Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mostly Crimey with Crime Expected Later

That was the weekend forecast and it was unfortunately accurate.

It is ubiquitous. It is in every neighborhood in this city, it affects every group of people in this city.

On Friday night, I was sitting on the stoop of a friend's house in the LGD and heard that morning's double shooting on the 700 block of Ninth.

On Saturday, I went to Wendy Byrne's memorial second line parade.

Today, Sunday, I learned that my old landlady was nearly beaten to death by her own son.

The Times-Picayune was chock full of long pieces detailing the many ways crime hurts our communities.

From Laura Maggi, Brian Thevenot, and Brendan McCarthy, on getting away with it:

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said the daylight killings speak to a pervasive lack of respect for the justice system.

"They are not concerned about the consequences," he said. "They are not concerned about who might be watching."

That attitude stems from a grim reality: Most killers here do get away with it.

So far, the New Orleans Police Department has made arrests in 59 of the murder cases in 2008, or 33 percent of the total. Prosecutors have accepted 32 of those cases, refused 11 for insufficient evidence and are considering whether to pursue the remainder. None of the cases has yet been tried.

Even if convictions are secured in every case accepted so far -- highly unlikely -- that would mean the city would punish just one in five killers. Police could secure more evidence and make more arrests at any time, but homicide cases generally do not age well, becoming tougher to solve with every day that goes by.

From Keith Spera, on front doorstep gunfire:

Until now, my wife and I have chosen to remain in the neighborhood and accept whatever risk that entails. But what of our responsibility to our child?

Does it make sense to raise her in a neighborhood, or a city, where killing is routine?

From Brian Thevenot, an artist asks the most important question:

"To me, I'm making American art; to a lot of folks, I'm making black art," he said. "It's the same with the murder problem -- people see it as a black issue. ... How can we get people to see that we live in one world?"

I leave that question for last because I think it helps give us a framework for evaluating WWL's Sunday panel on crime, featuring Samara Poche of the Lower Quarter Crime Watch, Mike Moffit of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents & Associates, and Thom Khaler of NO Crimeline.

They got some things right and some things so very very wrong.

Perhaps the most glaring issue wasn't the fault of the panel at all, it was the panel itself. Limiting a discussion about crime in New Orleans to the French Quarter perpetuates the same kind of provincialism that has always stopped us from getting at the big picture. That the French Quarter has experienced a rash of high profile violent crimes recently shouldn't be put to the side, but it is a constant source of frustration throughout the city that panels aren't organized on WWL when young men are slain in the 7th ward. That crime seems to get be on the radar only when tourist-oriented businesses are threatened is insulting. And to hear the crime issue couched in these terms during the panel was bothersome.

The panelists were on the money about some really important things. The issues with the NOPD start at the top with Police Superintendent Warren Riley. So long as he continues to poorly manage his force, there will be no change. The panelists seemed to understand that the issue is not money or manpower. New Orleans has more cops per capita than most cities in the US and it's almost impossible for us to devote a greater percentage of our city budget to police equipment than we already do. They also pointed out that the typical Warren Riley PR move in during a crime wave, sending out officers on more vehicle patrols, will not do. Foot patrols force officers to interact with residents, to learn names and faces, and helps foster trust while increasing the sense of safety.

But by and large, things got sticky when the panelists were asked to prescribe medicine. Panelists seemed to think that one of the problems was that the NOPD was not making the quality of life arrests it needs to make, that it was not enforcing petty crimes and this was leading to big crimes. One panelist seemed to think that the NOPD had gotten away from the strategy of racially profiling potential criminals, following young men who wear hoodies and then frisking them if they spit or jaywalk or the moment they have a millimeter of probable cause.

This is most definitely the wrong approach. In fact, the major problem with the NOPD right now is that they're using up all of their resources making catch-and-release arrests for drug possession and traffic-related bench warrants. If anything, the NOPD is arresting too many people. New Orleans and Jefferson Parish arrest more people than anywhere else in the country. We prosecute more nonviolent crimes than anywhere else in the country. This wastes resources and is the biggest reason why we don't focus money on punishing violent crime or on preventing crime in the first place. And certainly encouraging more racial profiling, aside from being an offensive suggestion, is only going to exacerbate some of the other fundamental issues hurting the NOPD: public mistrust and police violence.

In fact, experts 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.

At the end of the segment, Thom Kahler suggests that business leaders may be working behind the scenes to remove Riley, like they did for former DA Eddie Jordan. I'm not comfortable with this if we're not ready to be honest, a. that we can't have a shadow government of business associates determining when and if our ineffective leaders stand down and how much to pay them to do so, and b. that removing the police chief will not reduce our crime rate unless we're also able to get real about the actual problems our police department has.


