Counting Killings



By Allen Johnson Jr. 

Why did attorney and government watchdog C.B. Forgotston stop posting New Orleans’ stubborn homicide rates on his popular Web site at the end of 2007? “First, keeping up with the number of murders on a timely basis was a lot of work,” Forgotston says. “Then, there was the extra work of defending why my count was not the same as the New Orleans Police Department. Nobody ever asked the NOPD or The Times-Picayune to defend their under-counting of the murders. But the primary reason that I stopped counting the murders was because instead of motivating people to put pressure on the public officials to address the violent crime problem in New Orleans, I was blamed for spreading bad news about the city.” It’s a familiar problem. The Louisiana Weekly encountered a similar backlash (from ministers and militants alike) decades ago when it pioneered the practice of counting killings in an effort to stop black-on-black homicides. Disparities in the death toll are more easily explained than public reaction. Forgotston published figures from the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, which counts all violent deaths (including, for example, justifiable homicides). NOPD’s tally does not include justifiable homicides, of which there are six to 12 in a typical year. “I’ve actually been told by people that it seems violent crime is less in the city since I stopped reporting the murders,” Forgotston says. Ironically, there have been no justifiable homicides this year through Feb. 21. As a result, both the coroner and NOPD tallies were the same (25 total killings) as of that date.

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