Fear of crime dampens New Orleans party spirit
December 27, 1996
Web posted at: 1:45 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Charles Zewe
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- A sidewalk memorial to murdered pizza workers is a stark reminder that -- for all its charm and carnival ambiance -- New Orleans can be a dangerous place to visit.
As they pass the shrine, many tourists pause, frightened by the city's reputation for violence.
"I don't want to be out after dark even to walk down the street to go to a restaurant or something," says Tina Moore of Reno, Nevada, while glancing at the memorial.
In a city where carnival plays out at every turn, murder is so commonplace residents have grown accustomed to reading about it over cafe au lait in the morning newspaper.
If residents don't read about "one or two murders a day, they're really surprised," says Sandy Krasnoff of Victims and Citizens Against Crime.
But New Orleans remains a huge tourist attraction, and with the Sugar and Super bowls slated for the new year, the city is bracing for an influx of visitors by deploying extra police.
Hotel rooms are nearly sold out for the big games, but even civic-minded hotel executives admit violence is out of hand.
"The people of New Orleans have got to the point where they are scared," said Paul Buckley, general manager of the New Orleans Hilton Hotel.
'Out of control'
Tourism officials worry all of the bloodletting is taking a toll despite strong advance bookings.
A recent survey found one third of tourists believe New Orleans is not as safe as other cities.
Even the academic community is not immune. Some Tulane University students are thinking about transferring.
"Crime is just out of control," says student Jeannine Provencher from Freehold, New Jersey. "It gets really scary."
Worried about the public relations black eye from the continuing crime wave that could drive away visitors, city officials are quick to point out that of the more than 300 people killed in New Orleans in 1996, only ten have been
"The murders that took place were not directed at visitors," says Mayor Marc Morial. "They were not acts of random violence; they were acts where the perpetrators and the victims knew each other."
One third, in fact, happen in the city's housing projects -- something African-Americans contend was ignored until there were several prominent "white" murders.
"Most of them don't occur in the French Quarter. Most of them occur in isolated drug areas," says Supt. Richard Pennington of the New Orleans police, of the recent rash of murders.
That's little consolation for Rita Lopiccolo, who has been left to help rear her son's children. Their mother was among the pizza restaurant victims.
"I don't care about extra police at Sugar Bowl or at Super Bowl for the tourists. I think we're important; we need the protection," she says.
Crackdown on housing crime
Police are cracking down on housing project crime in the face of public impatience.
"The public is now to the point of disgust and outrage that they want the city to take the same steps that they're taking to insure the tourists are safe and apply that to the public at large." said Rafael Goyeneche, managing director of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission.
With its most important tourism season ahead, city officials vow visitors will be secure. But critics contend the best most New Orleanians can do is cross their fingers and hope they don't become another statistic in the city's escalating murder rate.
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