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The Gun Report: A tale of two cities by Sharon Litwin

Editor's Note: In honor and memory of Sharon Litwin, The Queen here at NolaVie, we will be publishing a piece from her every day for the next month. Sharon was an advocate and spokeswoman for arts, culture, people, and policies here in New Orleans. Her voice and sharp wit will be greatly missed. 

Sharon Litwin (photo by Jason Kruppa)

Sharon Litwin (photo by Jason Kruppa)

I've been spending a lot of time in Chicago this year. And, while the Windy City is miles away from the Big Easy, these two cities have much in common. Both are filled with friendly folk, have great music and increasingly creative and outstanding restaurants.

Sadly, though, we share one other commonality that crops up in both places: the logo we see at the beginning of too many 10 o’ clock newscasts:

BREAKING NEWS

In my experience, Breaking News is hardly ever about the newest Nobel Prize winner or the winner of the James Beard Award for fine dining. It’s almost always about the latest heinous and brutal instance of gun violence. Yet, in both cities, even the most deadly, most heartbreaking act does not seem to raise the collective ire of either’s larger community.

We are confronted in both places by our mayors’ anguished responses and inability to offer solutions; by police departments’ lack of connection to their communities; to the seemingly inevitable continuation of urban warfare.

Truth is, it’s not just Chicago and New Orleans, although both have the dishonorable distinction of having some of the highest levels of gun violence in the United States, with nine killed and 47 wounded over one weekend alone (this past July 4th) in Chicago.

Rising levels of gun violence are occurring in cities across America, among them Baltimore, Detroit, Gary and St. Louis. In New Orleans, the number of murders so far this year, as of this writing, is 137, meaning a high likelihood that the year-end number will probably surpass the 150 murders in all of 2014.

What does this say about where we live? Well, lots of people have lots of opinions. But it’s safe to say that hardly one among us could be happy with this data. I know I’m not. I’ve watched too many generations of kids lost to the battlefields of the bullet.

Still, after living in this Crescent City for more decades than I care to admit, the one thing I know is that our Big Easy is an amazing, creative and resilient place. You can’t drown us, shoot us, or tell us to leave. We’re not going. But I’ve also observed that we just seem to be paralyzed into inaction when it comes to this one seemingly intractable problem.

We always say that New Orleans is unique, that there is no place like it. Well, that’s because there is no place like New Orleans. Our varied communities – and we are many – have co-existed for many, many decades. We have not done this as well as we could. But we do it better than most places. So I know we can be a leader in the nation if we choose to be.

Colin Woodard, a reporter at the Portland Press Herald and author of several books, recognized this, as reported in a 2013 Washington Post story about his belief that North America can be broken into 11 separate nation-states, each with a dominant culture.

One of the 11 is what he calls it New France, the former French colonies around New Orleans and Quebec, and, according to Woodard, it tends toward consensus and egalitarianism. He writes that its residents are “among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy.”

Well, OK. But what will it take for our southern version of New France to be the leader in the reduction of urban warfare?

First we have to agree we’ve had enough mayhem.

Enough.

We need to connect the dots -- those fractured, scattered, but wonderful dots that are the many good people working in our community, too many of them in isolation. We need to map our assets, play to our successes and jettison those great-sounding, but less productive ventures.

We need everyone at the table to figure it out – everyone from gurus to gang bangers, millenials to ministers, cops to corporates, artists to accountants, suits to shrinks.

We need to leave our egos at the door and assume the mindset that we can get anything done if we don’t care who gets the credit.

No one person has the answer. And, so it seems, no one community. So, let’s be the first. And let’s start already. One thing’s for sure: It’s up to us. If we learned one thing from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that the cavalry isn’t coming.

Send your thoughtful comments and ideas to [email protected] But, please, no rants. It doesn’t help.

The Gun Report is a series of conversations about gun safety in New Orleans sponsored by NolaVie and 91%, John Richie's upcoming documentary about background checks for gun purchasers. We want you to join the conversation with personal anecdotes and commentary. Email us at [email protected]

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]