Thousands marched on City Hall on Thursday, seeking an end to the violence that has claimed nine lives in this struggling city since New Year’s Day.
“A city that could not be drowned in the waters of a storm will not be drowned in the blood of its citizens,” said the Rev. John C. Raphael Sr., one of several speakers from participating neighborhood groups.
Police estimated the crowd at 5,000 people. Several marchers held signs reading “Silence is Violence,” referring to police complaints that witnesses to some killings are not coming forward.
“Seeing a crime, seeing criminal activity and not saying something is a crime. Tell somebody, even if they tell someone who can speak on your behalf. Get the word out,” said Amy Brown, 35, who said she is rebuilding a home in the Central City neighborhood, home to some of the worst violence.
Mayor Ray Nagin, the object of many marchers’ jeers and protest signs, watched from behind the speakers’ lectern but did not take part in the rally at the behest of organizers.
“We want to open a dialogue, but this was not the time. It would have been too big a shift from listening to the people to suddenly have a politician talking,” said Baty Landis, a Tulane University professor and music club owner who helped organize the march.
At a brief news conference later, Nagin said the event marked “an incredibly powerful day.”
“We pledge to you that we will get better and we’re going to start today,” he said, adding that the city would not recover until residents felt safe. The mayor did not take questions.
“Everybody that comes back is struggling, so to have this happen is so wrong,” said Pauline Patterson, 40, a bar owner who lives in the neighborhood where independent filmmaker Helen Hill was shot to death last week. “I know that City Hall’s hands are tied, and they need more police officers, but something has to be done.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco endorsed a plan announced earlier this week to increase patrols and use checkpoints to crack down on criminals. State police and the National Guard have been supplementing police patrols since June.
New Orleans had 161 homicides last year, the lowest total in 60 years. But the population was way down from its pre-Katrina total of 455,000, and is still only about 200,000.