Leigh C. said...

"At the end of the segment, Thom Kahler suggests that business leaders may be working behind the scenes to remove Riley, like they did for former DA Eddie Jordan."

Kahler also suggested at Friday's meeting at Buffa's that crime victims who were intimidated by the police might need an attitude adjustment themselves.

This whole city is seriously fucked.

E said...

Yes, this post may not have been harsh enough. The bottom line is that in this racist city, you can't put three rich old white people on a panel lead by another rich white old person to discuss crimes committed by poor young African Americans. Particularly when they're going to talk about the need to do more racial profiling.

Not credible. Unacceptable.

Clifton said...

The crime problem in this city is a combination of about ten different issues rolled into one. Unless we sit down as a city and put every issue on the table no matter who the victim is everything is a waste of time. You can have crime maps, cameras, 500 more police officers, and the national guard and it won't make a difference. The problem is much more deeper and complex than that. It's social, economic, and cultural.If you neglect one of those three then you get to an effective solution.

Leigh C. said...

And the people who organized the Buffa's meeting want to encompass more than just the Quarter. They recognize that this is a city-wide problem.

Focusing on the killings that will hurt tourist traffic, however, will ultimately hurt any efforts to effect change unless everybody unites behind something concrete - like changing the culture of the NOPD towards reporting ALL crimes all over the city....and towards the people reporting the crimes in general.

jeffrey said...

At the end of the segment, Thom Kahler suggests that business leaders may be working behind the scenes to remove Riley, like they did for former DA Eddie Jordan. I'm not comfortable with this if we're not ready to be honest, a. that we can't have a shadow government of business associates determining when and if our ineffective leaders stand down and how much to pay them to do so

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was John Barry's description of the extra-governmental cabal of bankers and business leaders who decided on their own to blow the levees in 1927. This city is not only racist to the core but also plagued by an intractable social elitism that allows for a situation where "business leaders" can take it upon themselves to make decisions like this.

Yes, this is also relevant in light of your previous post about the "Red Coats" It also dovetails well with some language that Oyster highlights in yesterday's T-P.

The low pay dates to the 1950s, when the city's mayor-council form of government was created, and when serving on the council was seen as a part-time position for men with "real jobs" as lawyers, insurance agents or business executives.

In fact, the position now eats up more than 40 hours a week for members who take it seriously.

That is exactly the way the ruling class in this town sees its relationship with government. In their minds, they are the government when they're not doing their "real jobs"

So much of post-K politics in New Orleans has to do with the redcoat crowd attempting to reassert itself due to certain demographic shifts... and the reaction to that reassertion.

adrastos said...

Great post, Eli. I'm dubious, however, that Riley is going anywhere. He serves at the pleasure of a term limted Mayor and he's Ray's sidekick.

The pathetic thing about this city is that it keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. We're where we were in the early '90's in the pre-Pennington-Morial era. People get huffy when one says anything positive about Marc but he brought a police professional from outside and let him run the department. Marc was *very* political on every other issue BUT he kept his word to Pennington who instituted many of the policies people want to see again. Pitiful.

jeffrey said...

Eddie Compass was also "Ray's sidekick".

adrastos said...

True on one level but Compass wasn't C Ray's sycophant. Riley is. I also think he knows where the bodies are buried as it were. He'll only leave if he gets a really golden parachute.

Also, when Compass went, Nagin still gave a shit about his image and planned to run for re-election. Plus he's a stubborn sumbitch.

Pistolette said...

"To me, I'm making American art; to a lot of folks, I'm making black art," he said. "It's the same with the murder problem -- people see it as a black issue. ... How can we get people to see that we live in one world?"

Many of us DO see the world as one, but our help is not welcome. As someone who has, along with many of her well-meaning friends, tried to help underprivileged children with education and career in New Orleans... all I can say is my friend from Boston put it best "New Orleans can make anyone a racist". The reason she said this was because whenever we tried to help we usually got attitude like "White people don't understand", "I don't want a white woman telling my kid what to do", etc. It was as futile as an Israeli trying to teach a classful of Palestinian kids. The history of distrust runs too deep here. Now I think the only way this is gonna get fixed is if the black middle class steps up and volunteers in greater numbers. I'm always happy to help where I can, but I don't go where I'm not wanted or appreciated.

I've lived here my whole life and I'm running out of ideas. Then I bitterly laugh when new people move here and think we haven't tried damn-near everything.

Puddinhead said...

"...but it is a constant source of frustration throughout the city that panels aren't organized on WWL when young men are slain in the 7th ward."

