Life Here is 'Murder'
After a brief pause following an anti-crime march on City Hall, New Orleans' murder rate resumed its deadly pace. There were 12 murders as of Jan. 17 -- almost as many as the city saw in the entire first quarter of last year -- though the population was much smaller then, says UNO criminologist Peter Scharf. "We had a total of four murders in January 2006, seven in February and six in March," says Scharf. In March 2006, TIME magazine estimated the city's population at 150,000, but Police Chief Warren Riley put the figure at 190,000. Scharf estimates the present population at 220,000. Until recently, Riley estimated the population at 275,000. In a recent interview with Gambit Weekly, the chief admitted, "We really don't know what the population is." Scharf says that during the last six months, there were 106 murders. "That's one murder every 1.8 days." With 14 killings as of Jan. 17, the rate has increased to one every 1.2 days. The murder rate has accelerated despite the presence of 300 National Guard troops and 60 state troopers who were first deployed June 21, 2006, by Gov. Kathleen Blanco. "We had 56 murders in the first half of 2006 and 106 murders in the second half, so it's tough to argue that the National Guard has decreased our murder rate," says Scharf, contacted by phone in Washington as he prepared to discuss New Orleans crime on the ABC-TV's Nightline. "These are not trends. These are not sprees. This is life in New Orleans." -- Johnson More 'Homicides' The murder rates cited by New Orleans police and criminologists are actually conservative indicators of the city's violence. NOPD does not count "justifiable homicides" as "murders." The coroner's office says those are legal distinctions, as all homicides are violent deaths. So the coroner's homicide totals are invariably higher than NOPD's murder totals. For example, Orleans Parish Chief Coroner's Investigator John Gagliano says there were 14 homicides (including two "justifiable homicides") this year through Jan. 17; NOPD reported only 12 murders for the same period. According to promulgated figures for 2006, the coroner's office reported 176 homicides; NOPD, 162 murders. Both agencies are accurate by their respective definitions. Adding to the confusion: death investigators and cops often use the terms "homicide" and "murder" interchangeably. -- Johnson
Stress Fuels Violence
Tulane University historian Lance Hill says New Orleans needs a citywide discussion on why crime and violence are increasing, despite the efforts of state and local law enforcement and the National Guard. "You can't solve crime and violence if you don't understand their causes," Hill says. He theorizes that the increase in violent crime is directly related to the displacement of people by Katrina. "Yes, we want better police and courts, but the tendency toward violence is compounded by tens of thousands of cases of untreated trauma stress." Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute, a think-tank on race issues, also says the conventional wisdom is that nearly everyone in New Orleans is suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, he says, diagnoses for destructive behavior are limited to white people, whereas violent behavior by blacks is often misrepresented as "mindless criminal acts." Research shows increased anger and aggression among people who have been forced outside the city and who have lost homes and jobs to itinerant workers. Hill credits City Council member Shelley Midura with accurately diagnosing the cause of the surge in violence. "Crime is not the cause of the city dying, crime is the symptom of a city dying," Midura said at a press conference after the Jan. 11 anti-crime march on City Hall. -- Johnson
MIA Witness Stalls Trial
The felony perjury and extortion trial of former New Orleans Civil Court Judge C. Hunter King has been rescheduled for May 21. Set to begin Dec. 12, the proceeding was continued at the request of prosecutor Justin Davis of the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. "The District Attorney's office made the request because a key witness was unavailable," said Dalton Savwoir Jr. , a spokesperson for DA Eddie Jordan Jr. The charges stem from a judicial misconduct probe that resulted in the Louisiana Supreme Court removing King from the bench in 2003. The High Court determined King coerced his staff into engaging in "impermissible campaign activity" and then lied twice about his misconduct to investigators. King defense attorney Jack Martzell will not comment on the case. The trial judge in King's criminal case is Judge Julian Parker. If convicted as charged, King could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and/or hit with $10,000 in fines on the perjury charge, and up to five years in prison and/or $5,000 in fines for the extortion charge. Even if King is acquitted, he is still banned by the Louisiana Supreme Court from qualifying for judicial elections until 2008. -- Johnson
Vitter Backs Ligi
Metairie businessman Tony Ligi has received the endorsement of Louisiana's junior U.S. senator in the upcoming election in House District 79, which is being vacated by term-limited state Rep. Danny Martiny, a Kenner Republican. Sen. David Vitter says it's important to keep the seat in GOP hands, but he also praises Ligi as a reformer. "His passion for reform, unquestioned integrity and ability to get things done will make him an effective legislator for all of us," Vitter says. Ligi is co-founder of the Elmwood Park Civic Association and current director of Citizens For A Safer Jefferson. He also is a member of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and past chairman of the Republican Party of Jefferson Parish. -- Alford