When my nearly 91-year-old mother on the remote Alabama farm says she heard that New Orleans is the murder capital of the world, the secret is out.
I tried explaining that it’s just New Orleans proper, not all the surrounding areas, that it’s a per capita thing, not the total number of murders, and that with the population of the city less than half what it used to be, that is not necessarily a high number. But no matter. The damage is done.
Now the bad press is bearing fruit.
“Groups call off meetings in N.O.,” trumpeted the headline in Friday’s newspaper. Two medium-sized trade groups scheduled to bring some 6,000 visitors to town and use 12,000 rooms over a weekend and therefore help the local economy have canceled their conventions. The two associations cited the high crime rate and the problems of the city’s slow recovery from the hurricane.
Argue all we want, it’s a done deal. Point out that the National Association of Realtors brought 25,000 to town in November, that Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society brought in 24,000 in February, and the American College of Cardiology a whopping 30,000 just last week. They all reported successful meetings in our city. When contacted, spokespersons for the two smaller conventions that just canceled cited concerns over the “unfortunate events” that have occurred in the city recently–presumably, the killings–and their belief that their members will not want to journey to New Orleans for this meeting. Since both organizations have contracts with the Morial Convention Center, canceling will cost them some bucks.
A medical doctor called from Mississippi. He will be doing specialty training with a local hospital for a year or two, and wants to find employment for his wife who is a trained pastoral counselor. If they’re unable to find her a position, he says, they will live on the Northshore (anywhere from Hammond to Covington to Slidell) and he would commute. “She’s deathly afraid of moving to New Orleans,” he said.
We are told that the shootings are the result of turf battles between returning drug gangs, that the bad guys are bumping off one another.
They caught one of the baddies. File this under the category of “dumb crook.” Floyd Brown was chatting with his uncle by phone and started bragging about a man he had killed. His exact words were, “Unk, I put one in his dome.” Problem is the uncle was in the state penitentiary which means his phone call was being monitored by Major Michael Vaughn, a former homicide detective. Vaughn placed a call to the New Orleans police and turned in Mr. Brown, who pleaded guilty and was given 20 years.
The big news this week is that N.O. Recovery Czar Dr. Blakely has unveiled the plan for rebuilding the city. In a sentence, what he and the mayor did was identify 17 zones which will be the first to receive the city’s financial backing for commercial redevelopment. Most of these are west of the Industrial Canal. (For outsiders, that canal runs north-south just a few blocks east of our seminary on Gentilly Boulevard.) The idea is to get stores and businesses going in those specific areas and thus encourage homeowners to return and rebuild. One such zone is the intersection of Gentilly and Elysian Fields Avenue, an area busy with traffic and with plenty of signs of life already, but still with most major businesses shuttered. Anyone traveling to the University of New Orleans or to our offices crosses that intersection and would love to see it returned to viability.
This plan comes 18 months after Hurricane Katrina did its work. One hopes it’s not too little, too late. Dr. Blakely says we’re looking at a 15 year program of rebuilding which will cost $1.1 billion, money which the mayor says will come from various government programs.
To my surprise, one of the recovery zones will be the ill-fated Lower 9th Ward. The other zone that will draw the largest portion of the funds will be in East New Orleans where the Lake Forest Mall formerly stood, right alongside Interstate 10.
My only thought is: let’s get on it. This delay is part of the problem and adding to the impression that nothing positive is happening down here.
This Sunday–April 1 at 10 am–Pontchartrain Baptist Church is rededicating their renewed facility. They’re located on Robert E. Lee Boulevard in the West End section of the city, beside the 17th Street Canal. Pastor Jerry Smith invites you to join us.
Sunday, April 15, at 10:30 am, the renewed Suburban Baptist Church in East New Orleans will be having a homecoming/rededication. Pastors Jeff Box and Jeffery Friend invite you.
Big article in Friday’s paper about novelist Christopher Rice, son of novelist Anne Rice, finally getting back to the city for the first time since Katrina. Why hasn’t he returned? “It hurts too bad.” He goes on and on about his love for the city and how wonderful the city is for writers and how deeply his family’s roots are planted here. But the fact remains that he has not been here.
His avowals of love sound hollow. Like a Baptist who was raised in church but who never goes any more, yet insists he has this deep love for the things of the Lord and for his godly heritage.
All right, if you say so. But until you come back you’re not helping matters any.