Hope is not a strategy

Posted on Monday 20 March 2006

Polimom, along with other writers and bloggers, has worried at length about the dangers to New Orleans’ traditions and unique culture – a way of life that has been presented as “at-risk” from the feared Disney-ification of the new New Orleans.

Certainly the planning and development of the city will affect its demographics and diversity, and any deliberate “bleaching” of the city has to be resisted strenuously – yet Polimom isn’t convinced that outside influences are the biggest risk to that valuable culture. Polimom thinks there’s great risk from the city itself, from its tradition of violent crime.

There has been reference to not wanting “that element” back, yet no matter how carefully phrased, the entire discussion gets caught in the snarled web of poverty, race, and class. Folks, “that element” isn’t the working poor. It’s this:

For the second time this year, violence erupted along a second-line parade route Sunday afternoon when a gunman opened fire on a crowd in Central City, killing one man and injuring another, only to be stopped when a New Orleans police officer shot him in the leg, police said.

and this:

A local man was shot dead early Saturday in the Iberville public housing complex, New Orleans police said.

Both of these illustrate parts of New Orleans’ culture. One – the second-line – must be preserved, and the other – the violence – eliminated. Saying “we don’t want them back” is akin to wishing the problem away. Hope is not a strategy, and a serious plan is desperately needed.

Earlier this month, Nicole Gelinas wrote a scathing article about the pathetic incompetence of NOLA’s Criminal Justice system, and while Polimom squirmed at her conclusions, the hard facts cannot be denied: the city’s violent criminals are generally not convicted, and the CJ system has effectively collapsed.

Dysfunctional justice in New Orleans is nothing new. Before Katrina, the Big Easy’s arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing rates were shamefully low, explaining why New Orleans suffered from the highest per-capita homicide rate in the nation. But this protracted failure of leadership in dispensing justice didn’t wash away with Katrina. Today, New Orleans’s unique version of justice is back, evidence that while Katrina transformed the city forever, some things never change.

Tonight, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin will finally release the city’s post-Katrina plans for the future, and the Times-Picayune’s overview of the report is full of changes – to the school system, transportation, city government… it all sounds good, and it’s all needed.

But what, Polimom wonders, is the plan for the culture of crime in the city? How will New Orleans show Nicole Gelinas – and the world – that things can change?

That’s what I’ll be looking for in this much-anticipated, voluminous report – because above all else, it is this oft-avoided issue of violence that has kept Polimom, and probably many others, away from New Orleans for so many years.

2 Comments for 'Hope is not a strategy'

    March 20, 2006 | 12:03 pm

    Like the School Board, it’s time for some competent outside authority to step in and take over the NOLA CJ system. Why is it we all get our socks in a knot over the erstwhile clerk of civil district court without addressing the fact that judges bond dangerous and violent felons, and the police and DA’s office can seem to convinct any of these guys?

    March 21, 2006 | 6:51 am

    And here, apparently, is Nagin’s take on things (my emphasis):

    –also supported merging the civil and criminal sheriffs’ offices into one and consolidating some “police districts with law enforcement authority” with the New Orleans Police Department, as a way “to maintain our current status as one of the safest urban areas in America.” The last comment drew gasps and murmurs of disagreement from some in the crowd.

    Evidently, he doesn’t get it…. but the public certainly does.

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