By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) are in a political tug-of-war centering on the rising crime rate in Louisiana’s most popular tourist destination.  In 2016, shootings in New Orleans increased by almost 25%, and homicides rose by 7%.  AG Landry blames Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s poor leadership for the uptick in crime while Landrieu contends Landry has no authority over him or law enforcement in New Orleans.

AG Landry has taken to Twitter in recent days with the hashtag #MakeNewOrleansSafeAgain in an effort to draw attention to his efforts to reduce crime in the city and his own violent crimes task force which operates outside of the NOLA police department. Landry points out that “Chicago has about 20 murders per 100,000 people. New Orleans is experiencing twice that many at 40 murders per 100,000 people.”

Landry insists that Landrieu is in part to blame in the increase in crime due to his agreement to enter into a five-year consent decree with Eric Holder’s Justice Department in 2012. This agreement is projected to cost NOLA over $55 million over the course of its duration.  The consent decree came about on the heels of violence in Ferguson and other cities after federal investigation of police departments reportedly engaging in civil rights violations; cities across the nation such as Albuquerque, Cleveland, and Seattle have all entered into consent decrees with varying degrees of success.

Generally, the police departments often feel hindered by the decree:

The head of the Police Association of New Orleans agrees that the consent decree is at least partly to blame for a rise in crime in a department that remains roughly 350 officers short of the state goal of 1,600.

“Because of the oversight, officers are reluctant to initiate contact,” said PANO President Michael Glasser. “…The consent decree requires a lot of oversight and redundancy, and while that probably creates a better work product, it’s labor intensive and time consuming, and we lack labor. What used to take an hour or two now takes two or three or four.”

AG Landry refers to the consent decree as the “Hug a Thug Program” and believes that officers need more help, thus his task force, and he’s probably going to push for more money from the state legislature to expand the program:

To do so he’s going to need funding, obviously, so it’s a good bet where this is going is a push at the legislature this spring to get more money for the Violent Crime Task Force to increase its presence in New Orleans and push past NOPD to make a difference.

If the legislature goes along with Landry, then John #Fail Edwards will have to sign off on it which will be particularly interesting as he is often at political odds with both Landry and Landrieu.

Some see Landry’s intervention as a power grab:

But there’s some question – at least by NOPD Chief Harrison – as to whether Landry’s office should be investigating crimes in New Orleans. Harrison sent a letter to Landry Wednesday asserting that “we are aware of no authority that permits you, your employees, or law enforcement agents under your direction to engage in active law enforcement within New Orleans or in general.”

Under the city’s Home Rule Charter, the mayor of New Orleans is the chief law enforcement authority for Orleans Parish, according to Harrison. Landry is the chief law enforcement officer for the state.

Landry insists he has no political agenda here, saying that public safety and tourism dollars are at stake:

This is not about politics; my effort is about protecting Louisiana lives and our economy tied to tourism in New Orleans. While my office works to stop crime all over Louisiana, the spike in crime within our state’s largest city is alarming. That is why I announced this initiative and why we are taking action.”

The numbers don’t lie. Crime has indeed spiked in New Orleans and the city ended 2016 with 176 murders. As 2017 opens and the Crescent City anxiously awaits the decision from the Fifth Circuit on the Confederate monuments issue, due any day now, tensions in the city are certain to rise and it’s not difficult to see why Landry’s task force might be a potential benefit to a city that clearly needs a little backup.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I have it on fairly good authority that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has their decision on the New Orleans Confederate monuments issue, however that decision has not yet been announced for various reasons. The Court received the case in September and some have speculated that the court is likely to affirm removal for the monuments. In mid-December, Mayor Mitch Landrieu wrote to the Court requesting 24-hours notice before announcement of the decision so the police can get proper security manpower in place as riots and protests are expected regardless of the outcome. Perhaps the holdiays have postponed or delayed announcement of the decision but we can expect it very soon, I’m told.

Meanwhile, as the year draws to a close, New Orleans is on track post astounding murder rate figures with 172 murders as of this morning. And we still have New Years Eve to deal with.

This is however not a priority for Mayor Landrieu. Certainly once the monuments come down, those awful relics of the past that do nothing but incite unrest and division by towering over the city in their granite glory, the killings will stop, right?

