John Richie / Contributing Writer
Filmmaker John Richie studied the violence on the streets of New Orleans to produce "Shell Shocked: A Documentary About Growing Up in the Murder Capital of America" -- a stark look at the violence that plagues the city. He offers the following opinion after the Mother's Day shooting and possible solutions.
On Mother’s Day this year, New Orleans had another shooting that probably will grab more attention than the other 200 that will likely happen in 2013. More likely than not, you read about it, you talked about it with friends, you read multiple posts on social media about this expressing anger, sadness, frustration and apathy. This shooting will probably be the most talked about one in New Orleans this year, but unfortunately, most of us will not do anything more than talk about it and question how such a young individual could possibly shoot 19 people.
It is not a secret. There is a lot of gun violence in New Orleans. Statewide, Louisiana has some of the most relaxed gun laws, and also has the highest rate of gun violence. On average, your typical shooting in New Orleans is usually carried out by a black male living in a dangerous environment where guns are more readily available than textbooks, and that victim is also a black male.
A clip from "Shell Shocked"
What makes the Mother’s Day shooting different to most people and worth talking about is that some of the people who were shot this time did not fall into the same category as the shooters. They were good people not deserving of the violence. We believe that shootings are tragic, but the typical victim must’ve of been doing something wrong. There is logic to it, so no further attention is necessary. This point of view is just as toxic as any other circumstance that leads to violence in our community.
OK, so you’ve moved past my fairly typical rant about how people tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to gun violence in New Orleans but quickly are willing to pass the burden entirely to the city, saying that this is not my problem and just avoid reality. Now, if you’re saying, "I’m still reading because I care but I just don’t know what to do," then I have some thoughts on this that I believe can really curb the violence that is plaguing our young people.
To let you know who I am and why my hunch might be valid, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is John Richie. I am a local filmmaker who made a documentary called “Shell Shocked.” The film is about youth, violence and environment. The original idea was to start a documentary program and let kids show what was really going on in their neighborhoods. This idea came from my own shame of living here for eight years and not realizing that the sometimes murder capital of the United States equates to not being able to find one black child from here who has not been personally touched, and often witness to, a homicide.
I didn’t know what was more shocking, the enormity of how murder has affected our young or my blindness to it. Like Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said, “This is our society’s biggest problem. The situation is unnatural, and what we are fighting for is the heart and soul of the city.”
I had one young man who was 17 at the time tell me that he no longer made friends with people. He would walk around his neighborhood listening to music or stay in his room. Keith had lost his younger brother to gun violence when his brother was only 13 years old. He told me that the friends could quickly lead to trouble and that his mom had already lost one child and he did not want her to go through any more grief. There is a problem when a 17-year-old feels that making friends is a life liability.
Originally, the idea of “Shell Shocked” was to just expose people to the environment that leads a small amount of our young into dangerous behavior and has the rest numbed to death, but still worried about the possibility of something happening to them or their friends.
People would ask, “Well, what about the solutions?”
And I would say, “Oh, I’m not even going to pretend to know.” I thought it was overwhelming and too many decades in the making to really have a solution, but with our film program and observing other youth mentoring programs, I began to see some answers.
Mentoring programs work. They give youth who do not have anything to do somewhere to go and ensure that they are focusing their energies into something positive. I am not saying that all youth who partake in mentoring programs would be doing crime if they didn’t attend some kind of program, but without these programs and varying family situations, we are leaving it up to them to navigate their way through a dangerous environment. Always expecting them to make the right decisions in the face of peer pressure, economic pressures, and in many cases unhealthy self-perceptions. Who out of any of us did not make some crazy, bad decisions as teenagers?
So, I offer you this, if you are worried about violent crime, if you are pondering whether or not this is the city you can raise your family in. Before you throw in the towel, volunteer a few hours every week at your nearest youth program or hire on a young man in need of a job at your business. If you don’t have the time, then donate a tax-deductible donation to a local youth program.
This is what is desperately needed. The programs working with our youth in this capacity are underfunded and often under staffed. We can do better than that.
Our youth development and recreation centers should not be an afterthought. They needed to be treated as the valuable asset they are. They make the best with what they have, which is amazing to see the influence in their client’s lives, but they cannot reach all the kids who could benefit from these services.
This is where you hear people say, “Well if I can help one kid, then I’m making a difference.” Help them say, “By being a part of this, we are making a ferocious dent into the murder rate of New Orleans by helping kids who deserve to have a good quality of life.” They are not going to solve the problem, but it is a step in the right direction.
Here are a few that you can start with, just pick one:
APEX Liberty’s Kitchen
Fountain of Youth Foundation CASA
Youth Empowerment Project Roots of Music
Juvenile Justice Project of LA Each One, Save One
Fatherhood Consortium Café Reconcile
Café Hope NFL Yet
Addicted to the Lifestyle STAIR
New Orleans Kids Partnership Rethink New Orleans
Partnership for Youth Development Silence is Violence
Puentes 2 Cent Entertainment
Friends and Families of LA Incarcerated Children Kingsley House
Urban League New Orleans Outreach
PeaceKeepers Big Brothers/Big Sisters
Safe Streets, Strong Communities Volunteers of America
Grow Dat YLC Kicks
Son of A Saint
Lost Love Lounge
June 6, 7 p.m.
2529 Dauphine St.
Community Book Center
June 7, 6:30 p.m.
2523 Bayou Rd.
June 13, 8 p.m.
3701 Bank St.
June 14, 7 p.m.
3718 St. Claude Ave.
Hi Ho Lounge
June 19, 7 p.m.
2239 St. Claude Ave.
1239 Congress Street screening
June 4, 7 p.m.