Dirty South Bureau

January 12, 2007

More cops and more incarceration will not stop the killings

First off, I want to send out my deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the violence here in New Orleans. To the family of Helen Hill and Dinerral Shavers, but also to the families of the six other people murdered since the first of the year whose names have not been in headlines, and to the families of the 161 people who were killed last year.

As some of you know, I did not attend the march on Thursday. I understand that many felt the need to march, but I personally do not go on marches where there is not a clear statement or demand being made. I do not want my presence used by policy-makers to justify something that I do not support.

From the meeting at Sound Cafe on Sunday, which I did attend, one thing was abundantly clear: that there was no consensus on what the demands of this march would be. Some in the crowd wanted more police on the street, one woman who says that she spends a lot of time on nola.com forums even proposed a state of emergency. While many other viewpoints were expressed, those are the ones that I fear will be heard from all of this.

So let’s have a real conversation about what will reduce violent crime in New Orleans.

Let’s talk first about what we have tried.

We already have 1,400 police on the street- 609 police per every 100,000 residents of New Orleans. Before the storm we had 1,668 police- 359 police per every 100,000 residents (figures courtesy of Michelle Krupa, Times-Picayune, Sunday 7th.)

The most recent data that I have found online (year 2000) indicates that we now have the highest per-capita number of police in any large or medium sized city except Washington D.C- more than New York, Chicago, or even Detroit or Baltimore, and more than twice the year 2000 per-capita numbers of Los Angeles and Houston. This number does not include the state police or national guard who are here indefinitely. (figures courtesy of the Department of Justice)

Our jails were full as well. Before the storm, we had 1.5% of the city locked up in OPP, giving us the highest incarceration rate of any large city, and the state incarceration rate was the highest in the nation. And the US incarceration rate is the highest in the world.

Despite the numbers of police and jails, we continue to have one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the nation. Incidentally, Washington DC, with all their cops, also has one of the highest per-capita murder rates.

So let’s talk about other related factors:

We had one of the highest rates of functional illiteracy in the country- around 40% according to the literacy alliance of greater New Orleans. Study after study shows that those who cannot read and write well are more likely to end up in prison (Literacy Behind Prison Walls, National Center for Education Statistics)

We continue to have some of the worst public schools in the country- some of which, like John McDonogh, have gotten worse since the state takeover.

Around 40% of children under the age of five in New Orleans were growing up in poverty before the storm- and the poor are more likely to end up in jail as well.

For decades we have had a surfeit of low-paying service industry jobs in this city, and little else. And from years working as a carpenter I can testify that racial discrimination in the construction trades- one of the few places where a person with limited education can make a decent living here- is rampant.

It is scant consolation to those who have lost loved ones, but what needs to be done to make this city safe will take time. We have to create a decent society where everyone has access to quality education, living wage jobs, and health care, including mental health care, a huge need post-Katrina.

The so-called “thugs”- or whatever other racially coded language you prefer- committing these crimes are largely young men. Many, like the seventeen year old who killed Dinerral Shavers, are teenagers. Perhaps you can remember what it was like to be a teenager- and the lack of caution that you had. These children are not afraid of death or jail, and it isn’t stopping them from picking up guns. You can put them in jail, you can even kill them, but more are on their way. As Ralph Ellison said, the most dangerous thing that a society can produce is a man who has nothing to lose. I would modify that to say that the most dangerous thing we can produce is children who have nothing to lose.

It will not be quick and it will not be easy. But if you want to stop the killings here you have to change society. The short-term solutions will not work. They haven’t yet.

See also the G-Bitch Spot

10 Comments »

  1. [...] Law enforcement is clearly a short-term measure. Some folks have said to me that there are simply no short-term measures that are acceptable. I was taken aback by this at first, but they do have a point: Our traditional system of arrest and incarceration simply reproduces the pathology of crime. [...]

