Kicking off a two-day symposium on ways to further reduce the city’s murder rate, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Monday that among the ways to reduce the rate of violence is to increase economic and educational opportunities for the black community.
“Yes, it is a new era, but to this day for many African-Americans in this city and country, the figurative chains of the past are still there,” the mayor said in his keynote address. “From day one, for many African-American children, the deck is still stacked against them.”
There have been 139 people killed in the city this year, Landrieu said, adding that 785 have been slain since he took office in May 2010; the overwhelming majority of the victims were black.
“We must work together to bring justice to the streets. Then, and only then, will we have peace,” he said.
Speaking during a session titled “Broadening the Scope: Addressing the Other Key Issues That Affect the Homicide Rate,” the panelists, including U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite, said a lack of hope among many young black men in the city often leads them to violence.
Polite recalled his half-brother, who was killed at the age of 23, had dozens of funeral programs on his bedroom wall and even more memorial T-shirts for friends who had been killed.
“This is what he went to sleep to every night. This is what he woke up to every day,” Polite said.
Many young black people don’t feel they have a way out of their current situations, which often include impoverished households, said Carolyn Heinrich, director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Fifty-two percent of black men in New Orleans do not have jobs, she said. That often is a result of zero-tolerance school policies that regularly force young men out of schools and onto the streets, she said.
The result is a large population of mostly illiterate people who can’t read the simplest documents and, in turn, cannot find meaningful work, said Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, which has sent 100 percent of its students, mostly low-income minorities, to four-year colleges since the first class graduated in 2006.
Often, politics gets in the way, pushing aside the students, who then suffer, he said.
“If you took the words ‘Big Mac’ out of a McDonald’s menu, they probably couldn’t read them,” Perry said of many young people.
Polite said there must be less emphasis on jailing people and more emphasis on intervention efforts and re-entry programs for ex-convicts.
“There’s a life sentence because they’re stigmatized” by their records, Polite said of former convicts who might try to turn their lives around once released from prison.
The symposium continues Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 601 Loyola Ave.
Sessions will include “The Culture of Violence” and “How Perception Affects: A Conversation on Media, Race & Contemporary Culture.”
Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.