Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - As the year comes to a close, leaders are reflecting on a disturbing problem that has cast a shadow over New Orleans for years.
Officials say the Crescent City's murder rate is 10 times higher than the national average.
23-month-old Keira Holmes is one of 197 people murdered in New Orleans this year. She was one of those caught in the crossfire of a shooting outside her Central City home. Little Keira died just days before Christmas, and her second birthday.
It's what inspired Rev. John C. Raphael to once again to take to the streets. He's spent four days fasting on Claiborne Avenue, hoping to send a message about violent crime.
"I think a statement has to be made and has to be heard by those that have the guns and those involved in violent activity that the community is upset about it, not just [Keira's] mother, that we're all hurt," said Raphael.
With two days left in 2011, the number of murders is already up more than 12 percent over last year. Still, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the Crescent City is one of the safest when it comes to overall violent crime; it ranks 73 nationwide.
But the murder rate is another story.
"We have developed a culture of violence here where young men who know each other are resolving their petty differences through the barrel of a gun," said Landrieu.
Landrieu said the problem can't be solved through improving the criminal justice system alone. It's an issue of economics, education, and community.
And the community has gotten more involved. Tips to Crimestoppers this year have increased more than 11 percent in New Orleans, helping to solve more than 500 cases.
"They're realizing now the power that they have in their own hands to be able to help stop what's going on," said Darlene Cusanza, executive director of Crimestoppers.
But there is still a lot of work ahead, and leaders agree there is no easy fix.
"Whether we're first or 73rd it is unacceptably high and something has to be done," said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
"I've listened to statistics and I know they're important under some circumstances, but to a mother who has to bury a one year old, one is way too many," said Raphael.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission said officials are looking to other cities for creative ideas to curb New Orleans' murder rate.