New Orleans’s Year in Murder and Other Violence (Vice. Dec. 2013)

This year I joined the ranks of New Orleanians who have seen a dead body in the street. It was in February, outside a car parts store in the section of town that real estate agents these days pass off as “New Marigny”—a bloody man lay shot dead beneath the SUV he’d been trying to fix. Weeks later, a thug robbed the dollar store at the end of our supposedly gentrified street (which also features a sweets shop and a wine bar with live jazz), shot the police officer who showed up on the scene, then fled. For the next three days, helicopters hung low over our corner of Bywater. My friends posted photos on Facebook of SWAT teams trampling through their backyards in the early-morning dew. These days the show The First 48 is camped out here, documenting New Orleans’s authentic and still horrifically robust murder culture.

The city has never been truly safe, but things are changing, says Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who this month publicly claimed New Orleans is headed toward a 40-year record low: 153 murders at the time of his December 17 announcement. That works out to a homicide rate that’s nearly ten times the national average, but still an improvement compared with 181 murders by December of last year, according to Landrieu.

Crime statistics are political battlegrounds and, feeling overwhelmed by the topic, I got in touch with database builder Alexa Surinck, whose unsuccessful hunt for 2008 murder totals prompted her to start keeping minute track of the city’s slayings in 2009. Scouring the obits is both her compulsion and hobby. She met me armed with spreadsheets from the murder database she keeps.

Surinck agrees the homicide rate is falling, but disputes aspects of Landrieu’s narrative. First off, she said, 1985 had only 152 murders by this time, so the notion of murders being at a 40-year low is incorrect. “Mitch Landrieu says the murder rate is improving, and it is, compared to the recent high of 200 in 2011, [Ronal] Serpas’s first full year as police chief,” Surinck schooled me. “But examined in the light of the murder totals at the time Landrieu took office, the reduction looks much smaller: A 2013 total of 154 would be only 12 percent less than the 174 murders New Orleans saw under [Mayor Ray] Nagin and [Police Superintendent Warren] Riley in 2009.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at VICE MAGAZINE… 

Or here’s a video documentary made this year about how New Orleans is the gang-violence capital of the world: 

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