Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Department of Fear says Be Afraid

Here comes the freaking batsignal again.
After a summer-long string of high-profile crimes in New Orleans — including increasingly brazen assaults, shootings and robberies during daylight hours, as well as the second armed robbery of customers at an Uptown restaurant during dinner service — District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell seems to have had enough. Cantrell issued a statement late this afternoon notable for both its brevity and its exasperation:

After yet another week of armed robbery, rape, and assault, I am at a loss. Our city stands on the verge of a tipping point of violence, much like what occurred after the notorious Louisiana Kitchen murders in December 1996. The people of this city came together as one, stood tall, rallied for change and we got it.

The truth is, right now, there is not a single time or place that is safe, and we cannot remember the last violence-free day in our communities. We are failing as a city to defend and protect our citizens. To turn back this tide of terror, we must demand better.
What that demand is, and to whom it should be made, was not specified.
No one is safe! We must demand better! As the last line of that Gambit post indicates, Cantrell's statement... beyond being the latest tip that she's probably already running for mayor.. is but a hollow echo of the overheated overreaction you might expect from Uptown to the perception that crime is "out of control" even if it isn't.

Here are two stories that ran in the Advocate this weekend. This one, Man shot in Central City, clocks in at 64 words including the sentence, "No further details were provided."

This one is much longer
Two masked men burst into the Uptown restaurant Atchafalaya with handguns Thursday night, relieving diners of their cash and bringing to a boil a simmering sense that even the finest restaurants in New Orleans are not safe from crime.
"Even the finest restaurants!" Nowhere is safe. Did anyone get shot or hurt?
Once inside, the men ordered several of the eight to 10 staffers and roughly 15 patrons present to turn over their money and property. The men hit the bar’s cash register as well and then left, running toward the river.

No one was injured.
Did the cops arrive in a timely fashion, at least? 
In marked contrast to the Aug. 20 armed robbery at Patois, where owner Leon Touzet said it took police almost a half-hour to arrive, officers arrived at Atchafalaya in about two minutes.

“The cops were here on a moment’s notice,” Tocco said. He said he was “very impressed” with their quick response and professionalism.
Oh okay.  That's encouraging, right? It's still too bad that this happened, of course. But nobody got hurt and it does seem like it's being taken seriously so it's not the end of the world or anything. It makes for a compelling story, I guess.  But I'd hardly say it means nowhere is safe. That's clearly unproductive political hyperbole..

oh wait there's more
Even though response time did not appear to be an issue in the latest robbery, the recurrence of such a brazen crime again sparked outrage on social media and in political circles.

This is out of control,” Mary Sonnier, a chef, posted on Twitter. “@MayorLandrieu when are you going to address the crime problem? We (citizens) are scared.”

“The truth is, right now, there is not a single time or place that is safe, and we cannot remember the last violence-free day in our communities,” City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said in a statement. “We are failing as a city to defend and protect our citizens.”

Armed robberies are on the rise throughout the city, according to statistics compiled by former city crime analyst Jeff Asher, who writes a blog about crime for The New Orleans Advocate. There were 693 armed robberies reported in 2013, then 931 in 2014, and, as of now, the city is on pace for 943 armed robberies this year.

Asher's statistics may not mean exactly what that says, though.  An interesting discussion about that developed on Twitter Tuesday beginning right about here if you're interested.

But let's get back to the inevitable political nonsense we can already see developing. "When will the mayor address the crime problem?" Where have these people been? It's practically all he ever talks about.  On Tuesday, after another high profile robbery at a place Uptown whites are usually comfortable, he was talking about it again
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is calling in the federal government after the latest daring mass armed robbery at an Uptown establishment.

Three masked men with guns robbed patrons and the register at the Monkey Hill Bar, 6100 Magazine St., about 10:15 p.m. Monday. Although police were not ready to definitively connect that hold-up to strikingly similar ones in recent weeks at the Patois and Atchafalaya restaurants, Landrieu said he sees a “conspiracy” at work. Now he is seeking federal prosecution for the conspirators.
So, yeah, he's all cowboyed up over this thing. Mitch's schmaltz is a bit much to take, honestly. He even used the phrase "I can feel your pain," during this appearance.

But whatever we may think of his hammed up style, it's fair to say the mayor "addresses the crime problem" all the time. He keeps his murder binders on his coffee table. He throws money at NOLA4life. NOPD manpower may be down, but Mitch has gotten them a raise and has launched aggressive recruiting efforts.  He works to find creative ways to fund experiments like NOLA Patrol, a beefed up State Police presence in the Quarter, and... whatever the hell Sidney Torres is up to.  As the surveillance footage of the Uptown robberies attests, there are cameras all over the place. Mitch is definitely doing stuff.  A lot of that stuff is questionable but there's a difference between that and just ignoring crime. It's clearly a high priority.

Frankly, though there's really not a whole lot the mayor and city council can do about crime directly.  They can demagogue on it all day... and they certainly do that. They can do a lot of politically easy but ultimately  unproductive things.  They can spend 60% of the overall city budget on public safety as they did in 2015. They can encourage "stop and frisk" policies like what State Treasurer John Kennedy recommended last week.  They can jail everything that moves which would certainly keep Sheriff Gusman happy.

None of that stuff is going to improve public safety as a whole. And it certainly won't be very good for the city's budget or the overall quality of life. But none of that is the point. The point is satisfying the immediate political anxiety of those concerned about the perception that crime is "out of control" because some restaurants were robbed.

And, look, crime is not good. It's not good that people are being robbed or shot or having their tax dollars committed toward building $2.2 billion in net worth for a man who does nothing but count the receipts generated from our gross obsession with brain destroying gladiatorial combat.  Crime in New Orleans is a problem. It's not especially worse now than its ever been, though.

And this is why it's important to understand that the outrage we've seen this week isn't about whether our city is safe from crime overall. Rather, it's more about who feels threatened and whether or not the noise those people make matters politically.  As I was picking up my Monday morning coffee this week, I couldn't help overhearing the Garden District regulars sitting around their table talking about the terrible terrible state of things. Serious looks on everyone's face as one of them says, "In New York they showed they could reduce crime when they were allowed to do profiling."  Everyone nods. Everyone also sighs because, to them, this "profiling" is the kind of "common sense" solution that will never get a chance to work its magic because.. reasons.. civil rights... liberals.. whatever... will never let it happen.

But these are the people who get listened to. The paranoid, racist, barely coherent reactionaries are the people who really matter. If they don't feel safe, "even in the finest restaurants" as the Advocate chose to put it, then none of our political class feels safe either.  When probable mayoral candidate and Uptown councilperson LaToya Cantrell says, "there's not a single time or place that is safe," that's who she's trying to appease. They're afraid and so we all must officially be afraid. At least until the crime stories go back to the neighborhoods we expect them to be in.

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