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Mayoral Agenda: What To Do About Gang Violence


Nearly 200 mayors from across the country have been in Orlando this week for the 80th annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. There have been lots of discussions about job creation, improving education and transportation. And many mayors are particularly focused on reducing violent crime, especially gang violence. A reported increase in gang violence has been making news, especially in Chicago, which has seen over 220 murders so far this year. Two big city mayors join us now from the hotel in which they've been meeting in Orlando. Michael Nutter is the Mayor of Philadelphia. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Mayor.


SIMON: And Mitch Landrieu is the mayor of New Orleans. Thank you.


SIMON: And if we could begin in turn, Mayor Nutter and Mayor Landrieu, what's your judgment about what's causing this increase in gang violence now?

NUTTER: Well, I mean, whether it's gang violence or in some instances - certainly in Philadelphia - this is random acts among people who know each other. So, it's not just random acts of violence. Some of it is about drugs. Some of it is about turf. Some of it, quite honestly, unfortunately, is about some of the dumbest stuff that you ever want to hear of. But in any event, most neighborhoods in Philadelphia are actually very safe. And violence is relatively confined.

SIMON: Mayor Landrieu...

LANDRIEU: When we look at the statistics in New Orleans, they're very similar to what's going on in Philadelphia. I think you'll see the same thing in Chicago and New York, big cities and small cities across America. There is an epidemic of murder in certain neighborhoods. When we look at it in New Orleans, we find the same thing; that it's isolated to three or four neighborhoods. The statistics reflect that it's generally young African-American men between the ages of 16 and 24, 88 percent of them know each other and they are choosing to resolve their differences at the tip of a gun. When we have gone back and looked at the statistics from 1979 through today, there's been an average of about 241 murders in New Orleans every year. So, this is a very, very deeply rooted culture of violence that has been festering for a very, very long period of time. And I believe that we would want to begin to take a broader approach to it; now look at it as a public health threat, not just a law enforcement threat.

SIMON: Both of you mentioned - and took some pains to say - it's not the whole city, it's a few neighborhoods. There are some people who have the idea that gang violence hurts only gang members, or at least people who have it out for each other anyway. Is that true? Is the damage limited like that?

NUTTER: No. First of all, all of the citizens read newspapers, go on the Web. The violence gets reported and, again, this is an incident and an impact that rips out the heart and soul of what communities are all about.

LANDRIEU: I want to echo that as well. I mean, just because this happening in a geographically isolated area doesn't mean that the ripple effect does not ripple across an entire community. And in some instances, you have innocent bystanders that get shot in New Orleans. Just in the last year, we've had a 5-year-old that was hit by a stray bullet. We've had two 2-year-olds that were killed. A 33-year-old mother was driving down the street that got hit in the head by a stray bullet. So, you know, I know some people hear when we run through this statistics that, you know, maybe it's just young African-American men who know each other, who have been doing this for a long period of time, but it has serious, serious consequences for the entire community, and then collectively, really, for the whole nation.

SIMON: How do you change what you both describe as a culture of violence? Does any city have the resources to do that?

LANDRIEU: Well, the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that the lives that are being taken are important and it's worth focusing our attention on. You can't just adopt the attitude, well, look, that looks like thugs killing thugs and it's not in my neighborhood so we'll let them be, and hopefully by natural selection they'll take care of themselves. That's a wrong - in my opinion - a wrongheaded view. And so I think the first thing we have to acknowledge that it's occurring. Secondly, we have to say that it's important for us to stop it, and then we have to come up with strategies. And the idea is to treat this not just as a law enforcement program, which it continues to be, but also a public health epidemic and understand that violence moves and is transmitted very much as diseases are. You get people in the community who know the community that when a violent act occurs they go find out where it happened, where it's likely to happen again and interrupt that from occurring.

SIMON: Mayor Nutter.

NUTTER: I think Mayor Landrieu has really laid out - we will not solve these particular challenges and problems just on the law enforcement side. This is about social services. This is about education. This is about literacy. It's about jobs. So, driving a message of personal responsibility.

SIMON: I noticed that we've been talking for a few minutes now and neither of you have complained about the dwindling lack of resources in this economy, or assistance from the federal government. Now, maybe that doesn't mean you don't feel this way but you don't seem to put it at the top of the list.

LANDRIEU: Well, let me say this. Our silence in the last two minutes does not reflect our view of that. The fact of the matter is that we have been both strenuous advocates for a much more robust response from the federal government. There has to be a robust federal partnership with the cities to help make the streets of the city safe.

NUTTER: I think the fact that you didn't hear us come right out of the chute talking about the feds, again, is not indicative of any lack of interest in federal resources. But on the other hand, we're mayors. So, we take on our challenges, we take on our problems and we're not whiners and complainers. I mean, we're trying to get some stuff done. Neither one of us can sit around waiting for, you know, somebody else, you know, on a horse with a white hat to show up and save us. So, we do what we do, and in the meantime it'd be nice if the federal government would provide some additional, you know, personnel, equipment, support to help us. And they clearly have a role to play.

SIMON: Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia. He will be inaugurated as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors today. Thank you very much for being with us.

NUTTER: Thank you.

SIMON: And the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu. Thank you very much.

LANDRIEU: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.