The City That Care Forgot, Part 2
New Orleans erupts in violence week before Will Smith’s murder trial
It’s happened again, again.
In April, former Saints defensive end Will Smith was gunned down after a road rage incident in Central City. The story made international headlines, shining a light on The Big Easy’s open secret.
At the time, I wrote, “New Orleans, we’ve got a problem.
We all know it.
We don’t like to acknowledge it.
We don’t like to talk about it.
But our city is a killing ground.”
Local crime analyst Jeff Asher reports that 80 people were shot in 58 incidents in November in New Orleans, including 24 people shot in three days between Nov. 25-27. Asher reports the city’s murder total reached 164 at the end of November, while the NOPD counts 163. The city suffered 164 murders in all of 2015.
In the last week, just days before the Smith case goes to court, gun deaths and violence have again put the notorious “City That Care Forgot” in newsfeeds around the world.
Last Sunday morning, with a hearty Bayou Classic crowd in town, 10 French Quarter revelers were hit, one killed, when shots rang out in a Bourbon Street crowd.
On Thursday, professional football player Joe McKnight was shot multiple times and killed after a supposed road rage incident in Terrytown, just across the river from Smith’s slaying.
The incidents, just days apart, paint New Orleans in a negative light, just as the city is asking visitors to book trips and hotel stays for the Sugar Bowl, NBA All-Star Game and Carnival.
Tourists flock to Bourbon Street and get a false sense of security that nothing will happen to them as they imbibe, sometimes overly. Any violent incident that happens in the Quarter is going to get worldwide attention.
Celebrity is another story media can’t turn away from. Especially when that celebrity has ties to the country’s two main media markets. McKnight, a Kenner native who prepped at John Curtis Christian High School in River Ridge, played college ball at USC in Los Angeles before being drafted by the New York Jets. McKnight’s death is also making news in Kansas City, where he played for the Chiefs, as well as across Canada, where McKnight was attempting to make a comeback this season by playing with the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.
Witnesses said the shooting happened at a busy intersection about 3 p.m. Ronald Gasser, 54, was taken into custody Thursday by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, questioned, and released without charges as of Friday morning, pending further investigation.
The city’s flaws – rampant crime, public corruption, institutional racism, an unsuccessful public educational system, unaccountable officials, and, of course, near-constant death – are becoming more difficult to tolerate.
Last week the NOPD advised women not to travel alone after dark for their own safety!
Mayor Mitch Landrieu is looking less credible every time he has to deliver a canned, chamber of commerce message that we are safe.
After Smith’s death, Saints head coach Sean Payton told USA Today, “It’s like our big little secret. They don’t want to kill tourism. But right now, it’s like the wild, wild West here….
“Our city is broken.”
Now we’re in the news for all of the wrong reasons again. It’s not just drug pushers and gang bangers getting shot up. Going out in the French Quarter, shopping on Canal Street, eating at an Uptown restaurant, going to a Mother’s Day second line, changing lanes, or sitting on your front porch might end with you on the business end of a gun.
It seems the fabric of our society is coming unraveled before our eyes. Trivial matters seem to be blown out of proportion. Things that should be brushed off are seen as signs of disrespect that must be avenged no matter the cost or accompanying result to anyone in the vicinity, involved or not.
If we don’t change, New Orleans will not be the destination that it is. The influx of entrepreneurship and new business the city has been riding since Katrina will reverse, as families will find safer places to live. If the story that keeps getting put out to the world is that New Orleans is death’s playground, we will lose all that we have worked for and need to survive in our tourism and convention industries. That’s a one-two punch that may KO the Crescent City.
For the sake of the city’s survival, we have to make some serious societal improvements starting now.