I’ve done a series of posts on New Orleans and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Lately, I’ve been observing how the national media coverage has been turning attention away from the dysfunctionality of the federal response to the dysfunctionality of New Orleans itself.
According to the New York Times, there have already been 18 murders in New Orleans since the beginning of the New Year, a situation which has been exacerbated by the collapse of the city’s criminal justice system.
There were 161 homicides in this city last year, and there have been 18 so far this year, making New Orleans by most measures the nation’s per capita murder capital, given its sharply reduced population. Many of the victims and the suspects are teenagers. About two-thirds of the deaths have gone unsolved: the killers, in many cases, continue to walk the streets and are likely to kill again, the police say.
Other cities have plenty of murders. But only in New Orleans has there been the uniquely poisoned set of circumstances that has led to this city’s position at the top of the homicide charts. Every phase of the killing cycle here unfolds under the dark star of dysfunction: the murderers’ brutalized childhoods, the often ineffectual police intervention, a dulled community response, and a tense relationship between the police and prosecutors that lets many cases slip through the cracks.
Hurricane Katrina’s devastation loosened the fragile social restraints even further, making the city perhaps more dangerous than ever.
The storm also pushed a teetering criminal justice system over the edge. The evidence in hundreds of criminal cases was lost, and the flood destroyed the police crime lab, which has not been rebuilt. Often, drugs cannot be tested at other locations before the deadline for bringing charges. Yet the police are trying to stop the violence by arresting more drug users and street dealers, many of whom are quickly released, spinning the jail door faster than ever and fueling the carnage.
Read the rest of “In New Orleans, Dysfunction Fuels Cycle of Killing” in The New York Times.