I am not a very spiritual person.
But sometimes I think we need a moment of silence, just to think about things.
It was an extraordinarily bloody end to the year in New Orleans, the murder capital of the country. As of last year, our murder rate was #1 in the country and #3 in the world. Up until the second week in December, the city was celebrating having about two weeks with no fatal shootings. Yes, we celebrate that in this city.
Then, we had 7 murders in 4 days. More murders ensued. Five were in the 9th Ward; the rest were fairly evenly distributed around the city, with a concentration in the East.
The 8th Ward, my childhood home, also had more than its fair share of violence.
Just after Christmas, a warehouse where a number of young homeless folks were living burned down. The "squat" at the edge of the 9th Ward burned entirely, killing 8 young people inside, along with their 2 dogs. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Of course, in the wake of that tragedy, folks started making disparaging comments about "gutter punks" -- the New Orleans term for youngish, homeless people, primarily (though not exclusively) white, who panhandle and play music on the streets. In response to that, a number of people -- including the press -- have defended the "gutter punks".... renaming them "train hoppers," "travelers," "homeless youth," and more, depending on where you go.
The loss of life in the warehouse is devastating. My heart goes out to the people who died and their family and friends. Any loss of life is devastating. There shouldn't have to be any mudslinging -- there shouldn't be any justification of lifestyle.
Gutter punk, traveler, train hopper....
It's sad, no matter how you phrase it.
But all the lives lost are sad. Magnolia Shorty, a well-known local female rapper, was gunned down just before Christmas in New Orleans East (technically, though not culturally, part of the 9th Ward). Other young black folks are shot all over New Orleans on a regular basis.
The majority has a tendency to say that they are "thugs" and "gangstas" and therefore are, apparently, unworthy of life. But they are young, vital people who have a lot of life left ahead of them.
Just like the folks in the warehouse that burned.
For the year of 2011, I just ask that everyone remember that, just like all dogs deserve to live, regardless of breed, all people deserve to live, regardless of race, age, or lifestyle. Any loss of life, though perhaps unavoidable, is sad. I hope that, this next year, New Orleans will start to move in the right direction.
By the end of 2010, we more than matched our murder total for 2009 of 174. Our murder rate in 2009 was about 60/100 -- New York City's is about 7/100, to put it into perspective.
I love New Orleans, my city. And I love my home, the 9th Ward.
Please remember New Orleans, and remember the 9th Ward. We need your help moving forward.