Yeah. It's pretty much a "constant source of frustration throughout the city" that there isn't the same kind of "force/help authorities to capture perpetrators" outrage from residents of the 7th Ward (or 8th Ward--and I live in the 8th--or many other areas of the city) that you see from us "racists" when the crime occurs in a "touristy" area.

But, you know...It's all (racist) the fault of (racist) the police force as a whole (racist) which is controlled (racist) by the (racist) racists (racist) who control (racist) everything and (racist) everyone in this (racist) racist (racist) city. (Sorry, E...hope I didn't use the whole week's allotment there, rendering you unable to post until next week)

Pistolette, I was an Upper Ninth Ward resident until I was married...when I moved across the street into the Eighth Ward. Still live there, albeit a little further out into Gentilly now. I always did a lot of volunteer-type stuff as far as school and coaching type stuff, and never had any problems with being a white guy trying to help out where most of the kids were black. At least, right up until the point where there might possibly be control of spendings some money involved somehow. THEN, some parent or "advocate" always popped out of the woodwork to announce that these kids didn't "need some white guy" to be an "influence" on them. Like is the case with so many of our local leaders (on all sides of the issues), the "rejecting the white guy's interest" had less to do with "racism" than it did with "opportunism".

oyster said...

"I also think he knows where the bodies are buried as it were. He'll only leave if he gets a really golden parachute."


jeffrey said...

Thank you for eliminating the unsightly lime green in the sidebar. Page loads a lot faster now.

Clifton said...

Speaking on behalf of those kids. I grew up in New Orleans and the first time I had a real conversation with a white person was when I moved to Kansas for awhile in the 10th grade. When I came back to New Orleans the next time I had a conversation with one was in college. When you grow up like that it's easy to be brainwashed into thinking that anyone not having the same struggle as you are doesn't mean well. Pistolette, I can totally understand how your friend feels but these kids grow up in their own world. Honestly, the ones that make it out are lucky enough to have some different exposure to things early on so there's enough hope not to fall into the trap. That's not an excuse for criminal behavior but it's real life. Actually, there are some aspects to this problem that white can't solve or help with. The black community has to have a conversation with each other first about some issues we never talk about openly. I think we are starting to do it but the situation is like the recession. We are going to have to take some more losses before things change. I just hope we don't get discouraged. I wish I had a more pleasant outlook but I have been living through this too long to think it's going to change overnight.

On a positive note: I would like to thank E for letting me share all my black people business on his blog. I hope I am not breaking some rule in the handbook. I need to bring this up at the next secret meeting.

spoke the cat said...

i think at this point, the first step in a series of many steps, is to get rid of riley. we need some outside blood to come in and shake up the nopd. also, please put the old cat on your blog roll.

Amy said...

You are definitely right, they DO spend too much time prosecuting and arresting on petty crimes. Two months ago, my husband was arrested for an attachment for a seat belt ticket. It was something we had merely forgotten about, because when the ticket was given, we were not given a fine amount or a court date, but was told to call a number to receive that information. We called that number for a week and no information was available. Up North, you get a seat belt ticket, they give you the amount and date and it is in an envelope so you can just send it in. So we were pulled over for a traffic stop - a tail light out - in front of a place that had about 15 undesirables hanging out, drinking, and being rather crude. I had seen at least one of those guys deal drugs in my walks around my neighborhood. And they take my husband in for a $28 ticket. It took them 14 hours to get a court date for him and another 2 to release hiim after that. My husband has absolutely no criminal record. He's a lawyer - not practicing in LA yet - but it was an eye opener for him. Esp his treatment once he got to the jail.

While he was in jail, he met a guy who was a tourist. He was in there for animal cruelty. Why? Well he was in the quarter and out on the sidewalk. He was looking into a bar and saw something funny, and clapped his hands. The problem? He was also standing behind one of the NOPD horses. They charged him with animal cruelty!

The judicial system in this city really needs to be cleaned up. Ever go into municipal court? It is absoluely ridiculous and so many are public drunkenness - IN NEW ORLEANS! And truancy. Shouldn't truancy be heard in the juvenille court system?

Ok, rant done.

Excellent post.

E said...

And of course there's a difference between wasting resources on meaningless arrests - locking people up - for municipal bench warrants and actually having a 'zero tolerance' policy where the rule of law is enforced.

Kevin Allman said...

What they all said.

I'm worn to a nub and it isn't February yet.

My only solution is to kick somebody off the T-P editorial page and give Cliff his own space 3x a week. He's the only person I can count on for a lick of sense any more.

Frankly, it scares me how hopeless I'm feeling these days.

Clifton said...

Kevin thank you for the kind words but I can't deal with the hate mail from the TP. I will just clogging up E's comment section.