Last week, for what seems the umpteenth time, an act of violence shattered the calm of a quiet neighborhood and shocked the sensibilities of a city already numbed by an out-of-control murder rate. Harry "Mike" Ainsworth, 44, was shot and killed in Algiers Point on Jan. 25, when he tried to stop a carjacking near a school. His two young sons, on their way to school, watched him die while his killer fled. The city wept yet again, as it did on Dec. 18, when Keira Holmes was killed by a stray bullet in the B.W. Cooper Housing Development just days before her second birthday. Between those two killings, more than a dozen other people were murdered in New Orleans.
Enough. Enough! — That's the sentiment in every corner of town. In Algiers the night after Ainsworth's murder, several hundred angry and frustrated citizens turned out for a previously scheduled neighborhood watch meeting. They demanded — and deserve — more from New Orleans police. We all share their frustrations.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu decried the city's "culture of death" and called on local judges to impose high bonds on defendants arrested for gun violations. The idea is to keep them in jail pending their trials rather than release them back upon an innocent and unsuspecting public. We like the mayor's idea for higher bonds, but we reject his notion that New Orleans has a culture of death. We believe the opposite is true, that New Orleans actually has a longstanding, very vibrant culture of life — a culture that celebrates every aspect of life here. Unfortunately, a very small minority in New Orleans embraces a culture of violence and death, and they are at war with the rest of us. We cannot, we must not, lose that war.
We don't presume to have the answers to New Orleans' murder problem, but we know that we must start by not giving up hope. This is difficult enough in the immediate aftermath of such violence as that visited upon the families of Mike Ainsworth and Keira Holmes. But New Orleans is nothing if not grounded in hope. Hope is what sustained us in the terrible days after Hurricane Katrina. If we can recover from all that Katrina inflicted on us in 2005, then we must find hope to survive the pain that we inflict on one another today.
We can start by recognizing that there are no longer such places as "good neighborhoods" and "bad neighborhoods." There are only New Orleans neighborhoods. As the tragic deaths of Keira Holmes and Mike Ainsworth taught us, what happens in B.W. Cooper happens in Algiers Point. What happens in the Lower 9th Ward happens in Lakeview. What happens in eastern New Orleans happens in Uptown.
What happened to Keira Holmes and Mike Ainsworth happened to all of our children and all of our siblings. A part of each of us dies with every murder victim. If we don't believe that, then there's nothing left to fight for — or to hope for — but if we can feel the pain of every murder victim's family, then, hopefully, we can also find the will to overcome the culture of death.
We saw an example of that kind of hope last week, even as the city mourned. A group of local high school students has banded together to use social media to launch a grassroots nonviolence movement called #NOLALOVE. The group's motto is "Embrace the love. Stop the violence." The movement started when eight students at Edna Karr High School in Algiers won a T-shirt contest organized by the Brees Dream Foundation and Idea Village. A portion of the sales of their T-shirts (available online from Fleurty Girl) goes to after-school arts programs all over town. Some, for example, will help buy new musical instruments for the Karr marching band. Meanwhile, the movement has gone viral on Twitter.
"Many kids have so many different opportunities, and if no one inspires them, lets them know you can do this, you can do that, they're going to go out and do something that will reflect on their lives in a negative way," Theodore Davis, one of the Karr students who founded #NOLALOVE, told WWL-TV.
T-shirts won't stop the killing, of course, but the hope that Davis and his fellow Karr students have mustered should inspire the rest of us to join them in embracing — and fighting for — New Orleans' culture of life.