Unless you've been living under a soundproof rock, you know that this city's been gripped by a particularly nasty wave of violent crime since the New Year and citizens across New Orleans are fed up.
Of course people are fed up with the actions of violent criminals but what makes the reaction to this crime wave different is the overwhelming frustration with the NOPD itself.
This frustration is felt in black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods, uptown neighborhoods, and downtown neighborhoods. People do not trust the police. People do not respect the police. Too many officers have been arrested for crimes themselves. There are too many documented and anecdotal stories of indifference and laziness, brutality and violence on the part of the NOPD. Too many caught criminals have been released because NOPD officers don't file police reports properly or on time. Statistically speaking, if you murder somebody tomorrow in Orleans Parish, there's only a 20-30% chance you'll ever fact legitimate punitive jail time. And so on and so forth...
[E]xperts have already identified many of the major issues facing the NOPD. The NOPD itself ordered an audit by BGI in 2007. But after BGI identified several systemic failures and prescribed a blueprint toward the superior community policing model, the NOPD suppressed the report for months. To this day, Warren Riley has failed to substantively institute the suggested reforms.
Wendy Byrne's murder in the French Quarter was certainly a flash point. But so were the murders of little Ja'Shawn Powell and Adolph Grimes. It's the compounded frustration of so many instances of violence touching so many of our lives that I think compelled so many people to participate in some of the organic anti-crime activities of the last week.
But piggybacking on some of those efforts was today's so-called "Meeting of the Minds." They called a big press conference in the Royal Omni Hotel to call attention to a petition they circulated that calls for a number of both totally reasonable and extraordinary measures to address crime in the French Quarter and Marigny Triangle. Here is the list of signatories:
• Chuck Ransdell, chair, Meeting of the Minds
• Eric Reitman, president, French Quarter Business Association
• CoCo Paddison, president, French Quarter Citizens
• Jude Marullo, president, Bourbon Street Merchants Association
• Chris Costello, president, Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association
• Lori Herbert, vice-chair, North Rampart Main Street
• Samara Poché, president, Lower Quarter Crime Watch
• Ken Ferdinand, executive director, French Market Corporation
• Darryl Berger, senior chair, French Quarter-Marigny Historic Area Management District
• Mike Moffit, president, Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents & Associates
• Christine Sory, president, French Quarter Business Women’s Network
• Beth Lovett, representative, Upper Quarter Neighborhood Watch
• Stephen Swain, president, Patio Planters
• Jason Patterson, chair, Frenchmen Street Coalition
Anybody missing from that petition?
Yes. The entire rest of the city.
By discussing the crime problem as something specific to the French Quarter and the Marigny, these organizations are demonstrating a callousness to the much more frequent violence occurring in every other neighborhood.
It allowed Superintendent Riley to couch his response in these terms (video available):
"We understand the value of the Quarter to the city, but we also understand the value of every community."
"This is one New Orleans,” he said. “We are not gonna pull other resources from other parts of the city, to put into the Quarter, when we feel we have a sufficient force there at this point."
That argument is going to win every time.
In a similar vein, the Mayor has challenged the same business community by backing off a prior compromise agreement with City Council to fund full sanitation services. Council is livid because the Mayor seemingly sprung this upon them without any kind of warning. They're threatening legal action to compel the Mayor to continue FQ sanitation services. After it seemed like a compromise was already in place, why would the Mayor all of sudden threaten to pull the rug out from under the French Quarter by cutting sanitation right before the busiest season of the year?
It's a proxy war, I tells ya.
It's another opportunity to force French Quarter business owners to demand extra services, money, and attention denied to the rest of the city's residents.
It forces the FQ business community to engage in two geographically-specific battles against the administration at once.
Good divide-and-conquer strategy by the Nagin administration.
Predictably bad strategy of exclusion by various French Quarter business associations.