Paper hearts decorated the plywood-covered doorway at 3013 Chartres St., a few doors down from NOCCA and the Press Street train tracks, yesterday, memorializing 32-year-old Jessica Hawk, whose murdered body was discovered inside her apartment there early last Monday morning. There were stuffed toys and flowers on the steps, and a heartfelt note, encased in a plastic sleeve to protect it from the rain, tacked beside the door.The fluffy memorial scene gave me a stupid case of deja vu - it was exactly like the offerings left on Robin Malta's steps last year, or on Helen Hill's the year before. I know that in parts of the city, outside the gentrifying Upper Ninth where I live, or the Marigny, where Robin and Helen died at home, a murder a year in the 'hood would be a blessing. There are parts of town where folks go down every weekend, and everyone has a drawerful of rest-in-peace T-shirts. But the cognitive dissonance that living comfortably in this city forces on all of us is stretching the edges of bearable.
I was asked to write an essay on violence and its effect on the music community here for another magazine I contribute to. I wound up turning in three drafts - just because two rappers were killed in the interim between my first and the final. My editor suggested I add a line about Nola.com's murder map, and I asked why. What, your local paper doesn't feel the need to have an up-to-date homicide map? Really!The father of one of my closer friends' baby was shot to death on his front steps last summer. Another friend's moving van was blocked in her driveway for hours, as she tried to move the last load out of a house she was giving up because the fear was getting to her. The vehicle blocking it was the coroner's van, cooling the body of her neighbor, who'd just been shot by drug dealers. My neighbor recently spent a few days bargaining (unsuccessfully) with the burglar who'd stolen my roommate's laptop out of our living room, trying to get it back. And besides the murders, we've got freaky hit-and-runs and teenage bicycle terrorists. I mean, seriously. We've all agreed to give up certain quality-of-life perks in exchange for living in a city we love as it recovers from a horrendous disaster, but safety inside our own homes is not one of those - right? Jessica Hawk was close to my own age, and I lived like her - solo, downtown - for almost a decade. In the wake of her murder, neighborhood blogs are buzzing anew with outrage and freaked-out-ness, calling, alternately, for accountability from the Mayor and for Batman. I would totally prefer the latter.Her neighbor, Robert "Dr. Bob" Shaffer, told the NOPD he'd warned Jessica when he saw a suspicious man peeking into her apartment through a front window the Friday before her body was found. Paying his respects, he placed one of his well-known - in this case, depressingly ironic - "Be Nice Or Leave" signs beside as vase of flowers on her front steps.Keep an eye on your friends and neighbors.