Kenneth Polite, the new U.S. Attorney charged with overseeing all federal prosecutions in New Orleans, grew up in the Calliope housing projects, but along the way lost a 23-year-old brother to street violence. After his brother’s death, Polite recalls walking into his brother’s bedroom and seeing the walls lined with pinned-up programs from funerals of his brother’s friends who had already been killed.
“That’s what he woke up to each day,” Polite said. “That type of environment, where that level of criminality becomes normal, has to affect your concept of life. It has to affect your concept of how you’re going to die. This is what he expected.”
That environment of death and violence that reaches into the home on a daily basis is the root cause of the decades of staggering murder rates in New Orleans, a panel of experts agreed Tuesday evening during the Tulane University Hillel Center “The Big Issue” debate. And the key to reducing the number of murders, the panelists said, is for citizens to personally intervene in those environments through mentoring at-risk children.