November 11, 2015
By Mary Richard
Sunday nights, I love to unravel the intricacies of Masterpiece Mystery, but am less enthralled by unsolved crimes closer to home. BBC’s criminal investigations benefit from myriad resources compared to the decimated police protection on which I depend.
It has been more than six months since I returned home to find a teenager rummaging through my possessions, pulling stockings and slips from dresser drawers, presumably in search of cash or jewelry. I made my way all the way through the house before he presented himself, hands in hip pockets and a sly smile on his face. My steel hedge clippers had been used to shatter triple-pane glass and allow him to climb into my bedroom.
In the ensuing weeks, I’ve turned over this event in my mind. Not only did I consider how close I had come to my own mortality, but the degree of danger this miscreant risked for chump change -- a broken iPod and a Samsung smartphone. There was a moment in my starkly lit kitchen, when we stood face-to-face, both realizing I could recognize him in a lineup. After a short struggle, when I squirmed out of his grip and landed a swift kick, he decided it might be easier just to take my handbag and leave. Police arrived 15 minutes later. It was the second time in a month I’d called them.
In numerous conversations since, I’ve learned that almost every New Orleans resident has experienced having a gun held to his or her head. When I tell women I fought back, they exclaim, “You go, girl!” Men ask, "Why not just surrender the bag?" Guys tend to forget about rape. The intruder had gotten me into a headlock, dragging me screaming toward the bathroom where he kicked a hole in the door. I am now trying to put the episode behind me, repairing the door, the ripped window shades, smashed window and shaky sense of security.
In New Orleans these days, alarm companies are experiencing record calls. Adoptions of large dogs are brisk. Throngs of Uptown residents wrangle handguns at the St. Bernard shooting range. The police department is desperate to hire and train enough recruits. Meanwhile, the frivolity of Mardi Gras will march on.
What kind of society do we live in? Dozens of these young men circulate our neighborhoods without hope or guidance that might prevent them from preying on others. Possibly suspended from high school for bad behavior, they roam the streets at night acting out worse deeds. My stolen phone records show calls and text messages at 10- and 15-minute intervals throughout the night.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu touts a drop in the murder rate and his successes with his violence-reduction plan, Nola for Life. But my neighborhood, greatly compromised by the reduction in police protection, is not a bad-enough “hot spot” to get any attention at all. We residents, some of whom have been twice burglarized, must fortify ourselves.
Despite this alarming event, I’ve recommitted to my neighborhood because -- as many have said -- the same thing could happen anywhere in New Orleans. I’ve now got an expensive security system, padlocked gates, motion-activated security lights and a watchdog.
Before this uptick in juvenile crime, I might have ventured outside at night to listen to the frogs and cicadas, call in my cat or even walk up to the top of the levee to admire the lights on the Crescent City Connection. But no more. I am too cautious to attend a night event without a friend to follow me home and watch as I enter. My home has become both my sanctuary and my prison.
But battening down the hatches is not a long-term solution. Like fighting ebola, we can’t hide inside our homes to avoid the disease, because it lurks everywhere around us. We must all assume some personal risk and also devote the financial city resources to make this a healthy society where everyone has educational and economic opportunities.
Otherwise, the only way the disadvantaged believe they can ever have something is by violently taking it from someone else.
The Gun Report is a series of conversations about gun safety in New Orleans sponsored by NolaVie and 91%, John Richie's upcoming documentary about background checks for gun purchasers. We want you to join the conversation with personal anecdotes and commentary. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Rickard has been a regular contributor to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate, as well as newspapers and wire services in other locales. Feel free to send her comments or critiques email@example.com.