Nia Robertson was killed on Wednesday night, August 15th at a neighborhood bar in Mid-City. I had met her there maybe a week ago. She was warm, intelligent and attractive. I recall asking where she was from, and she explained that her New Orleans accent had been eroded somewhat by a few years away at college. She was 25.
People are killed every day in New Orleans. And the murders often appear senseless to many of us. But the incredible recklessness of this one stands out. A young woman in the prime of her life, her throat cut by someone she apparently didn’t know.
A number of things stand out about this murder. In the discussions of crime on the internet, in bars – anywhere where either anonymity or privacy is available, my fellow white people frequently talk about “the thugs”. It is no secret that many of those who do the killing, as well as those killed, are young black men. And whites in this city fear “the thugs” in a way that is racialized.
The Times-Picayune doesn’t print the races of those who are charged with murder – a good practice in a city where racial mob violence is a not-so-distant historical reality. However, the killer here has a Slavic last name (probably Polish or Serbian- note the cz). There are only a few Pal’s regulars who are black men, and none I’ve met are anywhere near 35.
So it appears that a white man killed a young, college-educated black woman.
Helen Hill’s death galvanized white communities in the downtown neighborhoods- the death of a promising young white woman and a mother of a young child. In a city where people die every day, the death of Helen Hill sparked outrage.
Will there be similar outrage now?
I for one want to know what could have been done to prevent this killing. There are a number of details that stand out to me. First, the killing was done quickly without any warning. This is not a murder that any number of police could have prevented unless we have police officers on every other barstool at Pal’s and every other bar. Incidentally, that would make me stop drinking. So those who suggest that an improved criminal justice system could have prevented this are either being delusional or they are thinking of a sci-fi psychic-prevention crime techniques like one in the movie Minority Report.
Second, the man claimed to be ex-military. Was this another murderer created by the US government who finally snapped? According to the Times-Picayune article the co-owner of Pal’s says that the whole process happened very rapidly. Was this a trained killer who used his abilities on an American instead of a foreigner, say an Iraqi, like he was trained to do?
This is also a man who had been fighting at work and had threatened to kill co-workers. I will note the absence of a mental health infrastructure, exacerbated by the loss of Charity Hospital, to deal with all the certifiable mentally unsound people in this city. Could this murder have been prevented by adequate mental health services in the city of New Orleans?
Finally, Nia was rushed to the hospital and died during surgery. The hospital is not mentioned in the article. Was it University? I will note the loss of the excellent level one trauma center at Charity Hospital. Incidentally, a good friend of mine who was an Emergency Room doctor at Charity just moved to Newfoundland, largely as a result of the disappearance of the hospital. Could the highly experienced ER doctors who worked at Charity have saved her life if it was open?
We will likely never know the answers to whether or not improved mental health services or an open Charity Hospital could have prevented Nia’s death. With time we may find out if this was a murderer who was created by the US Government, or if the man was idly boasting of a background that he did not possess.
Either way, a beautiful young woman is dead for no good reason.