This column is dedicated to the memory of Joseph Evans and his son, Joseph Elliott.
Who are they?
They are the last two people murdered in New Orleans … so far … this year (based on data at the time of this writing). They were killed on Sunday (a weekend that also included 13 shootings, followed by this week’s quadruple shooting on Elysian Fields, a double shooting in Eastern New Orleans and yesterday’s shooting at Nelson Elementary School in Gentily. (And it’s only Thursday).
Mr. Evans and Mr. Elliott’s deaths mean that, already, 2012’s murder rate is higher than 2011’s. Which was 14 percent higher than 2010’s murder rate. Which already had made New Orleans the murder capital of America.
Now, why am I using this space, which is intended to celebrate my love — our love — for this great city to talk about murder? And what is a column about murder doing at NolaVie, a site dedicated to the life and culture of the wonderful city that is New Orleans?
Because, when America’s murder capital sees a 14 percent increase in murder, we have to acknowledge that murder is becoming a part of this city’s culture. And that murder is squeezing the life out of it.
And we have to do something about it. All of us.
Because, you see, newspapers can pretend life is broken down into separate little boxes like crime, arts and culture, politics, sports and such. No doubt that it makes for efficient reading, but it’s all an illusion. In real life, those boxes don’t exist. In real life, the lines are blurred.
It’s time we acknowledge that. It’s time we acknowledge that you can’t limit the murder conversation to that messy, ugly box we try to push way over there. We need to acknowledge that all conversations, all boxes, need to be part of this conversation.
If you love our city, our life, our culture.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers here. In fact, I don’t pretend to have any of them. My stepfather was a cop, a 20-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. I know that crime in American cities is a complex, highly charged affair. But I can, at least ask some questions.
Top of the list is simple: Why does Ronal Serpas still have his job? The Superintendent pledged to lower the murder rate by 5 percent. It spiked by 14 percent. That’s a 19 percent failure rate. In any other American city, he’d be gone. Not because he is a bad man or anything like that (from what I’ve heard, the Superintendent cares deeply about this city). But, if you miss you mark by 19 percent, you have proven that you are not capable of the job at hand.
Number 2 is: Why don’t New Orleanians seem to care? Think about it. We don’t hesitate to take to the street here for a second line or a parade. Forget the tourists; look at the masses of us who will be out in force this Carnival season.
Where are those same masses when our city’s — our city’s — murder rate spikes 14 percent? We can take the time to make a throw, but we can’t take the time to say “no more”?
By the way, I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m including myself in this question. Before I started this column, I could tell you all about my Mardi Gras costume, but couldn’t tell you what the 2011 murder rate was or how many of my fellow citizens had died already this year. We’re numb here. I get it. But it has got to stop.
Number 3 is: Where is the leadership here? Everyone who is anyone turned out in force to say “I’m in!” the push to keep the Hornets here. Which was a great — and successful — example of how much we all love this city and what happens when we come together.
Where’s a similar campaign to shatter the murder rate? Led by the Mayor (who I know already works hard on this matter every day) and maybe da Saints? With backup from the preachers, the musicians, the chefs, the artists, the stars whose daily presence enriches the life and culture of our city?
I guarantee you that if every leader we love in this city — from Drew Brees to Trombone Shorty to Leah Chase — said “I’m in” to stop the murders then, we the people, would also be “in.”
Because there’s no question that we all love NOLA.