Saturday, January 06, 2007

This One Hurts

Helen Hill shot, murdered. Her husband shot, injured, holding their child. Holding their child.

It hurts. I didn’t know the family. But it hurts. It hurts all of us.

The city feels this one. We feel it through personal accounts and through the media:
After the flood, Helen Hill ached to return to her adopted city.

Her husband, Paul Gailiunas, resisted. The storm had destroyed the health clinic he co-founded in the Treme neighborhood to serve the city's poor. Gailiunas, a doctor, fretted about the quality of the air and water, and of life in general, for the couple and their baby son, Francis. Hill's parents in South Carolina, where the couple had retreated in exile, worried, too. They had seen the destruction on television.

"But she had New Orleans in her heart and imagination," her stepfather, Kevin Lewis, said Friday, a day after Hill was shot dead and her husband wounded inside their Marigny home. "She was idealistic. She wanted her family and her creative life fulfilled here."
It hurts to lose Helen Hill. It hurts even more to lose her in such a violent way. It hurts to lose anyone in such a violent way.

Anyone. The day after Helen Hill was murdered, a woman was shot and killed Uptown:
The death of Jealina Brown, 22, continued a rash of slayings gripping the city. She was the seventh person slain since 2007 began, and 13th killed in an eight-day period.
Even though I have heard of no impromptu memorials for Jealina Brown, her loss hurts, too.

And I don’t expect memorials for these murders either:
The other recent killings followed a depressingly familiar pattern. Earlier Thursday, the police found a young man with gunshot wounds lying face-down in a Central City alleyway; on Wednesday evening, they responded to a report of gunshots in the same neighborhood and found another young man dead; that afternoon, Louisiana National Guardsmen found the body of a man shot in the head in the Desire area, in the Ninth Ward; and on Wednesday morning, they found the body of a woman wrapped in a rug in the Lower Ninth Ward.
But they hurt. They all hurt. Some affect the community differently, but they all hurt. The loss of a Helen Hill gets more attention than the loss of a young, black, Central City man. But they both hurt.

It is wrong to assume that the young, black Central City men were involved in anything illegal when they were shot. But if they were (as many retaliatory Central City murders similar to these are), it would also be wrong to say that their loss should hurt any less. We are not born bad. We are taught bad. The young black men that are killing each other on our streets and the men and women of every color who commit viloent crimes were taught bad. As much as they hurt their community with their actions, they were first and equally hurt *by* their community. And their community is us.

That hurts.

When I hear about a murder – any murder – that doesn’t involve someone I know, I still hurt because I feel the loss of the family and loved ones. How can you not? But I also hurt because I realize that someone was taught bad. Someone was taught that murder is an option. My community failed for that person. I failed for that person.

Did no one see that person being taught bad? Were we too busy to notice? Did we not see the conditions at home that contributed? Did we not see the conditions in the neighborhood, or the schools, or the lack of opportunity or a future that contributed to the creation of a murderer? Dammit, what the hell were we doing that we didn’t notice?

What the hell do we do now that we have noticed? It’s too late for eight people already, just six days into the new year. One thing on our side is that, as with bad, we are also taught good. We can teach good.

Teaching good is rebuilding every neighborhood equally. Teaching good is rebuilding every school equally. Teaching good is not hording resources – money, property, wealth – amongst the few. Teaching good is not rewarding privilege but merit. Teaching good is through more education, not more incarceration. Teaching good is a bottom-up process, not a top-down mandate. Teaching good is me not sitting so much in this chair and typing so much, but doing much more. (Hey, I never said I was a saint.)

The Mayor and the Superintendent talk about the murders:
This city, which has recorded at least eight killings this year, is looking at imposing a curfew as a way to help stem the violence, police Superintendent Warren Riley said Saturday.

"It's something we're just sort of talking about, to see if that will make a difference," he said. A curfew in effect in the city in the early part of 2006, along with the hurricane-diminished population, seemed to make a difference, Riley added, giving New Orleans "our best quarter, probably, in 30, 40 years."


Both said they understood citizens' concerns, but Nagin urged them not to make decisions on their future in this still-rebuilding city based on the recent killings.

"This is a tragic incident, but we've had murders over the past year-and-a-half or 10 years, and I understand there are tipping points," Nagin said. This may be one such tipping point, he said, that "galvanizes our community to really step forward and help us to solve this."
The curfew may work in the short term. But a curfew doesn’t teach good. And to cite the first quarter of 2006 as "our best quarter, probably, in 30, 40 years" is crazy. The population of residents was so low the numbers can not be used in comparison to other quarters. Plus, up until January 2006, the national guard was assisting the police. Before they came back halfway through the year, the police weren’t doing such a great job even with the smaller population. The NY Times wrote an article at the end of "our best quarter, probably, in 30, 40 years" and you tell me how “best” it looked:
But crime is nowhere near its pre-storm levels. With the city's population reduced by at least three-fifths, statistics indicate that crime is down 60 percent to 70 percent over all, the department said.

There have been 16 killings this year, compared with more than 60 for the same period last year, which means quieter days for the police but still works out to an annualized rate of 32 killings per 100,000 people, ahead of Cleveland and Chicago.
According to the NOPD, there were 17 murders in the first quarter of 2006. In the next quarter there were 39 murders. With 161 by the end of the year, that means the last half of the year saw 105 murders, with just half the population back (and that’s the high-end estimate). That doesn't look like an improvement.

There are no bright spots here. When the Superintendent and the Mayor try to spin the murder rate, people get mad. The “tipping point” Nagin speaks of might not cause a galvanization of the community, but an exodus from the community.

We need to care about all of these murders to prevent more murders. But, man, this one hurts.


mark c said...

will impose a curfew, but tear down your homes. Dinerral Shavers hurt.

da po' boy said...


Sophmom said...

You make a very important point with this post.

Marco said...

You speak the truth. I can say all sorts of things from upstate NY, but I try to be careful. It's for the people and the city that I watch what I say, as I should. I don't live in NOLA, but I have experienced the feeling and we'll never forget that. It wasn't Mardi Gras or any festival. It was an April too long ago. It rained most of the time, but the city welcomed us as no other city has. The people, the poeple. I hope we can return and enjoy it again soon.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog for the first time today. I cried when I read it, and now I want to go back and read every entry in the archives.

Keep writing. I need your voice so that I don't get discouraged and to keep me sane, and to remember that it is alright -- it's a good thing -- to have compassion.