John Simerman, NOLA.com, December 18, 2022
White roses and lilies stood in for a coffin as drums and hallelujahs filled a shotgun-style church in the 7th Ward. A funeral was underway for Lamar Ford, but his body was 200 miles north in Waterproof, sent ahead to the cemetery.
“They said all the bones in his body were shot up, and nothing they could do for him. They couldn’t fix him up,” said his mother, Pastor Christiana Ford, lamenting the change of plans.
“And then when he hit the ground, the same man got out the car and shot him in the head twice ‘til his brain hit the ground. That’s a hate crime.”
Ford, 39, was in some ways a typical casualty of the type of score-settling violence that has haunted New Orleans this year. Even in a city inured to violence, this has been an extraordinary year: 251 murders so far, a rate of five per week, resulting in what is expected to be America’s highest murder rate.
The rate at which New Orleanians are being killed is the highest it’s been since the ghastly 1990s — and it comes just three years after the city recorded its lowest rate in a half-century.
Ford was a little older than the Black men aged 15 to 34 who account for nearly half of all murder victims in the city, but Black men in his age bracket make up a growing share of those killed.
In fact, people over 30 account for nearly the entire spike in murders this year, although the number of juvenile victims has also risen, according to NOPD.
The typical murder victim in New Orleans is now a 35-year-old Black man who argues with a younger acquaintance and gets shot with a 9 mm or .40-caliber handgun.
Ford also suffered mental health issues, which crop up in abundance in murders this year, in perpetrators and victims alike. His killing, like most in New Orleans, remains unsolved. Police so far have made arrests in a third of this year’s homicides, a Police Department analysis shows.
Ford used to work as a cook at Pat O’Brien’s before serving eight years for manslaughter over a 2013 slaying in the Lower 9th Ward that prosecutors chalked up to a $40 drug debt. He came home in 2020 and settled into a back room in the house next to his mother’s church on Elysian Fields Avenue.
Ford spent stretches at a state mental hospital while imprisoned, kept bottles of the schizophrenia drug Seroquel and came out talking to voices in his head, his mother said. He would pace around the front stoop, where he sat as a car circled the block about 11 a.m. on Aug. 5.
Homicides around the U.S. surged with the COVID-19 pandemic but have mostly subsided this year, according to crime analyst Jeff Asher, who works for the City Council. Here, murders kept rising.
Theories abound as to why. Most credit an environment of prevalent guns and fractures – economic, physical and political – from the pandemic; social upheaval over racism in policing; and Hurricane Ida.
But there is no consensus for why shooters remain especially trigger-happy in New Orleans even as the violence has eased elsewhere.
Street justice is one hallmark of the surge in murders in New Orleans in 2022, according to police data and a review of scores of killings, interviews with family members, mental health evaluators and academics.
Spontaneous arguments with friends or acquaintances – squabbles settled with bullets – are another driving force, while old grudges appear to play a role in still other cases.
Even so, the city’s murder rate is up 20% this year, rivaled only by St. Louis, Asher projects. And since 2019, the rate is up more than 120%.
New Orleans has long been a city that, more than a crime problem, has a killing problem.
A federal study of murders in New Orleans a dozen years ago noted that the homicide rate in New Orleans then was almost five times higher than in comparable cities with similar overall crime rates.
In 2022, arguments continue to be the most common motive homicide detectives have assigned to about 90 solved cases this year, outpacing retaliation, robbery, drugs or domestic incidents. Detectives attribute 40% of solved homicides since the start of 2021 to arguments.
Who is getting killed, and where, hasn’t changed much as the pace of killing has exploded, NOPD data show. The vast majority of murders involve guns.
At University Medical Center, almost two people a day showed up shot in the first six months of the year, a 27% rise from 2020, hospital data show.
Black people made up 92% of them, in line with previous years. Including those with minor wounds, about one in seven of those patients died, also similar to recent years.
Coroner’s data show that Black males ages 15 to 54 comprise more than three-quarters of the city’s slaying victims. Fewer than one in 10 murder victims in the city is White.
For young Black males, the odds of dying violently on the city’s streets are shockingly high.
About 300 Black males ages 15 to 34 have been slain in the city in three years – representing 1% of their population in the city. At that rate, 1 in every 15 Black men in New Orleans will be murdered by the time he reaches 35.