New Orleans Leaders Worry About City's Image After Shootings

The number of deadly shootings here has prompted city leaders and those in the tourism industry — a mainstay of New Orleans' economy — to worry about the city's image and economic recovery.

Dorothy Washington's friends in Philadelphia thought she was crazy to come to here.

"My mother warned me not to come here," said Washington, 26. "She said it was too dangerous. Maybe she was right."

There have been 78 homicides here this year, down from the 134 in the first six months of last year when Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of residents to move out. But the number is growing steadily. There were 17 in the first three months of the year and 21 in July alone.

In June, five teenagers were gunned down while sitting in a sport utility vehicle, sparking the return of state police and National Guard troops to help keep the peace in the city. This weekend, six people were shot to death in 24 hours.

"It dampens the progress we are making since the hurricane," said City Councilwoman Shelley Midura. "This is not what most people in New Orleans encounter. Most people in New Orleans do not experience any type of violence. But this is the image that is being formed of the city and it will hurt us if it continues."

The spate of violence began Friday night when three brothers and a friend were killed several blocks away from the French Quarter in the Treme neighborhood. They were sitting on a porch when two men walked by, turned around and fired, police Superintendent Warren Riley said.

Two other people were gunned down in separate incidents hours later in other neighborhoods, one close to busy St. Charles Avenue, between a daiquiri shop and a restaurant.

No arrests had been made in the latest killings as of Sunday night.

The violence, which police say is usually drug related, has not involved tourists.

"It's hard to tell if it's hurting business, because the summer is always slow, but I haven't heard talk about it from our customers," said Archie Casbarian, owner of Arnaud's restaurant in the French Quarter. "And I just got back from Florida and wasn't asked about it there. But it's certainly not something we want in our city."

Police and City Council members expressed frustration at their inability to stop the bloodshed.

"It bothers me tremendously because there are so many things that are great about New Orleans," Midura said. "But this is what people will be reading about."

Murder and other crimes plummeted in the first months after Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29 and flooded 80 percent of the city, forcing an exodus. The population is estimated to be about half of the pre-storm total of about 455,000.

On June 20, Gov. Kathleen Blanco sent 300 National Guardsmen and 60 state police troopers to assist the city. State police are patrolling the French Quarter and the Guard is covering the still thinly populated areas of the city.

The reinforcements freed city police to patrol more violent areas. Initially, arrests were up and the murder rate appeared to be slowing.

Washington had not heard of the weekend's slayings. As she sat eating beignets Sunday morning, she said she had been pleasantly surprised to see so little hurricane damage and was not concerned about the violence.

"Just walking around the French Quarter you'd never know what the city was going through," Washington said. "We've had a great time."