Each January is always a challenge for this column. Readers (and the writer) want to begin the New Year on a hopeful and optimistic note.
For years now, serious reporting about violent crime in New Orleans, the ongoing federal reformation of the New Orleans Police Department, Orleans Parish Prison and similar topics are more likely to invite cynicism – or at best cautious optimism.
Entering 2016, a trained eye and a curious mind can spot “silver linings” in the darkest clouds:
Reclaiming Bunny Friend Park
“We have to bring people together,” newly elected Governor
John Bel Edwards said recently.
He should start with a visit to New Orleans.
He should meet, talk and pray with area residents of Bunny Friend Park in the impoverished, majority black, Upper
The city playground was the scene of the mass shooting of 17 mostly young people – the night after Edwards’ Nov. 21st election victory.
Governor Edwards can offer words of comfort to the wounded, solace for the traumatized and encouragement for shaken residents of this area.
He should extend state protection to any witness who helps police identify and jail the cowardly armed thugs responsible for gunplay that sent hundreds of panicked men, women and children running for their lives and 17 others seeking medical help for bullet wounds, including a 10-year-old boy.
The Governor should help the crime-weary residents of Bunny Friend and the rest of the 9th Ward because they helped him to get elected – the day before the shooting.
As everyone with a television knows by now, Governor Edwards is a white, rural, religious conservative, a “pro-gun” Democrat and former Army Ranger from a multi-generation law enforcement family.
We know Edwards, a state representative for Amite, defeated Republican opponent, United States Senator David Vitter of Metairie, by 56-44 percent of the more
than 1.9 million votes cast statewide.
We also know that Louisiana’s 64 parishes, New Orleans gave Edwards the largest margin of victory: 81,902 votes (87 percent) to Vitter’s 12,748 votes (13 percent).
What many may not know is that a New Orleans Magazine review of the Secretary of State’s online election results shows that voters in the predominantly black 9th Ward/Precinct 23, the site of Bunny Friend Park, gave the Governor-elect a stunning 99 percent victory: Edwards 134, Vitter 2.
By comparison, Edwards’ widest margin of victory in all 84 precincts of his native Tangipahoa Parish was 98 percent and in only two precincts. (He carried his home parish by 60 to 40 percent.)
Our review also shows that Edwards’ racially diverse Democratic campaign swamped Vitter in another 12 majority-black voting precincts around Bunny Friend Park – by margins of
99 , 98 and no less than 97 percent.
East of Bunny Friend, more than a few 9th Ward precincts gave Edwards 100 percent of the their vote.
Further West of the playground, the vote-rich 7th Ward precincts of the Tremé neighborhood, the boyhood home to Louisiana State University star running back Leonard Fournette, also gave Mr. Edwards’ 97, 98 and 99 percent margins of victory.
From a crime-fighting perspective, the Bunny Friend-fueled election of Governor Edwards is reason for citywide optimism.
Governors have played a key role in New Orleans crime since Hurricane Katrina decimated the NOPD in 2005.
In the summer of 2006, after the mass shooting in that year of five young men in Central City, then-Governor Kathleen Blanco granted requests by Mayor Ray Nagin and NOPD Chief Warren Riley for Louisiana National Guard troops to help the depleted police force keep the peace.
One year ago, on Jan. 4, 2015, a testy Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu repeated earlier calls to reluctant Republican Governor Bobby Jindal for more state help battling violence in New Orleans.
“I have once again called on the state to step up and do its part in fighting violence on the streets of New Orleans. State Troopers have proven to be a helpful supplement and a visible deterrent as the NOPD continues to rebuild; however, as these resources have gone away, crime has spiked,” the mayor wrote, adding: “For New Orleans to continue to generate jobs and tax revenue for our state, it is imperative that the State of Louisiana continue to provide immediate additional resources to help protect our residents and visitors.”
Jindal relented, after urging the city to watch its spending and pick up the pace of rebuilding the NOPD.
The strong support of 9th Ward voters for Edwards should help New Orleans survive a tough state budget year in 2016 – at least, crime-wise.
Why New Orleans Matters & the NOPD Consent Decree
In a November address to the nonprofit New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation, Jonathan Aronie, the lead Consent Decree Monitor of the court-supervised plan to reform the NOPD, reported “real, substantive progress areas in many areas” in 2015:
• New and revised NOPD policies “reflecting national best practices and a constitutional balance between public safety and civil rights;”
• A new Force Investigative Unit to conduct “quality” probes of officer use of force;
• An “impressive” Crisis Intervention Team with special training to handle the more than 3,000 emergency calls to NOPD each year involving people with mental health problems;
• And the NOPD-initiated “body-worn camera program” – the “most robust of any major city in the U.S.”
Much work remains as the NOPD Consent Decree enters its third year in 2016, says Aronie.
A Boston native, he says he’s optimistic about NOPD reform this New Year – partly because of the “unmistakable resilience of the New Orleans community.”
Aronie quotes Why New Orleans Matters by local author Tom Piazza, who found the character of New Orleans comes “from the spirit that is summoned, like a hologram … from the people who live here … and those who have chosen to live here and those whose parents and grandparents and ancestors live here.”