It sounds like it could be the Discovery Channel's latest nail-biting reality series, but here it's just another headline. It is reality.
The Advocate, a Baton Rouge-based newspaper, reported today that New Orleans has been declared tops in the nation in "brutal, homicidal violence." The study, conducted by Washington-based Web site foreignpolicy.com, listed New Orleans, along with Caracas, Venezuela; Cape Town, South Africa; Moscow, Russia; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, as one of the the top murder capitals of the world.
According to the FBI statistics, in 2007 New Orleans averaged 95 murders per 100,000 residents. Per capita, it's the largest murder rate in the United States. 5 people have been killed in the last two days, according to nola.com this morning.
Numbers and statistics and headlines may seem unreal when viewed in black and white. Often, it's not until crime touches us in some way, no matter how small, that we realize how vast the epidemic is.
This past weekend, while engaging in my usual Sunday afternoon boozing at the Erin Rose, my friend Anne-Marie drove into the Quarter to meet me. When she offered to drive me home, I jumped at the chance to save on cab fare and catch a ride.
When we got back to the car, we found that it had been broken into and rifled through. While nothing major was stolen, except for a few dollars of emergency cash, this fairly common occurrence is just the smallest ripple in the pond.
In addition to feeling violated by the break-in, Anne-Marie now has to worry about whether or not the criminals walked away with any of her personal information. She's getting an alarm system for her house and breaking out her shotgun, just in case.
So what's the solution? Martial law? Vigilantism? My thoughts: Personal responsibility, coupled with a small dose of vigilantism.
A recent story in the Times-Picayune told the tale of a robbery gone wrong when a passerby intervened, shooting one of the would-be robbers. While this might seem extreme, to me it seems cosmically just. Very little has been done to lessen crime in New Orleans. Our red-light traffic cameras work spectacularly to catch red-light runners and speeders, but our crime cameras are still not up and running, and the number of violent crimes keeps in rising and the NOPD is working diligently to pin some of those crimes on dead men who were in jail at the time.
Perhaps what it takes to bring down crime will be to put not the fear of God into criminals, but the fear of the average resident. I don't have any sympathy for the would-be robber, who may have lost a kidney and may be paralyzed for life. I'm positive that he would have shown the same compassion for his victim. If it ever comes to choosing between my life and the life of some criminal, I'll take me any day.
This weekend, Anne-Marie and I are going gun shopping. We've been to the gun shows, fondled various weapons, and both pretty much decided on our choices. (She's opting for a revolver, while I'm leaning toward a 9mm.) She's passed her gun safety course, and I'm signed up for mine. Within a few months, we'll both also have concealed carry permits.
We will certainly not become vigilantes. What we will be is armed, safe, and smart women, capable of protecting ourselves. We both pray that time never comes, but we won't be unprepared if it does.
I'd also like to get a guard alligator for my courtyard, but I don't think my neighbors would approve.