Someone to Watch Over Me
Written by Justin Burnell
Saturday, 24 March 2007 10:45
The growing outcry at the crime rate seems to be more a problem of collective amnesia than one of an increase in anti-social behavior. It seems that certain neighborhoods have begun to forget what New Orleans was like before the hurricane. Cut Throat City was the nickname of the Lower Ninth Ward years before the storm. Central City, part of which has been christened “the triangle of death,” has been a hotbed for violent crime and drugs for as long as most people can remember.
The Marigny/Bywater has also had its share of problems: beatings, robberies, and murders. Although these problems have been here for decades, the community, dissatisfied with the results of the N.O.P.D., has now asked the Guardian Angels to help control the newest outbreak of violent crime.
These Angels describe themselves as “a neighborhood watch with teeth and a big bite.” Professing to be an aggressive agency that helps the community heal itself and build a close knit community with better police relations, the Guardian Angels have swept across the country in their 27 years venturing into dangerous cities driven by black markets and ruled by gangs.
Robert McClintick came to New Orleans from Denver to rescue the city from the most recent crime epidemic. As he talked at the Friendly Bar during a meet-and-greet with the Marigny community, which played a large role in bringing the group here, McClintick said, “I hate to break it to you, but your problems are not unique.” This would seem like a bold statement from any man who hadn’t been shot three times, but bullet wounds aside, it still seems a statement that might warrant scrutiny.
Violent crime and drug trade have been nearly insurmountable problems in New York, the birth place of the Guardian Angels, and in Los Angeles, the city where McClintick cut his teeth, but there seem to be other problems that contribute to the crime in New Orleans that make it a different situation.
The New Orleans public school system has been at the bottom of the country at best and a factory creating dropouts and criminals at worst. The city has also been behind the rest of the country for paying a living wage for the uneducated working class. There are also the reverberations of the white flight that are still felt this side of the lake. Due to these factors there is a large population that is dependent on the city's underground economy.
While McClintick and the Guardian Angels speak with dedication about building strong communities who realize the difference between being afraid and living in fear, they have done little to create the bond with the community that such progress would require. There is something to be said for any group who comes to New Orleans to help with rebuilding the city or its communities, but there is also a need to realize the impossibility to build a community anywhere in the Ninth Ward without strong ties to the black residents.
The Guardian Angels view themselves as an organization that intimidates the police through their results and their unity with the citizens. They are approaching that kind of unity with the white community leaders of the Marigny, but when asked about contact with black community leaders McClintick said only that none have contacted him.
It would present no real surprise that the black community has not stepped up to contact the Guardian Angels, since within that community there is at best an inherent suspicion of any militaristic authority figure. McClintick talks of the community living under a fear so dense that it is weary to contact the police or testify against murders. It would seem rather a matter of practicality to do so. The N.O.P.D. has been ineffective and inconsistent, and at times has been more aggressive and disrespectful than the perpetrators of crime. The D.A. has given the people no reason to believe that he is willing to send violent offenders to trial, owning a 7% conviction rate.
Although the primary focus of the group is to stop violent crime, they are also dedicated to preventing all crime. They have vowed to stop robberies with force if necessary. They have been trained in various martial arts to protect themselves and others. The largest question is if this group is too willing to meet violence with violence. When interviewed, McClintick seemed overly careful to make it clear that force was a last resort, an approach that was to be used with extreme caution. However, McClintick was later quoted in Gambit Weekly saying he will stop crime and “…if that means the bad guy kisses the pavement before he goes to jail, then that’s what happens."
McClintick stated that he is less worried about stopping the theft of personal property. They will mainly focus on attacks on individuals, but also said that they will do their best to annoy and slow the trafficking of drugs in the city and crack down on graffiti artists, stating that graffiti clean-up costs the state a large sum of money each year. “If we see someone stealing a bike, we may be able to do something if it won't put any of my men in danger” McClintick said, though one may think that most people living in the Bywater would rather see graffiti on a few buildings than have to worry about buying a new bike every month.
The Guardian Angels have some good ideas about how to help with deal with crime and unite communities. Being trained to be professional witnesses is an idea that could go far in helping to raise the conviction rate. Uniting even part of a neighborhood would be an accomplishment worth noting. Teaching neighbors to watch out for one another is a step that is essential to making New Orleans a city where you have better odds of being murdered than winning a roll-a-day game.
What is worrisome is the lack of connection with the community and the militaristic ideals of the group. Building a relationship with the black community in New Orleans is a difficult goal to realize for nearly any authority due to the city's history, but there is an obvious need to at least try to form one. The largest questions raised are whether the Guardian Angels will be able to become close with this section of the community, whether the community will come to trust the agency, and most importantly, whether they should.
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