    Pingback by b.rox » Blog Archive » Like It or Not — January 17, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  2. People who come here from out of town are quick to dismiss practically every local reaction to crime as ‘racist’. That is a cop out. Everybody knows that poverty, racism, and a terrible education system are major root causes of the crime problem in New Orleans. I know, I went to New Orleans public schools. But so is parochialism, the tendancy of each community within the city to blame the others. We have had liberals from out of town heavily influencing local government policy since the 1970s, and nothing has gotten better. It’s all well and good to piously demand that we stoically wait and endure a storm of crime up to and including home invasion robbery / murders, but those of us who actually call new orleans a home as opposed to some right of passage or temporary playground, need short term solutions too. Blaming the locals, blaming racism, blaming the long term problems is not acceptable unless that goes along with actual concrete improvements. You might want to start by getting to know more than just one community and attempting to understand more than one perspective on the crime. The situation in New Orleans is not simply one of an oppressed black community and a smirking, happy exploitative white community. This is one of the places where there are plenty of poor white people too, for one thing.

    By the way, there were three marches which converged into one. One of the three marches was predominantly black, as are the people behind the “enough!” campaign who are always sitting at MLK and Clayborne. Maybe you should speak to them and ask them what they think.

    I’m no fan of the cops, I am against racism and I want to see the local economy and schools get better, it’s critical to the survival of my home town. I love New Orleans and it’s unique culture to cite an oft-used cliche. But I also know that if my girlfriend is shot coming out of her car late one night on her way home from work, no amount of crawfish, Kermit ruffins, or Sazeracs is ever going to make me feel better.

    Until the Left begins to come up with effective SHORT TERM solutions to this crime problem they can expect to continue to see people supporting draconian tactics, and see themselves remain in largely irrelevent obscurity.

    Big Dummy

    Comment by Bigdummy — January 17, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

  3. six other people murdered since the first of the year whose names have not been in headlines,

    I think it’s more than 8 now….

    >As some of you know, I did not attend the march on Thursday. I understand that many felt the need >to march, but I personally do not go on marches where there is not a clear statement or demand >being made. I do not want my presence used by policy-makers to justify something that I do not >support.

    Thats really interesting that you say that. Because practically every single left-leaning activist I know, including myself, has been on marches or demos which were either dominated by, or at least included Stalinists, Maoists, or even wierder and more noxious wing-nut individuals or groups that none of us could seriously support, to the contrary, and often to our heavy detriment. The most recent example of that would be the way the small group ANSWER managed to place themselves in a dominant and highly visible position in so many of the huge pro-immigration rallies which took place last year…. ANSWERS blatant pro-North Korea stance was gleefully used by Right Wing sheep herders to utterly discredit that movement and undoubtedly led to it’s collapse.

    I hope that you are consistent in your caution about demonstrations, it would be an excellent precedent to set for left wing activists of all stripes for the future, to only support what their conscience tells them is right. I certainly hope that you do not have a double standard where because a group is ‘predominantly white’ or is marching in reaction to crime, that they are not fashionable or something.

    >From the meeting at Sound Cafe on Sunday, which I did attend, one thing was abundantly clear: that >there was no consensus on what the demands of this march would be. Some in the crowd wanted more >police on the street, one woman who says that she spends a lot of time on nola.com forums even >proposed a state of emergency. While many other viewpoints were expressed, those are the ones that >I fear will be heard from all of this.

    I heard everything from people suggesting the entire city be disarmed (a hysterical concept on many levels) to advocating the formation of neighborhood and block militias which I think is a great idea and very anarchistic. I also noted that the politicans were not allowed to speak or march with the marchers. Whatever it was, it was an expression of the people in the community.

    >So let’s have a real conversation about what will reduce violent crime in New Orleans.

    I won’t hold my breath.

    >The so-called “thugs”- or whatever other racially coded language you prefer- committing these >crimes are largely young men. Many, like the seventeen year old who killed Dinerral Shavers, are >teenagers. Perhaps you can remember what it was like to be a teenager- and the lack of caution >that you had. These children are not afraid of death or jail, and it isn’t stopping them from

    Ok so next time someone tries to hold me up (like many locals, I am proud to say I haven’t been successfully robbed yet) I should just bite my lip and contemplate the folly of youth? Fuck that. I’ll be defending myself as actively as possible in the ‘short term’.

