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Crime taking a toll on N.O., business leaders say

29th February 2016   ·   0 Comments

While overall crime has been down in recent years and the city’s murder rate reached a three-decade low in 2014, violent crime in New Orleans has been on a steady climb over the past two years. That sobering reality was driven home by a series of armed robberies of uptown restaurants last fall that shook residents, patrons and business owners alike.

WWL reported last week that these three uptown restaurant robberies in which brazen criminals ordered customers to get on the floor before taking their wallets and purses left the entire city on edge and caused many residents and business owners to question the future of New Orleans.

The sentiment of many residents was perhaps best summed up by one New Orleanian who told WWL, “That really shocked me. You know, a little restaurant in the neighborhood, masked gunmen… I mean, you’re kidding me.”

The brazen, high-profile uptown robberies and a series of violent attacks and shootings in the French Quarter and CBD, come at a time when business is booming in the Crescent City as the region continues its bounce back from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

With the tourism industry growing and the eyes of the world on the Big Easy, the timing could not be worse.

With tourists flocking to New Orleans, young professions moving to the region in search of better opportunities and the city attracting new businesses in record numbers, things are certainly looking up for New Orleans. But the city’s struggles with crime and violence remain a major hurdle, one that could potentially undermine the city’s record business growth in recent years.

“We have seen almost everything imaginable happen in front of these cameras,” Sal Palmisano, pointing at his security cameras for his Basin Street business, told WWL.

Palmisano can attest to that. Last summer, inside of his fledgling electric car and scooter business, Palmisano heard and his cameras captured an afternoon shootout on Basin Street, a block from Canal Street. The gun battle knocked out three of his cars, just six months after they opened.

“We just got enough to see where we’d be in this industry, and we lost 30 percent of our fleet right there in the beginning,” said Palmisano. “So, it definitely hurt a whole bunch.”

“Any crime is unacceptable,” Quentin Messer, head of the New Orleans Business Alliance, told WWL.

The public-private company’s mission is to attract new business to the Crescent City. Despite New Orleans making national headlines for crime at times, the news is good. Messer said crime has not been a significant detractor in enticing new people, younger people.

“And we’re continuing to see millennials vote with their feet, young entrepreneurs to bring their families and their companies to New Orleans cause they want to be part of something great,” Messer told WWL.

Messer said the city is landing creative digital media and software companies, and millennials coming from urban areas of other big cities have a lower risk tolerance for crime. In their world, he said the tradeoff to crime is the city’s energy and culture that you can’t get elsewhere. “There’s nothing that helps reduce crime but giving people opportunity, giving people and connecting people more accessible on ramps to opportunity.”

Post-Katrina New Orleans will only get so many shots at momentum, and Palmisano said what New Orleans has working against it is that crime has become normal—too normal.

“You’re immune to it at this point, and it happens constantly around us and it’s just something we live with now,” said Palmisano, adding that he feels the answer is more businesses, more proactive store owners taking care of their corner. “You get to the point where you get so mad enough about it that you’re going to do something about it, and I’m not going to let them run us off.”

New businesses will also grow the tax base, creating more money to hire new police officers.

While the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, says he does not oppose the hiring of additional NOPD officers, he added that the City of New Orleans also needs to take a closer look at providing better educational and economic opportunities for people in working-class and poor communities.

“Charter schools and vouchers are gutting public education in New Orleans and doing very little for the poorest people in New Orleans,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “And the Landrieu administration still does not provide adequate job-training for local high school dropouts, those most likely to engage in violent crime and illegal drug activity.”

“It’s an insult for anyone to say that crime is holding back New Orleans without acknowledging the role poverty, chronic unemployment, educational apartheid, income inequality, inadequate health care, gentrification, unequal justice and systemic racism play in undermining the quality of life for New Orleans residents,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Addressing these issues would go a long way toward lowering crime and violence in New Orleans.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the February 29, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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