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Big Easy Residents Protest Killings

Associated Press | January 12, 2007
BECKY BOHRER

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Residents young and old, black and white, marched in the thousands on City Hall - unified in their anger and demanding action be taken to stem violent crime that has claimed nine lives this year and left many contemplating their future in this hurricane-ravaged city.

Mayor Ray Nagin's response Thursday: "I heard you loud and clear."

Nagin pledged to intensify his focus on fighting violent crime during a news conference after the march. "We will not recover unless our citizens feel safe," he said.

One by one, speakers declared their love for a city, struggling to recover from 2005's Hurricane Katrina, and their fear that the violence will force families to leave or keep others from coming home.

"I don't like Houston, I love New Orleans. I don't like Atlanta, I love New Orleans. I don't like Tennessee. I love New Orleans," Hot 8 Brass Band trombonist Glen David Andrews shouted in one fiery speech. His band mate, drummer Dinerral Shavers, was shot to death Dec. 28 as Shavers' family watched.

"It's about time the people came out in support for putting a stop to this," said police officer J.W. Jones, a patrolman on horseback helping with crowd control.

Police estimated 5,000 participated in the march and rally.

Nagin did not participate, at organizers' requests, but he listened to the speeches and took in a scene that included signs reading: "Where's the Mayor?" and "No Leadership, No Results."

"We want to open a dialogue, but this was not the time. It would have been too big a shift from listening to the people to suddenly have a politician talking," said Baty Landis, a Tulane University professor and music club owner who helped organize the march.

Members of the Hot 8 led the march, chanting "We Shall Overcome" as they carried a banner that read "March For Survival, Walk With Us." Several people carried pictures of independent filmmaker Helen Hill, gunned down in her home last week; others carried pictures of other murder victims.

Protest signs targeted Nagin, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and President Bush, accusing them of failing act on the city's crime problem.

Some faulted Bush for sending more troops to secure Iraq while New Orleans - where the police force is already being augmented by the Louisiana National Guard - needs help.

"I want more troops here," said Eddie Ecker, 38, a musician walking with a snare drum strapped to his chest.

Not all the frustration was aimed at government.

"Seeing a crime, seeing criminal activity and not saying something is a crime," said Amy Brown, 35, who said she is rebuilding a home in the Central City neighborhood, home to some of the worst violence.

In a black-majority city where most of the murder victims have been black, the crowd was predominantly white, but racially diverse.

"It's not about white. It's not about black. I think now people are realizing that because everybody's blood is red," said Keqante Brown, 30, a black woman who said five members of her family have been murdered in the last 12 years.

Still, Amy Brown said she was disappointed that more young black people did not participate.

Architect Adam Perschall, 36, and his wife, Caroline, 35, said crime has affected them and so many of their friends that they are thinking about leaving the city.

"I don't want to do that," said Adam Perschall. "I love New Orleans."

New Orleans had 161 homicides last year, the lowest total in 60 years. But the population was way down from its pre-Katrina total of 455,000, and is still only about 200,000.

On Wednesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco endorsed a plan announced this week to increase patrols and use checkpoints to crack down on criminals. State police and the National Guard have been supplementing city officers since June.

Also Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will more readily give police information on residents of trailer sites housing hurricane victims. A written request was required before, but it will now take only a phone call, said Marc Roy, FEMA's chief of staff for recovery efforts in Louisiana.

The agency will also add security guards at sites with known crime problems and set up hot lines for residents to report suspicious activity, Roy said.

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