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Invest in Equitable Neighborhoods to Lower Our Murder Rate

Posted on 04. May, 2012 by

neighborhoodOne of the basic underpinnings of the fair housing movement is that everyone should have equal access to housing that is affordable and safe in neighborhoods that meet their needs.

Last week, two 15-year olds in New Orleans lost their lives to tragic gun violence.  Brandon Adams was shot and killed in the Desire neighborhood after having played basketball with his brother.  On Monday, a homeless person discovered Christine Marcelin’s bullet-riddled body in New Orleans East.  Brandon and Christine were a couple and were in the 8th grade at KIPP Believe College Prep.  By some accounts, Brandon may have been attacked because of a petty argument over turf in the park he was playing basketball in before his death.  The motive for Christine’s death is unclear according to media accounts so far.

This is a story we should all be paying attention to.  Doing so honors Brandon and Christine and hopefully their families.  It also might give us some insight into what causes our astronomical murder rate, and what we can do to address it.

The fair housing movement offers us one useful perspective.  A fair housing analysis suggests that where a person lives determines numerous other quality of life factors including their access to healthy food, educational opportunities, air quality, and yes- even exposure to violent crime.  Within this framework we must acknowledge that the state of the neighborhoods where these children were murdered in is an important part of their stories.  In one article, a reporter writes about the scene of Brandon’s murder:

The block the killers chose is an uninhabited strip next to the abandoned Press Park scattered-site development that’s choked with tall grass and has virtually no streetlights. But as the parents neared the corner, Shawan Adams saw a body on the ground. “There was my baby lying there,” she said.

The same article goes on to describe the reaction of Brandon’s mother to her son’s death:  “As she held him, she screamed, “Somebody help me. Please help me with my baby.” But nobody came. In that desolate block, there was no one to hear, she said.  She had to assume that no one was within earshot. “Because who could ignore a mother’s cry?” she said.”

Brandon was murdered on a block that was so abandoned and desolate that his mother assumed no one heard her cries for help when she discovered his body.  The only reason she knew to look for him there was because somehow Brandon’s brother managed to call her when they were attacked.  Similarly, Christine’s body was only discovered when a homeless person came across it by accident.

I am not arguing that, on their own, properly working streetlights and neighbors whose needs are fulfilled would have prevented the deaths of Brandon and Christine.  Further, I am not arguing for the increased policing of neighborhoods that some proponents of the broken windows theory might call for.  The story behind our persistently high murder rate- and the story of why some of our neighborhoods thrive while others struggle- is much more complicated than that.  But investing in our neighborhoods in equitable ways is one important factor to consider in addressing the murder problem that is decimating young people in New Orleans.  Maybe we should talk about whether those responsible for shooting Brandon would have been so brazen had there been properly working streetlights and neighbors around to witness what was happening.  Maybe we should even talk about increasing resources for recreational opportunities for our kids, in light of the mind boggling fact that at least one child was murdered this weekend over an unfathomably petty argument about who gets to play in what parks.

It is well documented that there are many different ways that all of us can work to address our murder rate.  At GNOFHAC, we work every day using a variety of different tactics to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to live in a safe neighborhood that meets their needs because we understand that our lives and the lives of our fellow community members depend on it.  To me, there is no better reminder of the importance of this work and the long road ahead than the details of the neighborhoods that shape Brandon’s and Christine’s stories.





One Response to “Invest in Equitable Neighborhoods to Lower Our Murder Rate”

  1. Hannah Adams 4 May 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    This is such an unbelievably tragic story. Kate, thanks for the reminder that we cannot talk about preventing crime or ensuring public safety without talking about access to safe, affordable housing in resourced neighborhoods.