Law Enforcement: Faced With Rising Murder Rates, Newark and New Orleans Turn to Repressive Drug War Strategies

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #468)

With spates of murders early this year in Newark and New Orleans bringing public concerns about rising violent crime rates in both cities to the boiling point, officials in both are calling in reinforcements. But the responses by city and law enforcement officials in both cases are essentially more of the same old approach to the intertwined problems of urban poverty, crime and violence, and the drug trade under prohibition. And if Thursday's noisy mass march in New Orleans is any indication, maybe some citizens are beginning to say enough is enough.

[inline:neworleans1.jpg align=left caption="New Orleans police (courtesy"]In Newark, Mayor Cory Booker and his police director announced Monday they would try to attack the city's rising homicide rate by forming a new central narcotics division. With five killing already this year, all drug-related according to city officials, the city is on track to exceed last year's 104 murders, the most in a decade.

"It's clear we have a problem," Booker said as he announced the program. "This last seven days -- we cannot avoid it, we cannot apologize for it." His audience at the unveiling included high-ranking police officers, members of the Central Narcotics Division (as the new unit is called), and the local head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"The bottom line is this: If we're going to reduce violence in this city, we have to affect the narcotics trade," said the police director, Garry McCarthy. In prose eerily reminiscent of President Bush's Wednesday speech on Iraq, McCarthy talked of a "ground war" to clear out drug dealers and related crime from city neighborhoods and keep them out. "It's important that we go and get the bad guys before they kill each other, and hurt other people in this city," Mr. McCarthy said.

Meanwhile, New Orleans, confronted by nine murders in the first eight days of this year, announced a crackdown on violent crime. "We are drawing a line in the sand, saying enough is enough," Nagin said Tuesday. "We're going to put all our resources to focus on murder and violent crime." Nagin's plan includes targeting violent crime by operating police checkpoints between 2:00am and 6:00am, when about one-third of the city's violent crime occurs. Despite a 2000 Supreme Court decision ruling unconstitutional checkpoints whose purpose is law enforcement rather than public safety (e.g. drivers license checks, sobriety checks), New Orleans officials have openly stated they will use the checkpoints to search for drug and alcohol violations as well as drivers license and insurance checks.

The city's criminal justice system overall remains broken down in the aftermath of Katrina, with jails overflowing and the courts backed up and still handling pre-Katrina cases. Since the storm, the New Orleans Police Department has shrunk from 1,700 to 1,400, but crime has been on the rise despite a city population that has shrunk from 455,000 before the storm to 200,000 now.

Today, some 3,000 New Orleans residents took their festering dissatisfaction with both the police and the criminals to the streets. "Dirty Cops Can't Clean Up Our City," read one placard.

The city is already being patrolled by some 300 National Guard troops and 60 state police. They came in last summer after five teenagers were killed in one night. Gov. Kathleen Blanco was reportedly in meetings Wednesday with National Guard and state police officials to discuss the situation.

The situation is as bizarre, if not quite as dangerous, across the river in Gretna. There, in suburban Jefferson Parish, Sheriff Harry Lee attributes a slowdown in killings there to his force's use of armored vehicles. "We have the money and we're going to spend it on the things that will help us fight this problem," Lee said Wednesday at a news conference in Gretna. He is also starting up a unit known for aggressive street sweeps that he had to disband in 2004 after allegations of steroid use and other offenses by its officers.

Armored vehicles, checkpoints, ground war, "clear and hold." Which war is this again?

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Jeanerette Police Department sweeps city during ‘Operation Clean-Up’
Tuesday, January 9, 2007 2:14 PM CST

JEANERETTE — Fed up with drug dealing and the problems that come with it, local police have initiated a campaign to cleanse the city’s streets.

“Operation Clean-Up” is aimed at reducing drug activity in Jeanerette, said Police Chief Morman Alexander.

Officers made 10 arrests and seized $5,000 in cash and one vehicle during three days of patrols last week. “By us targeting drugs, it cleans up the community and makes it safer for individuals who live here,” Alexander said. “They don’t have to worry about someone stealing from them or shooting into their house.”

Alexander said officers started the campaign after receiving numerous complaints of loud music, cars blocking traffic, jaywalking and people dealing drugs on street corners.

He said officers devised a special team to go into problem areas, citing Hubertville, Green Street and the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Trappey Street as examples.

One of the most successful arrests in the operation occurred at 1913 Green St., the home of Joshua Sam. Officers seized about $1,000 worth of crack cocaine and marijuana and $1,000 in cash during the search, Alexander said.

Sam was charged with possession of schedules I and II narcotics with intent to distribute and proceeds derived from drug transactions.

Officers took two handguns off the streets during the operation’s first week, Alexander said, a sign drug activity is often linked to other crimes.

“Drugs are basically the cylinder for all the other crimes we have,” Alexander said, citing homicides and burglaries as examples.

“These are people who want to get their hands on money to purchase drugs.”

Aside from the arrests, officers also filled out several field interview cards in an effort to get to know people who frequent those areas.

Alexander said the cards could be useful if those people are found in those areas in the future.

Alexander said the operation would go on indefinitely.

“Right now, we’re starting to get control of the areas that we have been having complaints,” he said. “In order to maintain that control, we’re going to keep trying to get all the street dealers and problem people out of there.”

Fri, 01/12/2007 - 9:26pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

hi my name is katina and u should take all tha killers off the streets

Wed, 05/14/2008 - 3:13pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

my name is celese and i love my family so keep alway

Wed, 05/14/2008 - 3:15pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Everyone should put faith in tha lord and you will understand your eyes will be open to a whole new world!! All you can do is pray for these people for they are blind and dont even know what there truely doing....

Sat, 05/09/2009 - 3:17pm Permalink

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