Criminal Justice

George Carter, 15, was not a demon and not an angel, but he’s dead — and that should be our focus

George Carter in 2010,   dreaming big dreams.

Colin Lenton

Rethinker George Carter in 2010, dreaming big dreams.

There is nothing left to say about George Carter that will overcome the sorrow felt by family and friends who knew him better than I did.

George was the 15-year-old found shot to death on Piety Street around dawn on Oct. 21. News reports picked up on his membership in Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, an organization co-founded just after Katrina by my wife, Jane Wholey.

In the early going, George, then 8, was the youngest member of the group, and among the most endearing. He’d get up on a milk crate in order to see over the podium at news conferences where the Rethinkers launched their impressive campaigns. They worked to improve campus safety, upgrade cafeteria food and tackle other issues associated with an environment in which — the basic Rethink insight — they had a lot of expertise and a vested interest at least as great as any adult.

In those days, George called himself a “Pre-Thinker.” When HBO came to town to make an Emmy-nominated movie about Rethink, “The Great Cafeteria Takeover,” the cameras loved George. So did fellow Rethinkers, among them his brothers Victor and Vernard and their sister, Victoria.

Inevitably, reports of the killing — a gunshot to the skull fired at close range; the corpse found face-up in a weedy lot — included reference to George’s hard work for school reform. And just as inevitably, the canonization of George Carter has been followed by his demonization.

Though the case is open and police are not ready to comment on the record, local news sources have quoted the owner of a convenience store a couple of blocks from where the killing took place. He contends that George was one of two boys who robbed the place at gunpoint the night before he was bumped off. The hooded kid in the surveillance video does not look much at all like George, but who knows?

It would not be the first time a teenager from a low-income neighborhood got sucked into the world of crime and violence that flourishes in the absence of a just economy and meaningful jobs. And it would not be the first time a boy took a bullet for no good reason.

The shopkeeper speculates that because one of the robbers was not wearing a mask and would be more easily tracked by police, the other boy, his accomplice, killed him for fear of being ratted out. That’s an elaborate theory in a city where a bullet to the head can follow far simpler transgressions, like looking at someone’s girl the wrong way or coming up short on money owed for a $20 bag of weed.

One can hope that public concern and continuing media attention will keep cops on a case they might otherwise let quickly go cold. And one can hope that eventually truth will supersede speculation about what happened in the hours before George was found staring up at the sky through lifeless eyes.

 For the time being, the truths we know with any certainty are these:

  • George was neither a saint nor a demon. He was a kid with big dreams trying to grow up in a very sick culture.
  • It’s a culture governed by gutless, well-dressed politicians and lobbyists who will do everything in their power to avoid doing the obvious, which is to make guns less common than faulty airbags and oversized sodas.
  • It’s a political culture that refuses to reward hard work with a living wage, for fear corporate campaign donors will squawk.
  • Thus it becomes a political culture that perversely fosters development of a parallel economy centered on drug dealing, convenience-store stick-ups and other forms of delinquency.

 No. Sensible gun controls don’t end violence. But as nations with smarter gun policies have demonstrated, when guns are less ubiquitous, schoolboy differences are more likely to be settled with fists than with bullets.

The gun culture is, of course, integrally bound up with that other great American folly, the so-called war on drugs. A demonstrably futile campaign, it has made America the most incarcerating nation on earth, Louisiana the most incarcerating state in the nation and New Orleans, by some accounts, the most incarcerating city in the most incarcerating state.

The war on drugs is the crazy last hurrah of a hypocritical moralism that has packed prisons disproportionately with brown and black males and that has turned these same prisons into very efficient factories for the production of career criminals.

One of the Rethink themes that George had been vocal about was the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the way wrong-headed school expulsion policies put kids on the streets and then in prison. Perhaps he knew the streets more intimately than we want to acknowledge. But George was still enrolled in school. In fact he was in the NET, one of the charter schools New Orleans has created as an alternative to expulsion and the streets. Ultimately, the streets claimed George anyway.

It is a symptom of our sickness that in order to pay much attention to yet another teenage homicide, media first had to portray George’s dedication to school reform as something unimaginably rare — when in fact there are thousands of teenagers in New Orleans with values and a sense of purpose. And now, rather than look to the deeper causes of the malaise that claimed his life, we are trying to dismiss him as just another rotten kid who had it coming.

The more brutal truth is this: George Carter was just a kid. And now he’s dead.

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About Jed Horne

Opinion Editor Jed Horne is a veteran journalist who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize as part of the Times-Picayune team that covered Katrina and the recovery. He is the author of “Desire Street” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005) and “Breach of Faith” (Random House, 2006, 2008), which was declared “the best of the Katrina books” on NPR. He can be reached at

  • Meg Kinney

    That pretty much sums it up. Your article puts into words my feelings and frustrations. Thanks for the bare bones “brutal truth”.

