NEW ORLEANS — In the last week more Americans have died in New Orleans than in Iraq. Since Dec. 29, there have been eight military deaths. In the Big Easy, there have been 14 murders.
Among the latest victims: Helen Hill, a 36-year-old mother shot in her home in front of her husband and 2-year-old.
"She was just such a wonderful person," says friend Sheri Branch, "the brightest spot of New Orleans to me."
The killers are growing more brazen, striking in broad daylight and using assault rifles, even with police just 30 yards away. And witnesses refuse to talk.
"We have a culture, a certain population in this city with an intent on committing violent crime," says Assistant Superintendent of Police Steven Nicholas. "They feel no repercussion, they have no fear of police."
New Orleans' murder rate is 30 percent higher than any other city in the country.
"This alarming homicide rate is a function of the failure of these different municipal entities to coordinate in a really productive way," says Peter Scharf, a criminologist at New Orleans University.
Reasons for the violence are many: Drug dealing, retaliation killings, fewer cops and an overwhelmed legal system.
And there are growing fears.
"Now we're at this total extreme crime, where it's everywhere," said a recent caller to local talk radio station WRNO.
The indictments of seven New Orleans police officers for the killing of two people on a bridge days after Katrina will only make matters worse.
"Morale has to be the lowest in the department in years," says WRNO radio host Andre Trevigne.
In retaliation, there've been rumblings by some police of a work slow down. But police officials deny cops would let there anger interfere with their duty.
"They are still going to stand and do their job," says Nicholas. "They understand their responsibility."
That said, the only persons arrested and charged with homicide in New Orleans in a week have been police officers.
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