The Wasteland

Posted by: June Cross

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June Cross


I couldn't help but shake my head in sadness when I read this dispatch from the Times-Pic about the murder of a Church of Christ pastor and his wife by an intruder looking to kill a witness in a carjacking trial.

Police chief Riley is quoted as saying "The youth in our community are hardened at a level that I have never, ever seen. "

And we wonder why.  You take a population that was traumatized and living on the edge before Katrina, put them through an even more traumatizing experience of dealing with Katrina, and tell them to go on and get on with their lives.  And we wonder why they act like crazy fiends from hell?  They have lived through hell.  In the eighties, when young men across the United States discovered Colors and began acting like hooligans gone wild, public health experts made a connection between early trauma and exposure to violence and expressions of violence on the streets.  The country even made a commitment to a series of violence prevention curriculum in the middle school and high school level.

No more.  Whenever I raised this issue in New Orleans while I was researching my documentary, folks just blamed a "criminal element."  Well, now we have a group of teens hardened into criminals by a city and a government indifferent to their suffering from long before Katrina.  And innocent people are paying the cost.


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Angelica Kiedrowski
August 19, 2009

When I first moved to New Orleans nearly 20 years ago from NYC, I was amazed at how well integrated the city was racially and how there seemed to be little racial unrest in the city, or none that I knew of. But class was a huge divider. Creole blacks had their own interior society which was further fractured by education, income, and occupation. Before Katrina, it was difficult enough for poor urban kids to move away from street life, but after Katrina, with most of our working, middle, and upper class black society gone, there was not the buffer this society provided, whether through opportunity or community support. Kids are recruited into gang life at very young ages. And because our justice system is so ineffective and peculiar, people who should be in jail never get there. After Katrina, with the dockets overflowing, it was even worse. Crimes weren't being prosecuted and this made gangs and drug lords bolder and stronger. And the execution of witnesses was a huge problem before Katrina. Felons are so bold they attend the funerals of the victims they had executed. When I taught at Delgado, I got to know many students who had been or still were in 'the life' and it was always shocking because one on one they were all good people. I don't know if any of them were murderers, but they were all decent people desperate for a better way to live. Post-Katrina there is no opportunity left in this city. How can we expect kids who have made thousands selling drugs to be satisfied with the low wages that pass for income down here. So...we've lost the support of community and the expectation of opportunity. Urban kids are growing up nearly feral.

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