Two years ago, when I moved from the Lakefront to the Garden District, a few friends expressed concern. Not over losing me to distance, but to statistics.
Wasn’t I worried about crime?
“I went to a restaurant on Magazine Street the other night, and I was terrified all the way to my car,” one lifelong Lakeview resident told me.
Of course I was worried about crime – as with every other resident, it has ranked high on my radar since moving here 30-odd years ago. In every neighborhood we’ve lived in.
But I decided long ago that I wouldn’t base my life choices on fear. You live prudently but not with paranoia. And we have enjoyed the urban conveniences of living a block from coffee shops and restaurants and boutiques.
A couple of weeks ago, however, when an armed carjacking happened on a quiet Sunday evening virtually in front of our door, I remembered my friend’s reservations. And certainly the incident was not one likely to happen along our former tree-shaded street in East Lakeshore.
The car, we heard from neighbors, was fairly quickly located through the vehicle’s GPS tracker, and the carjacker was discovered sitting in its front seat, parked somewhere on the West Bank, eating fried chicken. He was arrested, but who knows if he is back on the streets?
Sadly, we in New Orleans don’t have a lot of confidence in either our police department or our justice system.
Brett Will Taylor, who writes a column for NolaVie called Love: NOLA, has been dedicating each of his weekly pieces to whoever is murdered in the city as he writes it. Sadly, he has had dedication names for the past three columns … people gunned down even as he wrote.
Many young NolaVie contributors live in the university area, and recent crime there – or the perception of it – is taking a big bite out of their quality of life. They walk in pairs, don’t come home alone or late, are wary of strangers, take cars instead of bikes.
“I make sure I get home from class before dark these days,” one told me.
The first home I owned in New Orleans – a cobalt blue single shotgun — was located in the upper Irish Channel, just 12 blocks from the stately house in the Garden District where we live now. A lifetime and a lifestyle away.
Then, as now, I love the fact that New Orleans, especially Uptown New Orleans, has a diverse mix of ages and races and demographics. I like the fact that my area of the city runs from liberal hipsters to conservative widows, from young professionals to auto mechanics.
I like the fact that, in any 10-block stretch of (pot-holed) pavement, you’ll find houses that span the real estate spectrum, from a modest $40,000 bungalow to a multi-million dollar mansion. It makes for interesting neighbors. And I like the activity on my sidewalk, where dog walkers and tourists and bar-hoppers and shoppers all pass within a few feet of my stoop.
And believe me, all of us are feeling the crime. We’re wary, watchful, and a lot less trusting than we were a week or a month or a year ago.
Unfortunately, crime is not new to the city. New Orleans’ per capita homicide rate has ranked the highest in the country for the past two decades, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. We’ve decried it before; we’ve marched on City Hall before.
But it has to stop.
The hard ways to remediate crime remain a challenge: They have to do with education and poverty and remediation. They will take time.
Meanwhile, there are simpler steps that we can take a lot sooner. Hear me out.
Last week, I had my 15 minutes of fame from an op-ed piece I wrote about the mistreatment of New Orleans Saints fans by 49er fans at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It ran online here, in the San Francisco Chronicle, in The Times-Picayune, and my name even got picked up by The New York Times (where I was curiously and erroneously dubbed a “tough Cajun,” but that’s a story for another day).
Here’s the rest of that story.
For the following week’s NFC championship game against the New York Giants, the San Francisco police and city government responded strongly to accusations of fan abuse. They sent under-cover police dressed as Giants’ fans into the stadium, handed Giants’ fans cards with numbers to text in case of trouble, beefed up the security.
I know New Orleans can’t be contained in the same way as a football stadium, but why can’t we take that kind of proactive, hands-on approach?
In water-cooler discussions this week about crime, a three-point wish list invariably came up. People want:
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if the police can manage to issue 40,000 speeding tickets from two Uptown cameras, they could program a few to catch thieves.
And just how many people does it take to change a lightbulb in New Orleans?
More than a decade ago, Partnership for Action, the non-profit group that operates NolaVie, was created in order to address community and cultural issues. The group’s first project: paying for bulbs to fix broken streetlights.
The streetlights outside of my Uptown church haven’t worked since Katrina, despite repeated calls and emails to various city agencies. Last week, the property manager noticed several workers gathered around one of the street lamps outside, gazing upward.
Were they finally going to repair the lights? Soon, replied one. Should be soon.
Meanwhile, they’re not the only ones left in the dark. We deserve – and should demand — better from our police force and our elected officials.
Renee Peck, a former feature editor and reported at The Times-Picayune, is editor of NolaVie.