  • Kevin Murphy

    No. Sensible gun controls don’t end violence. But as nations with smarter gun policies have demonstrated, when guns are less ubiquitous, schoolboy differences are more likely to be settled with fists than with bullets.”

    Wait, what? Seriously? All the statistics say exactly the opposite! Try the murder capital of the USA, Chicago. Over 500 gun murders last year! Don’t think of owning a gun there if you’re a law abiding citizen!

  • nickelndime

    Who was the first adult responsible for George? That’s the one who is accountable. Start there. That’s the bare essential. If we, as society, help produce these kinds of adults, then we are a healthy, functioning society. What follows is a statement by someone (don’t remember who because I would give credit due), and this is a paraphrase anyway: YOU ONLY NEED ONE PARENT – ONE WHO IS SO INSANE ABOUT A KID THAT HE OR SHE WILL DO ANYTHING. That sums it up for me – that’s the bottom line. You only need one – and, we have a lot of this type of “family structure” in New Orleans. Sometimes, some people are so damn unbelievably lucky though, and have two “insane” parents. I was unbelievably lucky. Problem is, is that we all need that ONE INSANE ONE! And that is the problem with some kids – that’s what they didn’t get!

  • Jed Horne

    Sounds to me like the nation of Chicago needs to strike alliances with nearby allies, maybe even including the United States. Hard to go it alone.

  • Jed Horne

    I don’t know a parent who has worked harder than George’s mother to keep her kids safe and pointed toward success. An older brother is finishing up at Louisiana Tech and his sister is enrolled at Brandeis, one of the toughest colleges in the country. Last I heard, she was planning a career in medicine.

  • Kevin Murphy

    That made as much sense as your article.

  • nickelndime

    Jed, perhaps you misunderstood my intent. I do not blame – I said “accountable,” and the word was chosen carefully. Let’s recap: So, the first adult accountable for George is Mother. That’s the beginning. Was Mother insane? I hope so. It may be important later. One of Mother’s children is dead – and it was not a natural death. George’s death occurred prematurely (by a lifetime) and under an extreme set of violent circumstances. Mother is the accountable adult. Is Mother still accountable for George? Now, if you believe that there is something after this life, then accountability may acquire another meaning, but I don’t think I will be writing about it – at least I hope I won’t, lest it will lead me to the conclusion that the need to write is equal to eternal damnation. Ha! Call me curious, but “what in the hell” are you doing writing an opinion piece about Grorge Carter? Is it because you have a personal interest in the family, or was George’s death the straw that broke the camel’s back? Fast forward: So, what will mother say, “Two out of three ain’t bad”? Will you, Jed, present your opinion about the job Mother did, should there be a hearing? Will the other two children speak on Mother’s behalf? Will Mother use the insanity defense? (Now it becomes important). Has Mother failed? Has Mother succeeded in the job she set out to do? I don’t know about Morher. What I said (I thought) is that we, as individuals, need to take responsibility for what we do and don’t do (the errors and the omissions). And it is time to stop waiting for government or anyone else to do that for which we are responsible (accountable).

  • nickelndime

    I’m packing – and I ain’t talking about luggage, Jed. I didn’t actually agree with Kevin’s post, but it made more sense than your Chicago one. Still, it’s not enough to make me start rocking in my chair, but if something else sets me off, it could get me rolling. It doesn’t take too much for my ASP (that’s my pet snake ASP) to get unruly. Goes back to my ASP’s relative in the “Garden,” and we ain’t talking Madison Square.

  • nickelndime

    Is somebody trying to get Brownie Pernts because you are the News Editor?

  • Kevin Murphy

    What did you not agree with, that Chicago has strict gun control or that it leads the nation in murders? Jed Horne agrees. That’s why he couldn’t give a coherent response. Sadly, he used the death of this child to advance his political agenda instead of addressing the real issues.

  • nickelndime

    Damnit, Kevin! Now you are making me go back and reread Jed’s article on George Carter, and I didn’t particularly like the slant of the article the first time I read it, for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is way too late. But it’s worse than that. It clearly is politicized, and I can’t stand the agenda. And one more thing, before I wrap it up. George was obviously an advanced, highly intelligent, articulate, and creative youngster. How in the hell did George end up in one of the worst charter schools (The NET) in New Orleans? Why was George not evaluated for participation in advanced studies or classes that should have prepared/allowed him to enroll in NOCCA? Don’t get me started on “accountability” and “responsibility,” because I already spent too much time on that with Jed. Jed should never have written the damn article. Okay, bottom line. I agree that Jed’s response to you was illogical and incoherent. I do not support gun control. Obviously, I own guns, and that is my right to do so. I do not care if any country has what Jed calls “sensible” gun control. Leave my guns alone. This is the part that I disagree with: I do not believe there is any relationship (significant or otherwise, positive or negative, causal or correlational) between gun control and deaths (homocide, suicide, etc.).

  • nickelndime

    Yo, Kevin. Look up. I believe we are in the same church. Ha!