top 50 cities in the United States. Almost everyone is going down, but we're going up," said criminologist Peter Scharf. "There is something going on in New Orleans that is not going on elsewhere."
And the New Orleans Weekly Gambit (again late August of this year) finds that poverty is not the determining cause of this problem:
At the current pace, New Orleans will exceed 300 murders by the end of the year.
It is a nightmare from which we cannot awake. Cold statistics underscore the stark reality: The number of homicides in our city last week topped 200 for the fifth year in a row. At the current pace, we will exceed 300 murders by the end of this year, according to Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the University of New Orleans. If we had New York City's crime rate, New Orleans would finish the year with only 36 murders, Scharf says. If New Orleans had the same homicide rate as Cleveland, whose poverty rate is far higher than ours, our city would finish this year with 62 murders, he adds. Other cities are experiencing double-digit declines in their homicide rates -- as high as 30 percent. By contrast, our murder rate has been rising steadily since hitting a recent low of 162 in 1999.
Why are we slipping? Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass have offered various explanations as their own best crime-fighting efforts (improved police pay, security cameras in high-crime areas, and domestic violence training for cops) fail to stem the tide of bloodshed. For example, the mayor and the chief have tried to assure us that many of our murder victims are drug addicts and criminals. That may be a factual explanation, but it is not an excuse.
Now, of course, the vast majority of the people in New Orleans are law abiding people whose daily lives are threatened by a small minority of thugs; they are the victims of these thugs. I have visited the city many times and recall the friendliness and the hospitality of everyone I met.
And, again, there is also a lesson for Los Angeles here. Despite our still dropping crimes rates, we still have a problem with too many neighborhoods being terorized by gangs. And it is going to take more than just the police to deal with both the the criminal activities of the gangs and the culture that too often celebrates and encourages them.