Criminal Justice

Things to consider, from homicide figures to killer sports records

Let’s get down on Friday and briefly consider five different topics in one post. What do you say?

1) The Uptown Messenger is correct. Murder was the single most important story in New Orleans last year. Homicides increased, and led many to question whether Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas is the right person for the job. Serpas says he’s “optimistic for 2012″ and expects improvement because his department is now “using the best technologies available in evidence-based policing.” (I wonder if that will include police drones, which are already in use in Dallas and other cities?)

In a bizarre attempt to soothe fears, the NOPD now routinely publicizes the arrest records of shooting victims. An NOPD representative explained that “it’s important for us to reassure locals who live by the law that they’re most likely going to be absolutely fine if they refrain from criminal activity.”

Everything into one pot, er, post. Photo by naviniea, via Flickr

I see. Law abiders will “most likely” be “absolutely fine,” because thugs are often targeted in our urban killing zones. And I guess the stray bullets have also read the NOPD press releases, and understand whose flesh they’re supposed to pierce.

This NOPD strategy insults the victim’s families as well as the public at large. Whether or not I feel my personal safety is at risk, I’ll never feel “absolutely fine” while hundreds of New Orleanians are slaughtered in the streets. Knowing that most of the victims have a rap sheet doesn’t mitigate my concern about the high body count. Reassuring me that I’m likely not going to be victimized isn’t all that reassuring. I’m not at risk for breast cancer, either, but I don’t breathe a sigh of relief every time I read about someone succumbing to the disease. It’s cynical to think I shouldn’t be alarmed about urban killing even if I’m not at great personal risk. As Jarvis DeBerry at The Times-Picayune wrote today, “My perception of myself as unlikely to be killed doesn’t inure me to what’s happening on the streets of my city.”

You know what would reassure me the most? Breaking the cycle of lethal violence in my city. The human cost of it bugs me, even if a lot of thugs get whacked. Who knows? Perhaps the next Louis Armstrong was killed in the street last year, and New Orleans cannot afford that. (Armstrong, you’ll recall, had an arrest record for shooting a gun in the French Quarter as a youth.)

Times-Picayune columnist James Gill summed up my view of the NOPD’s policy when he recently opined:

[T]o imply that a victim had it coming, as Serpas’ policy appears to do, is a sentiment more appropriate to a mafia don than a police chief.

Serpas says he has the right personnel, strategy and technology to be effective. In that case, he should assume responsibility, and either show progress or resign. Citizens should press Mayor Mitch Landrieu to yoke Serpas’ job security to a significantly improved murder rate in 2012. The Superintendant’s pension is set to skyrocket in May 2013, and he shouldn’t be rewarded if corpses continue to pile up.
2) Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer’s presidential aspirations certainly weren’t a big story last year, but that didn’t dissuade me from writing about him. Roemer’s questionable campaign strategy centered on New Hampshire. He moved there in the fall, and has campaigned non-stop. Unfortunately, he’s been out of office so long, nobody knows who he is. Therefore his national name recognition was so low, he couldn’t qualify for any of the televised GOP debates. I advised him to instigate a fight with an Occupy Wall Street protester to generate media notice, but Roemer opted to make overtures to the group. In hindsight, perhaps he should’ve officially changed his name to “Someone Else,” which would’ve immediately vaulted him past the 5 percent threshold in many polls.

Roemer missed another opportunity in Iowa on Tuesday. He didn’t campaign much in the Hawkeye state, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have potential influence. For example, Roemer received thirty-one votes in the Iowa caucus. Why didn’t he “release” his supporters, and tell them to vote for fellow candidate Rick Santorum? Santorum only lost by eight votes to GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. If Roemer had thrown his support to Santorum, it would’ve put the former Pennsylvania senator over the top, and Roemer would’ve received press for his cleverness. Big lost opportunity there.

Roemer has expressed interest in continuing his impossible dream by running for president in 2012 as third-party candidate, instead of a Republican. The only thing I fear is a close election, where Roemer siphons off just enough conservative votes from the GOP to ensure President Obama’s re-election. Then Roemer might have to move to Canada or France (or Ralph Nader’s basement), until the furious backlash subsides. Godspeed, Buddy.

3) Presidential aspirant Gary Johnson has also been largely ignored, and now plans to run as a Libertarian rather than a Republican. While speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans in June, Johnson received surprisingly hearty applause when he articulated his marijuana legalization position.

Two years ago, former Lens columnist Eli Ackerman wrote about the national trend toward marijuana legalization. Then in October, the national attitude crossed over and now a majority of Americans support legalization. So, 2011 marked an historic shift in opinion on marijuana legality as well as marriage equality. So now I suppose we can anticipate more wedding ceremonies and increasingly, er, “vivid” reception parties. Perhaps fewer leftovers, too.

4) Speaking of leftovers, the Argus Leader newspaper reported that McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell restaurants would stop filling their ground beef with an “ammonia-treated burger ingredient that meat industry critics deride as ‘pink slime.’ ” Inspired by the Food Inc. documentary, I wrote a post on this unappetizing beef manufacturing process last January. This announcement marks progress and should be good news for those who are prone to feeling suddenly ravenous for junk foodstuff at odd hours.

Hopefully, the grocery stores that still carry products containing “pink slime” will follow the lead of these fast food companies. (Did I really just write that?)

5) Was 2011 one of the best years in sports… ever?

Consider the following evidence: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees led the team to a record-breaking season; LSU’s dominating football squad made a run for the ages, and prevailed in “The Game of the Century” against Alabama. The most exciting night in Major League Baseball history was followed by a positively thrilling World Series. Tony Stewart drove his racing team to the greatest finale in NASCAR history. The old and slow Dallas Mavericks upset the superstar-laden Miami Heat, while the NCAA men’s basketball tourney featured tons of upsets (though I forget who actually won the championship). Some stuff happened in tennis and golf, as well.

Granted, the off-field tragedies and struggles were more important than the games and scores last year. But in spite of all that, sports in 2011 were profoundly enjoyable. Let’s hope that trend continues, as well.


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