Killings Bring National Guard to New Orleans
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
There was another murder in New Orleans yesterday. That brings the number of people killed to 54 for the first six months of the year, a rate that is alarming city officials. So much so that the National Guard has been called in. Oliver Thomas serves as City Council President and formerly represented the Central City District, that's the district that has seen the biggest increase in crime. And Mr. Thomas, welcome to the program.
Mr. OLIVER THOMAS (New Orleans City Council President): It's good to be here Madeleine. I'm glad you guys are hanging there with us during this recovery.
BRAND: Well thank you. And I'm wondering what you think of the plan to call in the National Guard to your city.
Mr. THOMAS: Well let me say this. The most important thing is to maintain public safety. If I had to call in Godzilla and King Kong and give them permits to help patrol the streets and keep the city safe, if that would work I would do that. And the one thing that we need - that we can't afford is crime to get out of hand so that people will not want to come back to the city and will not want to invest in the rebuilding of this city.
BRAND: Well is it an admission on the part of city officials that they can't control the crime problem? That they need outside help?
Mr. THOMAS: Well I think any time someone is killed or children are involved in drugs and violence there's an admission that the society hasn't done what it needs to do. And the National Guard is not going to be patrolling the streets, you know, pointing M-16s and AK-47s at people. They're going to be in the areas where our police officers were patrolling where there was a little looting where no one was living. So they're going to be in those outlying areas while our State Troopers and our police department is going to beef up their density and their patrols in the areas that are heavily populated. I don't think anything's wrong with that.
BRAND: What is causing this, this recent increase in murders and violent crime?
Mr. THOMAS: Drugs, failed school systems, alcohol, lack of respect amongst teens.
BRAND: So everything that was a problem before Hurricane Katrina?
Mr. THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, you know, but that's in urban America times ten. It's just that right now, because of Katrina the smoke-covered glass is sort of clear and people can see it. But New Orleans is a microcosm of what happens in a lot of urban centers throughout America.
BRAND: Before Hurricane Katrina the New Orleans Police Department was notorious. There were some well publicized corruption cases in the department and I'm wondering if you think that the police department now is better, that its been cleaned up, that it will have a better chance of succeeding.
Mr. THOMAS: Well, Chief Pennington, Chief Compass and now Chief Riley have done a really good job of trying to weed out corruption. They've fired a lot of bad officers. So they're taking those steps. I mean Chief Riley has a review board, right now, that's disciplining officers for whatever their action, or firing them, or suspending them. So he's - you know he doesn't tolerate anything less than their best. But right now, everyone is stretched out, right now. From the police officers to their Councilmen. You know it's been ten months, I don't - I tell people I got to sleep but I don't rest. So I'm sure our officers are a lot more stressed out and a lot more stressed than I am. So all we're asking for is, you know, some understanding from around the country. Everybody's alarmed that we have the National Guard here. American's spend billions of dollars around the world touring countries where the guy walks by you with the M-16 and the camouflage on. They have the tank rolling down the street or the Hummer with the machine gun on the top. And we don't seem to be too alarmed when we spend our money in those other countries around the world. Matter of fact, we talk about how safe it is. So if we need a little extra help to, to, to help make sure that an American city is safe, then lets do that.
BRAND: Thank you Mr. Thomas.
Mr. THOMAS: Thank you.
BRAND: Oliver Thomas is President of the New Orleans City Council. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.