Choose nearly any line from a New York Times article on murders in New Orleans, and it will depress you: By late last month, the city had seen 175 homicides in 2011—the same as the total number for all of the previous year—and there have been eight more since then. The homicide rate was 10 times the national average in 2010, when there were 51 murders per 100,000 residents. (Compare that to seven per 100,000 in New York and 23 in Oakland.) "From September of last year to February of this year, a student attending John McDonogh [high school] was more likely to be killed than a soldier in Afghanistan," said the mayor recently. Though New Orleans has long been known for its violence, the homicide rate has been rising since 2000 and city officials are struggling to stem it. Making things particularly difficult is the corruption in the police department. Residents "do not trust the police," says one activist.
It's not clear why the problem is so widespread: New Orleans has no major gangs or drug wars, and a motive is not uncovered in nearly half of the killings. All that is known is that the majority of both killers and victims are young black men, most of whom have had prior police contact, and less than a quarter of whom have a steady job. Officials are trying to enact programs used by other cities: a commission to look into past murders in an effort to prevent future violence; a team of people to counsel those in violent neighborhoods; a pledge from businessmen to employ those returning from prison; neighborhood watches; and mentorship programs. But most programs are just getting started, and many wonder if they'll make a difference. Says one activist, "People are sitting around waiting, waiting, waiting—all this is talk." Click for the full article. (Read more New Orleans stories.)