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Commentary: A violent start

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Fourteen hours and 22 minutes. That's how long New Orleans was into 2017 before it had its first murder, when someone shot a Mid-City man to death in his front yard on New Year's Day. In the first three days of the year, New Orleans saw seven shootings. At that rate, we'll have more than 600 shootings this year — even more than the bloody year of 2016.

  Chicago made national headlines last week for its horrific murder rate in 2016; 762 people there were killed — more than two per day. On New Year's Eve, Chicagoans brought traffic to a halt on Michigan Avenue with a somber parade of wooden crosses, each bearing the name of a Chicago murder victim in 2016. That attracted the attention of President-elect Donald Trump, who tweeted, "Chicago murder rate is record-setting — 4,331 shooting victims with 762 murders in 2016. If Mayor [Rahm Emanuel] can't do it he must ask for Federal help!"

  Sadly, New Orleans has a higher per capita murder rate than Chicago, with more than 40 murders per 100,000 residents in 2015 (more than double that of Chicago's per capita rate that same year).

New Orleans has a much higher per capita murder rate than Chicago.

  "The recent rise in gun violence here is real and very terrifying," local crime analyst Jeff Asher wrote in November, shortly after a shooting on Bourbon Street killed one man and injured nine other people. Asher is pessimistic about 2017, for one main reason: Shootings are up. Two of the first seven shootings in the city this year happened in daylight — within a mile of NOPD headquarters.

  "The number of shootings is a good predictor of the murder rate [to come]," Asher told Gambit last week. According to his numbers, 35 to 37 percent of shootings in New Orleans are fatal, and there were nearly 500 shootings in 2016 — a 24 percent increase from 2015. "All the alarm bells that should be going off" to indicate a rise in violent crime are there, Asher says.

  Worse, he adds, there's not much officials can do, at least in the short term. The gains of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's NOLA For Life program, announced with great fanfare in 2012, were real, but they have largely receded. "We've seen the city's strategy work the first time," Asher says, "but gun violence is going to be an issue for the next mayor — as it's been an issue for every mayor since the 1970s."

  For every New Orleans shooting that makes national news — the Mother's Day second line shooting of 2013, for example, or any shootings on Bourbon Street — there literally are hundreds of others that fade into statistics, except for the lifelong heartache and pain they bring to the families and friends of the dead.

­— The group SilenceIsViolence (www.silenceisviolence.org), which was founded in 2007 after the murders of musician Dinerral Shavers and filmmaker Helen Hill, will hold its 10th anniversary victims' memorial on the steps of New Orleans City Hall at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11. Members will read the name of each person lost to violence in New Orleans in 2016.

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