Avegno calls gun violence a public health crisis; residents sound off on the problem

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A special city council meeting on crime drew dozens of frustrated residents. And New Orleans’ Health Department chief said gun violence is a public health crisis.

The meeting began with crime data analyst Jeff Asher telling the council gun violence remains a stubborn problem.

“We’ve seen a persistently high level of gun violence and murder in New Orleans, really in 2022 it reached levels we haven’t seen since Hurricane Katrina. NOPD sworn personnel has fallen to, as of last Sunday’s 929 officers and 11 recruits,” he said.

But some in the audience grew frustrated during crime analyst Jeff Asher’s presentation to the council on crime trends.

“People want to talk, man,” said community activist Belden Batiste.

Toren Washington said he left his job to attend the meeting.

“We need real programs and tangible situations to open up doors for young men that’s having problems,” said Washington. “This locking up people and locking up this and that, that’s a bunch of B.S.”

From all over the city residents took their turn address the council. Monet Williams said she is a realtor.

‘We all need to be accountable for our actions, the parents need to be accountable, the children have to be accountable for their actions as well. These minors are committing these crimes and they’re getting right out of jail,” said Williams.

Asher said the NOPD is down to 929 officers.

Other residents agreed that the focus should be less on incarceration and more on helping kids before they get in trouble.

Terry Brown, a Vietnam Vet called the streets a war zone.

“Change your mind and you stop the crime, you arrest three you’re going to get nine more, you arrest nine you’re going to get 18 more. They’re waiting to take their place,” said Brown.” You all are not trying to solve the problem, you all are trying to get reelected, change your mindset.”

Morgan Clevenger sits on the Police Community Advisory Board and also addressed council members.

“It’s more than crime, it’s beyond it’s a public health crisis. Now I see that on your agenda today, that’s awesome, but I also said we can’t do this in compartments, we have to do it together,” she said.

New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno echoed that gun violence is a health crisis. “We have to consider the unbearable burden for our young black men, killed by gun violence in this city at 70 times the national rate, last year it was 1 in every 218 black men ages 18 to 24.”

She said she has personally treated hundreds of shooting victims.

“Gun violence has devastated this community for decades, in my career, my personal career I estimate that I’ve easily cared for at least a thousand shooting victims and likely many more.”

Councilman Oliver Thomas who represents District E on the council pressed for more information.

“When we talk about black men and boys what are we doing specifically locally, especially given our number to resource and touch and love that group and what is our specific plan?” Thomas asked.

“There are interventions we’re wanting to try and starting to try, so mental health first aid, just being able to train the community,” answered Avegno.

While there remains a serious police shortage there is a recognition inside city hall as well as in the community that it will take more than police officers to stop the violent problem.

Eugene Green represents District D on the city council.

“In terms of what needs to be done, it certainly starts in the household, those who know that their children, or adults who are living with them are not engaged in the most productive things that they can be doing including criminal activity but also it involves us looking at the criminal justice system much more comprehensively than not just the police,” said Green.

It was a spirited meeting where many in the community had their say and one woman was taken away in handcuffs.

Council President J.P. Morrell said the passionate comments reflect the seriousness of the problem.

“Whereas people saw the conflict and the raised voices as chaos what I saw that is is a community that’s in pain. People are in pain, they’re suffering and they’re demanding that somebody help them,” said Morrell.

In the council passed two motions, one directs the health department to develop a violence intervention model to address violence as a public health crisis and the other calls on the City Planning Commission to hold a public hearing to consider amending zoning laws to require security measures like cameras, call boxes and on-site parking attendants after a rash of car break-ins.

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