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Bourbon Street shooting: New Orleans pleads for federal backup

Sunday's shooting into a crowd marks a relapse in a constant struggle against crime and violence in New Orleans, this time striking the heart of the crucial tourism sector.

David Minsky/AP
Victims are assisted moments after a shooting on Bourbon Street in New Orleans early Sunday morning that left nine people injured, in this photo released by David Minsky. A young woman died of her injuries on Wednesday.

Injuries to nine people and the death Wednesday of a young woman stemming from a Sunday shootout between two men on New Orleans’ crowded Bourbon Street have forced the city to plead for help to stanch the gun violence that’s plaguing black neighborhoods in the Crescent City and far beyond.

The Bourbon Street shootout, part of which was captured on video, came a month after a teenager opened fire on a high school graduation of 150 people in Gentilly, La., killing one person. This past weekend, a man in Los Angeles killed one and injured four others after firing into a pre-awards show bash at a restaurant.

But for New Orleans, Sunday's shooting marks a relapse in a lengthy struggle against crime and violence, this time striking the heart of the city’s crucial tourism sector. The birthplace of jazz, Bourbon Street is known the world over, and is usually considered to be a relative safe haven compared with some of New Orleans’ rougher neighborhoods.

Indeed, the shootings had international implications. Caught in the crossfire was a young Australian student named Amy Matthews, who was shot but survived. Ms. Matthews told Australian media that she was surprised the US government hadn’t moved harder against what she called a deadly gun culture.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas summed up the incident as “two cowardly young men trying to hurt one another,” and who decided to have a gun fight “with no regard for others.”

But as police try to track down what appears to be two men – one man was taken into custody but not charged in the shooting – the struggle to understand the mentality has caused at least one criminologist to draw a parallel between the kinds of reckless street shootings often carried out by young and poor black men and the kinds of school shootings that often feature young, middle-class white men as the perpetrators.

According to New Orleans criminologist Peter Scharf, white shooters often have problems with depression and mental illness, while black shooters have been found to have a range of untreated learning as well as mental health disorders. Those issues could be playing similarly into how black and white kids are treated by doctors and teachers, he argues, thus in how callous worldviews are shaped.

“Part of me says [the two types of shooters] are more similar than not,” Mr. Scharf told Adriane Quinlan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Still, authorities in New Orleans and other US cities with large percentages of poor black residents are currently looking more squarely at how to quell black-on-black violence in America’s poorest neighborhoods.

So far, New Orleans police have had no luck with their tip line after the Bourbon Street incident, suggesting to some that those who may have information about the identity of the men involved are too terrorized to snitch on shooters so brazen.

This week, Mayor Mitch Landrieu took more direct action to crack down on pervasive violence that has now extended into the city’s critical French Quarter, asking Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) to send him 100 state police troopers as permanent backup to the city’s police. Mr. Landrieu also asked Washington for what he called a “surge team” of law enforcement agents to help him combat street crime.

The mayor also said he pleaded in a letter to President Obama that the federal government needs to "get back in the business of fighting crime and help stem this epidemic" of gun violence in America’s ghettos.

“This has been happening for a long time, but it needs to stop,” Landrieu said.

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