    BD

    Comment by Bigdummy — January 17, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  4. Are only sympathetic comments welcome?

    Comment by bigdummy — January 18, 2007 @ 4:26 am

  5. Of course critical comments are welcome too- but three comments, “bigdummy”? Getting a little loquacious, aren’t we?

    Please note that I never said anything about self-defense, which as far as I am concerned is the right of anyone being threatened with violence.

    What I am talking about is the big picture- what actually works to reduce violent crime, which I believe is the goal of everyone here. You talk about effectiveness- but what among your “short-term” solutions actually reduce the number of killings? And if they don’t, then what good are they?

    Comment by Christian — January 18, 2007 @ 9:48 am

  6. Yes Education is a part of the problem and the solution.
    What I want to know is WHY the we are content to let the Catholic Church (and other independent schools) get LRA dollars to repair and rebuild – their INFRASTRUCTURE, while at the same time we allow the Baton Rouge lead “Recovery School District” to place New Orleans School children in modular facilities?
    The Catholic Church is one of the most well endowed organizations (in both property and revenues in the bank). If Catholic Schools need funding for anything they should NOT get it from our TAX dollars they need to get it from ROME!!!

    Comment by Nola J — January 19, 2007 @ 4:12 pm

  7. This question about the efficacy of short-term solutions has really made me do some soul-searching. According to what little research I’ve done, it would seem that short-term solutions such as community policing did reduce the murder rate quite significantly (65%) in New Orleans in the late 90s. Is this a lie? A statistical aberration? Did we see a short-term gain but then “pay for it” later when violent crime came roaring back? Or should that be attributed to our failure to address root causes?

    Comment by Editor B — January 19, 2007 @ 7:32 pm

  8. First off, It is a mistake to talk about causes when all we really know is correlation. Community policing _may_ have been a factor in a reduced murder rate in the late 90s- many people think it was. But rates of violence are not static and are affected by many factors. We all know that murders come in waves in this city- higher some years than others, higher in the summer than the winter, etc. It isn’t surprising that murder rates went down after the mid 90′s, considering how high they were.

    I’m not saying that you can’t have some effect on the rate of violent crime using various methods- and the NOPD and the courts are definitely in need of reform at the least. But until you address the underlying social conditions any successes will be limited.

    Comment by christian — January 19, 2007 @ 8:22 pm

  9. Even if say, community policing is only say 10% effective, it’s at least something, and it’s more than any short term fix the Left has offered up. You come across very unsympathetic to people who have the very reasonable goal of not being killed and I really don’t understand why.

    Also, i agree education is a key part of the problem here. I went to public schools in New Orleans with no tolilet paper, no air conditioning, 10 year old books and teachers who could barely read and write. But you can’t blame all the problems with the education system on white flight and the machinations of ‘the man’. Of course all that is a factor, but does anybody remember last year when the school board “lost” 50 million dollars or whatever it was, and then when they tried to track down what happened to the money, made it into a ‘racial’ issue (and drove out two consecutive superintendants)? That played right into the hands of all the people who wanted to privatise the schools and / or hand over their budgets to the Catholic Archdiocese.

    Thats the kind of ignorant shit which has kept the wheel of woe turning down here since probably the first prostitutes and beggars were transported here back in 1750 whatever…. Taking a simple reactionary position just adds to all this

    Comment by Bigdummy — January 19, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  10. The short-term solutions to which I was referring to when I wrote this were the reactionary ones that I was hearing at the time: more police on the street, states of emergency, the checkpoint system (which so far has increased police harassment of innocent people), etc. I never said community policing or reform of the NOPD was a bad idea.

    However, making that the central focus of this debate allows us to put off dealing with the root causes, which will return to bite us in the ass. We need to get beyond band-aid approaches.

    Of course every life is valuable and of course we should do whatever we can. But don’t confuse superficial solutions that with real ones. Community policing, or any of the other solutions (some better than others) will not get rid of our basic problems with violent crime.

    Comment by Christian — January 20, 2007 @ 1:25 am

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