This week and into next, Mardi Gras revelers in New Orleans will be tossing beads, munching king cake, and carousing through the streets of the French Quarter. But a few blocks off the parade route, one intersection is recording a sinister history. In the past 22 months, six unrelated shootings have occurred at the point where Canal and Rampart streets intersect.
To outsiders, the recurrent scene of crime tape and police photographing spent shell casings on the same busy corner may seem startling. But it amounts to just a sliver of the gun violence haunting the city.
Rampart Street, a major lane in the city’s Central Business District, has experienced periods of disrepair and reemergence, and the point where it converges with Canal Street is both bustling and derelict. A longtime family jewelry business sits adjacent to a defunct tattoo parlor that is flanked by scrawls of graffiti. A performing arts theater’s old-fashioned marquee faces the neon signage of a Chinese restaurant. One corner is occupied by a dirt-filled construction site. Buses and cars pass on either side of a street car line, which runs along Canal Street from the Metairie Cemetery to the Mississippi River. One New Orleans native described the intersection as “a place you pass on your way to somewhere else.”
Most of the shootings occurring on the corner have happened during daylight hours. The first came in March 2014, when a 19-year-old was shot in the chest during a drug deal gone awry.
Five months later, two men, ages 23 and 29, were struck by gunfire, each in the leg and one of them in the head.
In February 2015, while waiting for the bus on a sunny afternoon, a woman was shot in the chest. Police said she was an innocent bystander.
A few months after that, Travone Williams walked into the China Wall restaurant and shot a female acquaintance in the head.
Then last November, 19-year-old Richard Dowell was fatally gunned down by another teenager.
The most recent shooting happened on the afternoon of February 2. A man was shot in the chin a few yards from Clear-Vue Barber Shop. A pair of sneakers and a green baseball cap, possibly belonging to the victim, were left behind at the crime scene.
While shootings have been concentrated in this area, one woman who works on Rampart Street said she wasn’t concerned. “It’s not something we worry about, because it’s not everyday,” she tells The Trace. “That’s not a big deal with us.”
Indeed, the bloodshed at Rampart and Canal represents a fraction of New Orleans’s gun violence. According to local crime analyst Jeff Asher, there were 392 shootings in the city in 2015. The previous year, there were 432. The plagued intersection sits on the edge of the Central Business District and the French Quarter, which together see an average of 10 shootings a year, according to Asher, who keeps a database of every shooting incident in the city since 2010. Contrast that with neighborhoods like Central City, the Seventh Ward, and Little Woods, which see an average of 42, 39, and 32 shootings per year, respectively. Asher says 30 percent of the city’s shootings are concentrated in those three neighborhoods alone.
Since Mayor Mitch Landrieu launched a multi-faceted murder-reduction strategy in late 2012, gun violence in New Orleans has dropped 15 to 20 percent. Despite the downward trend, “it doesn’t feel amazing,” Asher says. “You’re still talking about over one a day for three years.” So far this year, there have been 34 shootings, seven of them fatal.
On Tuesday, after the latest victim at Canal and Rampart had been shuttled to the hospital, it was back to business for pedestrians and shop owners. A city reporter observed one passerby glance briefly at the crime scene and say, “Well, that’s New Orleans.”
[Photo: Google Maps]