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New Orlean's Murder Rate Drops, But Violence Is Rampant


Now we are also still trying to understand an outbreak of violence in the city of New Orleans. A young woman has died following last weekend's shootout on a busy part of Bourbon Street. Nine other passersby were wounded by the gunfire, three are still hospitalized and police say they still have no suspects. New Orleans is one of the most violent cities in the United States, but Sunday's incident happened at a time when the city's murder rate is actually falling. From member station WWNO, Eve Troeh reports.

EVE TROEH, BYLINE: The 700 block of Bourbon Street looks and feels normal for July. Beer delivery guys sweat through their shirts as they run in and out of bars. Restaurants lure tourists with blasts of Arctic air conditioning from wide open doors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Come on inside. We got the courtyard restaurant here at Bourbon Heat, folks.

TROEH: Many are here for this weekend's Essence Festival, including Lisa and Dr. Keith Wilson from Cincinnati, Ohio. They arrived undaunted by last weekend shooting.

L. WILSON: That could have happened very easily in my hometown. So I'm not going to say, I'm not going to come to New Orleans because they had an incident, you know, a couple of days before we were scheduled to come here.

TROEH: The Wilsons are walking on Bourbon Street without fear, they say. Just as people did Sunday night right before the violence as captured on video. In the silent footage, people are wandering, drinks in hand. A few are approaching balconies to beg for beads, pretending it's Mardi Gras. Then in a flash, everyone's ducking and scattering. Some crawl into the nearest doorway. Then we see a police officer standing over a woman sprawled motionless on the street. Bartender June MacDougall was working nearby. She saw it all.

JUNE MACDOUGALL: The body is laying in the street. People screaming in the corner, and the shooter is running from the scene.

TROEH: She felt helpless.

MACDOUGALL: We were on lockdown, and regardless of whether or not we wanted to go out and help, we had to stay inside.

TROEH: She says it took 10 to 15 minutes for any real police response, and in her experience, this lag time is normal.

MACDOUGALL: I don't know if it's just because they're stretched too thin or if because the city does have a higher crime rate, they've grown desensitized to it.

TROEH: After the shooting, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu stressed an ongoing effort to hire more officers. But the mayor doesn't want New Orleans singled out. He's painted violence here as part of a national problem.

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: I have sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the federal government get back in the business of fighting crime on the streets of America.

TROEH: He wants a surge team of support from federal agencies. Mike Anderson is FBI special agent in charge for New Orleans. He's requested more agents and intelligence analysts. But he says Sunday's shooting on Bourbon Street seems to be completely random.

MIKE ANDERSON: For the FBI or NOPD or anyone else to get your arms around to try to prevent that type of activity is really daunting.

TROEH: New Orleans is getting better, he says, at fighting drug violence endemic to the city for decades. A new strategy treats the local drug trade as gang activity. That means federal, state and local officials work together to fight it.

ANDERSON: The neighborhood-based gang investigations are something we can get our arms around little bit better because there's a little bit more continuity to the group. There's a conspiracy.

TROEH: They've won so many convictions, Anderson says, that many of New Orleans' most dangerous criminals are now off the streets. That's helped lower New Orleans' murder rate in the past year. On Bourbon Street, musician Shelton Sonnier says he's sick of violence, no matter the location or the costs.

SHELTON SONNIER: Yes, I'm getting bitter. I'm getting better about the street. Getting a little bit harder, you know.

TROEH: But he says it's his job to keep people entertained and keep them at ease.

SONNIER: (Singing) I'd like to welcome those girls from Texas. Welcome to New Orleans.

TROEH: For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans.

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eve Troeh