NOLA's culture of violence: 'There is a mindset that is just waiting to kill'

NOLA's 'culture of violence' won't be an easy fix

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The death of former Saints player Will Smith has raised the profile of the city's violent crime problem in terms of national attention.

But many residents in areas where gunfire is common said the so-called "culture of violence" is entrenched, and keeping others from falling into the trap will not be easy. They say the violence so close has had a chilling effect. Of the nearly dozen grown men FOX 8 News approached for this story in the Uptown area, all but one of them were too scared to even have their voices recorded.

We blurred the face of the one man who consented to have his voice taped. He said he detests the gunfire that happens so readily and often.

"(It's) Carried out by ignorant people," he said.

And he is incredulous over the alleged road rage surrounding Smith's death.

"This probably could have been avoided had somebody had, you know, a better frame of mind," he said.

Dillard University criminologist Ashraf Esmail, Ph.D., has written about gun violence in America.

"We have to kind of figure out and have dialogue on why are people doing this? The weapon is the device, but people are shooting the device - what's causing this? What are the issues? Is it mental illness? Is it strain? Is it economics? What's causing people to be so angry on a day to daily basis?" Esmail asked.

Ameer Baraka lived the perspective he eagerly shares.

"There is a mindset that is just waiting to kill, I'm waiting to kill you, I'm talking about arguments, waiting to kill you," Baraka said. "I know this because I lived it. I kept my gun and I was waiting to kill you if you did me something, I was waiting to pull that gun because of my mind, because of what I was taught," he said while standing in the B.W. Cooper Housing community.

Baraka capitalized on his second chance and is now an actor and model, and anti-crime activist.

"I got caught up because I could not read, I could not write, I had dyslexia. So I bought into the lies of the streets," he said.

And he said he followed for a time the flawed examples of manhood he saw and ended up shooting someone when he was just 14 years old.

"And they started telling me what it was to be a man, they started showing me what it was to be a man, they were killers - so I emulated the killers," Baraka said.

Following Smith's death, Saints Coach Sean Payton and other high profiles sports figures decried the city's gun violence.

"Since the day I've been elected, I've been talking about the culture of violence in the city of New Orleans and look forward very much to having Coach Peyton's help, and Drew Brees and the entire Saints organization's help with training up a generation of young men who know how to resolve differences peaceably," Mayor Landrieu said earlier this week.

"The Bensons and the entire Saints organization look forward to sitting down with the mayor to discuss what we can do to make our city safer. It is a complicated issue, however we have spoken to the mayor offering what we can, and look forward to that," said Greg Bensel, senior vice president of Communication and Broadcasting for the New Orleans Saints.

And while many caught up in the cycle of violence in the city may not turn around, Baraka believes there is tremendous hope for the very young.

"I mentor at Sylvania Williams, teaching these young men about emotional intelligence, what do you do when your emotions get high, what do you do? How do you respond? How are you supposed to respond? So I'm teaching that now to the sixth-graders," he said.

Baraka said he also reached out to some local sports figures this week.

"You have power and great influence. Start using it. Come into some of these urban schools and inject some positive stuff into these kids' lives," he said.

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