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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Uneasiness in the ‘Big Easy’

    Lila Burgoscolumnist
    Lila Burgos

    On August 29, 2005, America watched the city of New Orleans plunge into chaos after Hurricane Katrina. Now the body count in New Orleans is rising again – but not from a natural disaster. Violence is affecting the middle class, and mostly Caucasian, neighborhoods. Now America is paying attention again.

    The citizens of New Orleans have been through more than most Americans could ever imagine surviving. They endured a hurricane. They lost everything they owned and had worked for. They were left in desperate conditions for days. Many were forced to take refuge and make the decision of whether or not to return.

    Those who had the courage and willingness to go back and rebuild are now being brought to their knees again by the escalating violence in their city. Last week New Orleans became one of the cities with the highest murder rates in the country. At one point there were six murders within a twenty-four hour period.

    The two high-profile murders were of a Caucasian woman, filmmaker Helen Hill, and African-American jazz musician Dinneral Shavers, both shot to death in front of their spouses and children.

    These occurred in what are known to be relatively safe neighborhoods. Both of these murders gained national attention. The emotional outcry of their friends and neighbors made several National Public Radio spots.

    More than 1,000 traumatized citizens marched on city hall on Jan. 11 to demand justice and protection. Some called for the resignation of Mayor C. Ray Nagin, while others just chanted slogans such as “”Stop the violence.””

    The protesters were predominantly middle-class Caucasians. This is interesting since the majority of murder victims were impoverished, African Americans. In response to the outcry the mayor has invited a leading crime prevention expert to assist the New Orleans Police Department.

    Citizens and city leaders have blamed the usual suspects of poverty, drugs, and an inefficient school system for the rise in violence. There are still scarce resources for the poor and the dropout rate of students stands around 70 percent. Accusations of corruption and flaws in the criminal justice system have always existed, yet some argue they are more apparent now. Many still blame the federal government. The citizens are outraged. Shouldn’t we be outraged, too?

    There are still redevelopment grants that have yet to be distributed. Last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency responded to reconstruction fraud by requesting repayment of more than $175 million dollars from some 150,000 people who are now seen as ineligible recipients of aid after the hurricane.

    Worst of all, New Orleans still does not have levee system that could withstand a category five hurricane. Why has the U.S government still not provided adequate assistance?

    Perhaps the reason the federal government has been slow to respond is that the majority of people gravely affected were poverty-stricken African-Americans. The issue of race cannot be denied. One particular thought leaves me very uneasy: If the same constituency of people that live in Orange County lived and were the primary victims of the hurricane, they would have an adequate levee system by now.

    Unfortunately, it has to be said that if the violence had not affected the higher socioeconomic areas, and had just been occurring between poor African-Americans, I don’t believe we would be hearing much about it or have seen this mass protest. American media doesn’t seem to care much if poor, drug-addicted African-American males are killing each other in the streets.

    The destruction and lack of response from the federal government in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina held up a mirror to the country. It became clear that racism and inequality are alive and well here. The problem is often not as glaringly obvious as it was a few decades ago.

    Now it just seems to manifest itself in more subtle forms – no adequate levees, attention to murders only when the appropriate socioeconomic class is affected. Ultimately, the attitude of countenance the government continues to have toward New Orleans cannot be forgotten.

    Lila Burgos is an international studies junior. She can be reached at

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