Shell Shocked

Last Friday some friends and I went to Zeitgeist Multi- Disciplinary Arts Center to watch the documentary Shell Shocked about the murder rate in New Orleans. It isn’t just statistics and crime scene photos. It is about the children, the families, the community that is plagued by the most terrible disease: murder. There are interviews with community and religious leaders, students, parents of murder victims and footage of news clips, all set against the backdrop of a post-Katrina New Orleans. I don’t personally know anybody who has been murdered, so it is very hard for me to try to relate or understand what the majority of New Orleanians have gone through. I have, however, seen the aftermath. Not the bloody, hysterical, anger filled aftermath, rather the apathetic, unhopeful, broken down aftermath.

Watching Shell Shocked was really interesting to me because I am fascinated by crime and gang culture. I have seen just about every documentary on the Bloods and the Crips, MS 13, LA Riots and the like, in addition to all of the episodes of Locked Up available on Netflix. But this was different. It was different because it is the same, and, because it is my city; it isn’t some far away West Coast city that has class and race issues that devolve into riots and gang violence. It is my backyard, it is my adopted home, it is my community, it is my neighbor.

It was also interesting because these are things that people who choose to live in New Orleans know. I know that murder happens all the time. I know that most of the time black, young adults are involved. I know that the 9th ward and 7th ward are some of the most dangerous areas. I know these things. But for some reason having someone show me, formally present me with the facts, is very upsetting. Maybe it’s because I know these things in the back of my mind; that I am always subconsciously aware of. But it is different to sit in a room with people and view your city from a person perspective for an hour.

One of the most jarring things to me was the ease and calm with which the youth discussed murder; not just murder, but the murder of their friends and family.

“I got two brothers who got shot. So yea, it’s a lo- it runs through my family, but that’s the closest, my brothers.”

“I know about ten people who have died to a violent death.”

“They all died before they even turned 17.”

“It’s almost natural that you know somebody who got shot. Like, if you don’t know nobody, somethin’ wrong wich’ya”

It is so upsetting to me that this is what the next generation thinks is natural. There is nothing natural about murder. Not only do they feel like it is natural, but they feel like there is no hope. This is a sentiment I have heard time and time again. “But Ms. Emily, what you think we can do?” “Not nobody gonna listen to me.” “Naw it’s too late for New Orleans.” When I hear students talk about murder like this my heart breaks. They should not be desensitized to such rampant violence at such a young age.

But then again, what can be done? What can be done to undo generations of marginalization, poverty, racism, and poor education? I don’t have the answer, but I refuse to think that nothing can be done. I firmly believe that the first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that it exists and opening a real dialogue about it. I believe that is what John Richie (the director) is working towards. As I see it there is a dichotomy between the way that “outsiders” view New Orleans and the way that New Orleans really is. I think that Shell Shocked is trying to show the human side of the New Orleans’ negative statistics. Like I have said so many times before, murder doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it affects all of us.

I hope that this will inspire you to purchase the documentary here. Richie has challenged us as a national community to reach 5,000 downloads by the end of July. If we reach this goal he will donate $1,000 to Youth Mentoring Connection NOLA.

The point? We need to do better for our next generation.

New Oldleans

New Orleans is an amazingly beautiful city. The beauty comes from its people, its architecture, its colors, its smells, its green space, its cultures and it’s problems. I was stumbling around on the interwebs when I came upon these beautiful gems. Most of the photos are courtesy of Shorpy.com, where you can buy prints of the pictures. The other pictures were found on google images. All of these pictures are of New Orleans pre-1950. The differences between then and now are really incredible, but what I find more incredible are the similarities. People still love Mardi Gras, Canal and St. Charles still have street cars, buildings still have beautiful wrought iron balconies, the streets still flood, and the city is still a wonderland.

“New Orleans Negro street,” December 1935.

Shorpy.com

Photograph by Walker Evans. X’s at bottom are crop marks.

New Orleans, Louisiana, circa 1903. “Mule teams on the levee.”

4a10815a

New Orleans, Louisiana, circa 1907. “Canal Street.” Life on the grid a century ago.

4a13821a

Canal St. circa 1903.

a39701a4_9

The Crescent City circa 1906. “The French Market, New Orleans.”

4a17912a

New Orleans circa 1910. “St. Charles Avenue from Canal Street.”

4a23678a

Canal Street in New Orleans circa 1910. Large building is the Maison Blanche department store.

4a19852a

New Orleans, 1937. “Le Pretre Mansion, 716 Dauphine Street, built 1835-6. Joseph Saba house.”

01252u

Flooding

oldbasin02

Flooding

oldbasin04

New Orleans circa 1937. “Courtyard at 1133-1135 Chartres Street.” Young and old, hangin’ with the laundry.

SHORPY_01237a

 New Orleans circa 1907. “The Rex pageant, Mardi Gras.” Laissez les bons temps rouler!

SHORPY_Mardi_Gras_Panorama_1

Mardi Gras

MardiGrasCanalStreet1890sChartresGazebo

 Feb. 27, 1900. “Mardi Gras procession on Canal Street, New Orleans.”

SHORPY_4a05069a

The point?

Nothing changes
And nothing stays the same
And life is still
A simple game.

-Moody Blues

Normal. Wait what?

You are standing in front of a 23 black, 1 white and 3 Hispanic students grades 4-6. You ask the question “how many of you know somebody who has died?” They all raise their hands. Now you ask “how many of you know someone who has been murdered” and 2 or 3 hands go down. Now you are standing in front of 24 students with their hands raised.

Scene Change

You are now standing with 4 black and 1 Hispanic students grade 12 in front of the Murder Board (2 different photos for each word). You are all looking at the over 1,200 names of people murdered in NOLA between 2007 and 2012. One student starts crying and says “3 of my ex-boyfriends are on here.”

Scene Change

You are standing in front of 13 black students and 1 white student grades 3-6. You are not in a normal school, you are in an alternative school. This school caters to the bottom 3% students in NOLA, students who have been kicked out of “normal” school for violence, drugs, truancy, etc. or are coming out of juvie. You are reading the book “Brothers in Hope” about the Lost Boys of Sudan. One boy raises his hand and says “I’m scared at night too. I sleep under my bed because I don’t want to hit by a stray bullet.”

Scene Change

You are having a conversation with 1 black student grade 12 about “Cooked” and he tells you “my 2 older brothers are in jail. Both finally understand that they did something bad and needed to be punished. Not ‘they’re just putting black males in jail’.”

Scene Change

You are having a conversation with 1 white student grade 9 about different last names among siblings. She says “I hate that all four of us have different last names. It makes my mom look bad and it makes me look bad. It’s embarrassing.”

Scene Change

You are chatting with 1 black student grade 10 about his childhood and he tells you that he started smoking pot in 3rd grade, dealing crack in 5th grade and by 6th grade he was addicted to pills, consistently car jacking people and sentenced to juvie for 3 years for possession of stolen property and 2 counts of attempted murder.

Scene Change

You are standing in front of 18 black students grade 7. You ask “what is one thing that New Orleans is known for?” A few students yell out “murder!”

The point? When did this become the norm?

Further reading:

Fed up, New Orleans looks to shake Murder City title

Metro Area Murder Map