Equality Circle – Photo via Mayor’s Office

Once the monuments come down and we whitewash and erase our past, we can all sit in “Equity Circles” like the one at Jefferson Davis Parkway and Cleveland streets. We can sit in a friendly Kumbaya style circle and stare at the compass in the center and wonder how we lost our way. We can look at the blank space where the Jefferson Davis monument stood just a half a block away and thank our lucky stars that the killings will stop now that we are sitting in landscaped equity circles.

This is NOT from The Onion but from the New Orleans Advocate:

Called the Equity Circle, the new monument — a set of four circular benches in a landscaped setting at Jefferson Davis Parkway and Cleveland Avenue — is described as a “landscaped gathering place and conversation circle.”

It is one of eight projects being created through Welcome Table New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s citywide initiative focused on race, reconciliation and community building, with a mission of promoting social change.

The circle not only contributes to the revitalization of New Orleans, organizers said, but it has a much deeper goal: to help right the wrongs of the city’s past and promote healing, peace and justice, by providing a place for residents to share stories, build relationships and learn from each other.

The Press Release from Mayor Landrieu’s office:

In collaboration with the Department of Parks and Parkways, the Equity Circle is designed to bring together diverse groups of New Orleanians to share stories and experiences, build relationships and learn from each other. The Equity Circle will create a more attractive neutral ground for the community and enhance the beauty of one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. It will bring residents of all backgrounds and experiences together for one reason—to create a better, stronger New Orleans.

Liberal logic 101.

I suggest that once the 5th Circuit comes back with its decision, the mayor should have everyone gather in safe Equity Circles around town and then certainly there will be no more worries about protests or unrest over those nasty monuments.

If you need me, I’ll be banging my head against the wall in my safe room.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT –  “It will be back to business as normal. Nobody cares.”  That statement from a woman who has worked in the French Quarter for six years is simply tragic.

“Nobody cares.”

Early Sunday morning, around 1:40 a.m., ten people were shot near the intersection of Bourbon and Iberville in the historic French Quarter. The gunfire sent tourists and locals running in panic. Some of the clubs closed their doors to keep out the violence. One of the reported shooters is dead and there are several arrests. It’s a tragedy all around but the sad thing is that this happens in NOLA more often than not – it’s only when it gets close to the tourist areas that you hear about it.

New Orleans is a beautiful, culturally diverse, fascinating city. Under the guidance of mayor Mitch Landrieu it has degenerated into a violent, lawless disaster. I hate to say it because I love New Orleans. It’s a city that gets in your blood and lures you back. The food, the music, the eclectic street vendors, and the people above all, are for the most part intoxicating.

Sadly, the policies of Mayor Landrieu are going to kill the tourist trade if something isn’t done. Landrieu is more focused on things of lesser importance than the blood in the streets, things like removing monuments, for example. Landrieu spent much of 2015 fighting against the four major Confederate monuments in the city. I’ve written about that issue here, here, and here on this blog. Once that issue was safely nestled into the lengthy court dockets and appeals process, Landrieu moved on to gun control laws.  A decision on the monuments is imminent from the U.S. Court of Appeals and tensions are already high.

In April 2016, Landrieu proposed a new series of gun control laws which was passed and signed into law in September. Most of the ordinances are already on the books so it was an exercise in redundancy at best. New Orleans had 165 murders in 2015, up from 150 in 2014. As of October 17, 2016, NOLA is on pace to meet or exceed that number with 134 murders.  Note that number does not include shootings that don’t end up as murder statistics, such as those nine non-fatal victims in this most recent shooting.

Last week a commander of the police department issued a warning to women not to travel alone after dark in the city due to a rising number of robberies and car jackings:

“I would suggest to any female, if they can prevent it, do not travel alone overnight,” said Second District Commander Shaun Ferguson. “If you absolutely have to, stay on the phone with someone and let them know where you’re going. Keep them abreast of your whereabouts.”

A female college student from Tulane was carjacked early Tuesday when another car struck hers from the rear. As she got out of the car, three men from the other vehicle got out and one of them pushed her to the ground. That man got into her car, while the other two jumped into their vehicle and fled.

