Filed Under:  Local, News

Mayor Landrieu and Spike Lee unveil murder reduction plan

8th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday he wants to “flip the script” or alter the story of young African-American men killing one another. “It’s time for us to change the headlines,” Landrieu said. He asked director-producer Spike Lee to help, and “it took Spike about five seconds to say yes,” the mayor said. The two friends spoke at Tuesday’s launch of NOLA For Life, a murder reduction strategy, at the Joy Theater.

The campaign is a partnership between the city, Lee’s ad agency Spike DDB and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans.

Lee called the killings a 21st century form of genocide. “We’ve been poor for centuries but we didn’t kill each other. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening. We can’t blame it on societal stuff.”

Lee said murders of young Black men are on the rise in cities across the country, and advised “you’ve got to get to the guns.” Landrieu said the city’s murder rate has evened out but remains alarming, while rates are escalating in Chicago and Philadelphia. New Orleans had 199 murders last year and that was below the city’s annual average of 241 dating back to 1979.

Landrieu enlisted NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, former Criminal Justice Com­missioner James Carter and Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo to help design NOLA For Life. The plan is for city agencies and nonprofits to work together to stop the shooting, promote prevention, offer jobs and recreational opportunities and rebuild neighborhoods.

Lower Ninth Ward resident Patrina Peters, who lost her son Damon after he was lured into an SUV two and a half years ago, said “our young Black men are talented, and they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. But they need us to support them, to tell them we love them.” She invites her deceased son’s friends over on his birthday and holidays. “I’m thoroughly committed to them,” she said, and added “they’re eating all my food.”

The NOLA For Life initiative combines public safety with other approaches, including vocational training, mentoring, mental health treatment, re-entry programs, midnight basketball, finding housing, fighting blight and fixing streetlights, and sending “violence interrupters” into neighborhoods to prevent retaliation murders.

The city hopes to raise $2 million for the project and has already received half of that. At Tuesday’s launch, Warner Williams, vice president of Chevron’s Gulf of Mexico business unit, presented NOLA For Life a $1 million check from Chevron for education and job training.

Landrieu said the City of New Orleans will match tax-deductible donations, dollar for dollar, up to $250,000. The NOLA For Life Fund will be housed at the Greater New Orleans Foundation. The Urban League of Greater New Orleans is a fiscal agent for the project.

New Orleans entrepreneurs will sell NOLA For Life-themed items, giving part of their proceeds to the initiative. Jewelry designer Mignon Faget has a new collection depicting a gun in a pin and on a scarf. Fleurty Girl owner Lauren Thom and Royal Engineers and Consul­tants owner Dwayne Bernal will sell T-shirts.

Spike DDB designed the public awareness campaign—using television, radio, print, outdoor advertising and the internet—pro bono. Billboards across the city will display news headlines about murders. “We can’t sugarcoat the issues,” Lee said. “Many African-American males don’t expect to live past age 18 and we’ve got to turn that around.”

Stressing the need to act, Landrieu said “if the Klu Klux Klan killed 200 Black men in a city in one year, there’d be hell to pay.” He borrowed that thought from Philadelphia Mayor Mic­hael Nutter, he said.

Spike Lee has worked with the City of New Orleans on films including When the Levees Broke and If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, and is casting here now for Oldboy.

To learn more about the city’s new anti-murder initiative and what you can do to help, visit www.NOLAFORLIFE.org.

This article was originally published in the October 8, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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