Stop the Violence
What will it really take?
New Orleans, I know we can stop the violence. We must.
All these street marches and vigils against crime, yard signs and “more cops” talk, is this really going to accomplish the change we seek though?
Please understand, my friends and loved ones have been victims too, but I'm afraid all this rhetoric about “personal responsibility,” and individual moral failure is diverting us from the things we can most effectively change through collective action. I'm going to put it out there first and foremost, the movement against violence has got to be political. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us, the movement has got to aim at the “greatest purveyor of violence,” the state.
The best first step to stop the violence, I believe, would be to stop the state from killing: to hold back the city, state, and federal government, and put an end to the bloody spree of homicides they have committed here, especially since 2005.
Homicide? Yes, let's call it out for what it is – premeditated actions by our elected officials that have led to countless deaths.
The biggest scene of the crime is Charity Hospital. The murder weapon has been Baton Rouge's ability to keep the doors locked and health care in this city virtually paralyzed since Katrina. Our city leaders have been eager accomplices in this heist. State leaders representing LSU, in cahoots with the Mayor and other local power brokers, have been carrying out a figurative stick-up against the federal government.
City and state leaders have literally been sacrificing the lives of New Orleanians in their quest to extort money from the federal government in order to cover the cost of their hospital. By itself Louisiana simply cannot afford the facility and is short by many hundreds of millions.
Were this the more mundane variety of street robbery it would be Louisiana's cue to shoot FEMA about now, grab the loot, and sprint away, across Rampart Street to their hideouts in that big garish City Hall building. Instead, the stakes here are different, and Louisiana's leaders, for all their gangsterish ways can't just pop the federal government. So instead they've grabbed some hostages, a whole city of hostages, and they've been slowly executing them in the countdown to pay-day.
The Kaiser Family Foundation's report “Voices of the Storm: Health Experiences of Low-Income Katrina Survivors” was one of the earliest witness statements against the state's serial killings. According to KFF, “Individuals who have returned to the city face the challenge of obtaining health care in a changed community with a crippled health care system.” The report's key findings are that post-Katrina health care in New Orleans has been woefully inadequate, to the point of sickness and lethality. Although Katrina served as the initial disruption, the failure of the health care system since early 2006 is due mostly to political factors.
Today, 2009, little has changed in New Orleans, and if LSU, Gov. Jindal, and Mayor Nagin get their way nothing will be different until 2012 (the best case scenario) when construction of their dream hospital wraps up in lower-Mid City. That of course requires evicting residents and demolishing their homes to make way for the shiny new medical complex. I believe the police lingo for this is “home invasion robbery.”
Several medical studies have objectively demonstrated the lethal effects of our state and City Hall's behavior. Shocked by the obvious increase in obituaries published in the Times-Picayune, several doctors carried out a statistical analysis of deaths after Katrina, and controlling for other factors concluded that excess mortality rates have increased 47% two years after the storm. That's excess mortality, e.g. preventable and unecessary, and completely due to the political decisions of LSU et al.
Other studies have shown how seniors have borne the greatest burden because of LSU's choices. One report noted a 12.6% morbidity rate increase at New Orleans area managed care organization hospitals for senior citizens. This is compared to a national average of just 3.4%. The mortal consequences of city and state government have most severely affected working class and uninsured New Orleanians. Blacks are disproportionately victimized by the state mobsters. According to Dr. Lynda Burton “Morbidity rates among non-white Orleans residents were the highest when compared to other parishes and there was a significant increase in the prevalence of patients with cardiac diagnoses, congestive heart failure and sleep problems.”
Never mind that alternative plans exist. One coalition of health care advocates, doctors, Mid-City residents, preservationists have shown for over a year now that Big Charity Hospital could be gutted, rebuilt, and turned into a modern facility for hundreds of millions less than LSU's plans. The biggest benefit of this coalition's blueprint is that it would bring health care back to New Orleans much sooner. LSU, however, wants a new building, and a powerful network of business leaders has banked on this plan hoping to turn New Orleans into a biosciences center. The health care industry they envision could make quite a few of them much wealthier, so they press on with their plans, even though the stakes are clearly lethal for this city's working poor and uninsured.
Irregardless of whether the state and city come to their senses and choose the Charity plan over the boondoggle in Mid-City they currently favor, it never had to come to this point. We never should have become collective hostages of LSU's beef with FEMA. In the weeks after Katrina, LSU could have reopened Charity to an operational capacity, no matter what their long-term plans for rebuilding health care were. They could have gotten Charity back up and running. Hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians would have been able to receive treatment, mental health services, and affordable medication. Tens of thousands could have accessed emergency care. Thousands of lives could have been saved. They chose not to, probably because a useful hospital would have proven an obstacle to their real goal all along - a shiney new billion dollar teaching hospital in Mid-City.
All of which brings us back to the issue of violence I posed at the outset: how to stop the epidemic violence in New Orleans?
For every fatal example of armed robbery, a drug deal gone bad, ward beef, depraved greed, hatred, or just plain insanity, there's at least ten more examples of needless deaths due entirely to the action, or inaction of the state to provide for the basic needs and liberties of its citizens.
Moreover, these are not entirely exclusive forms of violence. There's an intimate connection. The government that blatantly denies the value human life through its actions engenders a dog eat dog world among its subjects. The government which sanctions and facilitates violence and exploitation against the poor to benefit the rich (what else do you think the plans for transforming health care in Louisiana are about?) sets a tone and example for all to follow.
I believe that the violence we see on our city's streets is but only the most visible example of a greater, systematic violence which pervades every institution and state office. I also believe this is where we can most effectively take action.