It was a very quiet All Hallows eve for my wife Vicki and me. Only one set of goblins rousted us for treats. We read some, ate chicken pot pies, and then watched a very bad horror film and went to bed. It was quiet and cool and was a delightful evening. Not watching the news nor reading the paper I traveled to work the next day marveling at the debris set about Esplanade Ave. on the fringes of the Quarter. Imagine my surprise when, arriving at church, the Parish Administrator Luigi asked if I had gotten any phone calls about “last night”. I was confused and asked “Why?”
On October 31, 2011 in the City of New Orleans 15 people were shot and two killed due to violent acts! By 10:30 AM a local TV station asked if I would give an interview. This is All Saints Day a day revered and held in high regard in New Orleans. Tradition has it that you go to mass then to the necropolis (our cities of the dead) to tend to the graves of your loved ones. It used to be a time when families gathered and white washed the mausoleums and graves of ancestors. Perhaps even a picnic in the cemetery. Today, instead of the Saints of Old we are confronted with the failure of our city to behave according to the Baptismal Covenant. What is more, we daily breach a social contract that says we must respect life.
One of the disturbing aspects of our urban violence in New Orleans is an obvious and almost pathological lack of respect for human life in broad terms and therefore in personal terms. If you have absolutely no sense of self worth, you then lack any sense of dignity, and so you almost despise anyone else. It is a very short road from self loathing to despising all others. If one compounds this sense of worthlessness with a lack of verbal skills and imagination the recipe is simple violence. I have born witness to communities – yes, almost entire communities that are caught up in self loathing, it is sad and profound, but in those self same communities where education and verbalization are acute then the violence perpetrated tends toward cutting sarcasm, wit, and cutting repartee. Deprived of verbal skills and artistic imagination the result is more often than not the same violent expression but played out physically. The result is “You disrespected me!” POP, POP, POP! “Now you dead suck’a.”
Murder in New Orleans is personal and chronic. We all know it. We all know the problem begins with early childhood development. For good or evil violence in New Orleans is rooted in poverty, nurtured by racism (self perceived or otherwise), and fueled by a city that embraces laissez faire as a way of life. Personal freedom and freedom of expression is a virtue when checked by social contracts that discriminate against behaviors that are destructive and hurtful. What in New Orleans makes us such a wonderful creative community is the same fuel that makes us fertile for violent behavior – why? “It isn’t any of my business and it’s not my neighborhood.”
This All Saints Day we will pray for over 210 victims of violence in 2011 alone. Fewer graves will be white-washed, families will stay home, people will go to work instead of mass, and life will be a little less precious today. Perhaps tomorrow we will value each other a little more and thus begin the change to save our city, our hopes, our dreams, and a wonderful way of life that rejoices in death for the right reasons and cherishes life lived large. Maybe we will become The City that remembers to care.