The Confederate monuments are clearly not the problem; the problem lies in Landrieu’s failure to address the violence in the streets in any meaningful fashion. In recent protests at Lee Circle after Trump’s election, vandals were tagging the monument and other prominent buildings with paint, setting fires on the lawn at the circle, blocking traffic, and running rampant through the streets. Unconfirmed reports were that Landrieu told police to stand down and let them “peacefully protest.”

There is a small group of citizens who watch over the monuments in New Orleans. They patrol nightly to ensure that no vandalism is occurring and should someone tag one of the monuments, the group removes it quickly. Citizens are policing their own city because the mayor has ginned up such hate and divisiveness that it’s the only way to protect the history and culture of the city.

And the locals are worried: with Mardi Gras season just around the corner, how will the increased violence affect tourism? Will it be safe to go into massive crowds to attend parades?  The comments on news reports of the most recent shooting indicate people’s anxiety:

“And this is why we no longer stay in NOLA…..Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his city council need to concentrate on crime and not on tearing down history….We will be staying in Biloxi next weekend for the Saints game! So sad……”

“New Orleans is out of control. Our Mardi Gras is going to be a blood bath if things don’t change and I don’t see a change coming.”

New Orleans is stuck with Mitch Landrieu until 2018.

That’s almost 200 more lives in the balance.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – New Orleans residents are grieving the loss of former Saints defensive end Will Smith who was shot and killed following what is being described as a road rage incident in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans Saturday night.  Smith was shot in his back and right torso after being rear-ended by an orange Hummer; witnesses describe a verbal altercation before hearing shots fired. Smith died in his SUV while his wife sustained a shot to the leg and was found on the ground when emergency vehicles arrived. The suspect is in custody and has been charged with second degree murder.  Smith’s wife is expected to recover from her injuries.

What really happened will unfold in the coming days. Smith and his wife had been at Sake Café where they were joined by a retired NOLA police officer who had been involved in a wrongful death lawsuit with 28-year old Cardell Hayes, Smith’s shooter.  Parties involved say there is no connection but it sounds like an odd coincidence.

It’s a horrible tragedy – Smith and his wife have three children who will now have to grow up without his love and guidance. Smith was popular among his coaches and teammates who are now grieving also.  New Orleans is known to be a unique city with its culture, food, festivals, and historic import, but like many other large American cities, NOLA deals with senseless violence and crime. When one of the very important sources of revenue for your city involve tourist dollars, as it does in New Orleans, this is a problem. Not to say that senseless violence isn’t always a problem, it is; but in the case of New Orleans, there are other problems on the table.

Governor Mitch Landrieu has raised the ire of many local residents for seeming to be more concerned about matters not related to reducing the exploding crime rate in the city. In 2014, the city celebrated the lowest murder rate in four decades, but in 2015 the murder rate began to climb again with a total of 165 in 2015.  The police force has a 73-minute response time on average due to a large manpower shortage.

What is Governor Landrieu doing to address this problem?  Late last year he tried getting gang members together and talked to them about choosing another career path.  That strategy wasn’t successful so Landrieu’s next target was the city’s Confederate monuments: they must be the cause of the racial division in NOLA.  Yet that plan has fostered more anger and outrage among the city’s longtime residents who know that the history and culture of New Orleans is one of the main tourist draws.  Landrieu’s favorability rating has plummeted among white residents while it has risen among the city’s black residents, furthering racial division in the city.  Many residents are fed up with the fact that Landrieu seems more concerned with removing monuments and building bike paths rather than solving the problems in the police department and lowering the crime rate.

While Mitch Landrieu certainly didn’t pull the trigger on Will Smith Saturday night, one has to hope that this terrible tragedy will get his attention and force him to reevaluate his priorities and do something to reduce the frustrations and violence in the city.  What happened to Will Smith and his family is as tragic and senseless. That he played for the New Orleans Saints gives him a higher profile but he was a son, a father, and a husband who did not deserve to be gunned down in the middle of the street on a Saturday night.  Nobody deserves that.  It’s time for Governor Landrieu to clean his city up.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.