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In Big Easy, slow headway against crime

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"This [criminal] segment of society, primarily African-American males, are products of an education system that didn't educate, a state judicial system that failed to mete out consequence for criminal activity, and an economic landscape devoid of meaningful jobs," says Mr. Bernazzani.

A citywide crime summit last year failed to bring about change, giving way to bureaucratic infighting and one-upmanship that has long defined New Orleans politics.

The blame game flared to new heights last month after the dismissal of two cases that had sparked major marches and protests: the shooting of five teenagers last summer and the murder of a popular jazz drummer early this year. In the case of the slain teenagers, District Attorney Eddie Jordan claimed that a key witness had disappeared. The next day, at a press conference, Police Superintendent Warren Riley produced the witness in question.

This past winter, residents were reminded of the corruption within the city's police department when seven police officers were indicted on murder charges for a shooting on the Danziger Bridge in the wake of Katrina. The city already has two of its former police officers on death row – both for plotting murders on the job.

"All the old problems have resurfaced," says Marc Morial, a former New Orleans mayor. He led many reforms in the 1990s, which helped to cut the murder rate by 60 percent.

Yet for the first time in the city's history a major civic reform movement is taking shape. Residents have been emboldened by the possibility of rebuilding a new kind of New Orleans, but are also concerned about the potential for anarchy in the city, says New Orleans native Fred Smith, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Businessmen, homeowners, and clergy have joined forces not just to take part in marches, but also to keep pressure on city leaders. "The community is ... realizing that if we don't make a change we don't survive as a city," says Greg Rusovich, chairman of the New Orleans Crime Coalition.

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