I was walking my dog early one morning recently when I saw a man squatting down to look through the louver shutters of a home across the street. When he saw me watching, he scampered away. Did I foil a burglary? Possibly.
COVID-19 has created great unrest in New Orleans and it shows as a wide variety of crimes continue to increase. As should be expected, citizens in almost every neighborhood are frustrated and afraid for their safety. Like COVID-19 itself, we can only assume crime will get worse before it gets better.
Sure, we can attribute many homicides to gang rivalries — but not all the car break-ins and other property crimes, muggings, domestic violence, and even yesterday’s theft of an Amazon truck. These are brazen acts of desperate individuals, many of whose lives have been upended by the deaths and economic uncertainty the virus has caused. By now the virus has touched everyone.
Having more uniformed officers on the streets might slow down some of the criminal acts, but it won’t be enough to reverse the trends New Orleans and other cities across the country are currently seeing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is projecting up to 420,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by mid-January.
Large and small celebrations during our current holiday season will increase infections, hospitalizations and possible deaths. Vaccinations are here but the process is slow.
Another stimulus check, additional unemployment compensation, more computers and hot spots for students, and increased financial aid for small businesses are very necessary but just more stopgap measures. What New Orleans and America needs is a total reinvention.
A trio of recent books have come to conclusion that COVID-19 isn’t just transforming America, it’s speeding up the changes already underway. There will be long-term impacts on our culture, politics and the economy.
Author, physician and sociologist Nicholas A. Christakis writes the pandemic can “amplify our inequities and divides.” Journalists John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge are calling it a “history-accelerating crisis” that will “deepen the dysfunctional politics and ineffective governance of Western societies.” Fareed Zakaria states it more bluntly: “It will cut America in half.”
We can envision a greater reliance on technology and living a digital life, emboldened social activists and increased vulnerability in disadvantaged communities. Prognosticators speak about the quality of government, unequal access to health care, and relief mechanisms that help people with capital and connections much more than those who work for wages.
Plagues reshape our familiar social order, says Christakis in his book “Apollo’s Arrow.” They require us to disperse and live apart, wreck economies, replace trust with fear and suspicion, invite some to blame others for their predicament, embolden liars and cause grief.
Christakis also believes that social disparities that were evident before the virus will only worsen, that some young graduates will face deteriorating economic prospects and that affluent people will be able to protect their health and livelihoods more effectively than others. Older citizens, poorer citizens and COVID-19 survivors who will suffer chronic illnesses could have a harder time adjusting to the new order.
What does all this have to do with New Orleans’ crime spike? We are a city that has always been defined as having an underclass, where educational and employment opportunities were never equal. Though 300 years have passed, disparities — and crime — will rise as New Orleans struggles to rebound once again.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.