Nagin Blamed for Crescent City's Rising Crime

Jul 25, 2006
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ED GORDON, host:

Nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans is slowly returning to its old self, at least in one regard.

Crime is on the rise in the Big Easy, and commentator Jimi Izrael, for one, is relieved that things are getting back to normal. He says the return of the cities criminal element is evidence that the underlying problems in New Orleans haven't been addressed; and crime is a reminder that Mayor Ray Nagin and the city's leaders will have to work a lot harder to ensure a better future for low-income residents.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL's Black Voices): Sadly, five teens were recently shot dead in New Orleans. But as callous as it sounds, I'm just relieved things are back to normal in the Big Easy.

Not to say that things should be this way, but New Orleans has been buck(ph) town for years. Crime is coming back to New Orleans because people are picking up where they left off, doing what they can to survive with little resources and less hope for relief.

Three hundred National Guard troops have been sent to the region to patrol the devastated Ninth Ward while the New Orleans police tend to the more populated areas where new constructions are going up. What that really translates to is that soldiers will hold people of color at bay while local cops support the gentrification effort by helping rich people find, you know, the local Starbucks to get a decent latte.

Nagin talked about welcoming back his constituents with open arms, not armed military. No longer advocating for the poor and voices of the Ninth Ward, he's encouraging a kind of de facto martial law. And this probably isn't the welcome back these New Orleans were expecting. But Nagin is grasping at anything to save his Candyland vision of the future.

When he extended an invitation to those displaced by Hurricane Katrina to come back home, Nagin was wrong to fill their heads with candy-coated imagery. He's waking up to find himself more of Mad Max than Willy Wonka. Trying to bring law and order to a land full of angry, desperate people as his ice cream dreams of a magical city on the grow melt, melt, melt away.

But the rampant poverty and unemployment in New Orleans hasn't gone away, and now the same people that were barely surviving in a fully functioning city are trying to make a way of it in the shell of what's left. Now, early on, admittedly, Nagin was stuck in a rough place. But he's still there. You can't rebuild the city without tourism, but you won't get any tourists to come to a dangerous city.

Nagin should have done more grassroots outreach and organizing to quash any potential criminal activity and anticipate the needs of people before they became desperate and turned to crime. He should have made sure that the people who had the least and were struck the hardest were made whole. That would have been the smart move. Instead, he chose to fill people's heads with impossible dreams. Pin up streamers and ribbons, paste a smile on his face, and hope for the best. Well, that strategy hasn't panned out so well.

So it's time for a new realistic plan that can save this city. But bringing in the troops sends the wrong message. It's a cowboy move likely to backfire and turn this bitter chocolate city into a hot fudge mess.

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GORDON: Jimi Izrael is a columnist for the Web site, AOL Black Voices. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.