I'll have some fries with that crack
Adam Nossiter wrote an excellent piece in Monday's New York Times detailing the "dark star of dysfunction" that accounts for the city's absurdly high murder rate: 161 last year, and 18 already this year. He also points to a drug trade that is largely blamed for fueling the violence.
It may be difficult for folks elsewhere to fathom what those numbers feel like. But just try to imagine those murder rates coming out of cities of comparable sizes (New Orleans now has an estimated population of around 200,000) -- say, Orlando, or Scotsdale, or Rochester, NY, or Lincoln, Nebraska. If this kind of carnage occurred in any one of those communities, I suspect the National Guard would have stepped in a long time ago. What's more staggering is not the numbers, but the acceptance of this state of affairs as being quite normal for New Orleans. As Nossiter eerily wrote, "When the body was brought out, the two little boys did not stop chewing their sticky blue candy or swigging from their pop bottles."
In New Orleans, there are pockets of wealth, not pockets of poverty, so you invariably pass through "bad" neighborhoods on your way to just about anywhere. The other night I was driving home from Walgreen's and about six blocks from my house was forced to stop behind the car in front of me while the passenger inside bought drugs from a man hanging out on his front stoop. Apparently Stoop Guy didn't have the correct change, so it took some time and the involvement of several other people up and down the block before they settled the exchange and I was finally allowed to pass. It was about 6:00 at night, barely dark -- there were two cop cars in a well-lit gas station not two blocks further up the road. Stoop Guy was clearly not worried about being hassled by anyone. The whole scene seemed so disturbingly normal -- I've sensed more urgency and menace while waiting in the Burger King drive-thru.
Later that night over dinner I tried talking about the incident to friends. No one was shocked. I'm not even sure anyone was capable of feeling horrified about it anymore. We were like those desensitized kids living in the projects - still chewing our candy and trying to take it all in.
(Rob Walker makes an interesting point about the NYT piece on his N.O. Notes.)
[Clarification to the above comment about the National Guard: They *have* been here, since Summer 2006.]
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