New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates in the country. By mid-August of this year, 192 murders had been committed in New Orleans, "nearly 10 times the national average," reported the Associated Press. Gunfire is so common in New Orleans -- and criminals so fierce -- that when university researchers conducted an experiment last year in which they had cops fire 700 blank rounds in a neighborhood on a random afternoon "no one called to report the gunfire," reported AP.
New Orleans was ripe for collapse. Its dangerous geography, combined with a dangerous culture, made it susceptible to an unfolding catastrophe. Currents of chaos and lawlessness were running through the city long before this week, and they were bound to come to the surface under the pressure of natural disaster and explode in a scene of looting and mayhem.
Like riotous Los Angeles since the 1960s, New Orleans has been a wasteland of politically correct dysfunction for decades -- public schools so obviously decimated vouchers were proposed this year (and torpedoed by the left), barbaric gangster rap culture no one will confront lest they offend liberal pieties, multiculturalist frauds who empower no one but themselves, and cops neutered by the NAACP and ACLU.
Criminals have ruled New Orleans for some time, convincing many members of the middle class, long before the hurricane, that the city was unlivable. In 1994, New Orleans was the murder capital of America. It had 421 murders that year. Criminologists predicted 300 murders this year, a projection that now looks quite conservative.
Criminals dominate their neighborhoods to the point that people don't even call in crimes. The district attorney's office, tacitly admitting that the city's law-abiding citizens live in fear, has taken the "unusual" step of establishing a local witness protection program to encourage the reporting of crime, reports AP.
According to the New Orleans Police Foundation, most murderers get off -- only 1 in 4 are convicted -- and 42 percent of cases involving serious crimes since 2002 have been dropped by prosecutors.
Meanwhile, cops, when they can get away with it, have been living out of town. It is far too scary for them and their families. New Orleans Police officers are required to live in the city but many ignore this residency requirement, according to the Times-Picayune. The paper discovered that many top-ranking New Orleans cops lived in the suburbs and that most cops, both black and white, wanted the residency requirement rescinded.
For reasons of political correctness -- critics of law enforcement say lifting the residency requirement will mean more white cops eager to brutalize residents of the inner city and fewer black cops understanding of them -- the residency requirement remains, though cops breaking the rule told the Times-Picayune that it seriously hurts recruitment. It also -- this is particularly evident in Los Angeles where cops involved in the Ramparts scandal turned out to be ex-criminals -- distorts recruitment.
If the New Orleans Police Department has appeared feeble during the chaos -- and in some cases complicit in it -- policies like the residency requirement explain the breakdown. (Perhaps another factor that has rendered the NOPD feckless in the face of a rising murder rate is the criticism of its handling of a minority Mardi Gras.) Americans who have seen cops join in the looting ask: Why are police officers behaving like criminals? Well, because PC police departments like the NOPD hire them. Aggressive, let's-just-meet-the-quota-style affirmative action has become the door through which criminals enter the police academy.
More than the physical foundations of New Orleans will need to be rebuilt over the next few years. Its politically correct culture in which pathologies are allowed to fester in the name of "progress" forms much of the debris that must be cleared away if civilization is to return to New Orleans. A city which boasts as one of its businesses memorial "death t-shirts" -- clothing made popular by the frequency of gangland slayings in New Orleans that say things like, "Born a Pimp, Died a Playa" -- was headed for collapse even without a hurricane, and had become, as the exodus of cops illustrates, unlivable.
Conservative black leaders have been mau-maued into silence whenever they tell the truth about this barbarism and call for dramatic reform. But they are the ones who must lead the city now, and the phonies at organizations like the NAACP who despite all their rhetoric haven't done a thing to help the black underclass should step aside. Hurricane Katrina has made vivid the civilizational collapse they have long tried to conceal.
George Neumayr is executive editor of The American Spectator.