After a 14% increase in murders from 2010 to 2011 and despite widespread outrage, the violence in New Orleans did not slow in 2012. The city experienced 193 murders, only six less than 2011 and likely still to land our city as of the nation’s highest rates. Silence is Violence, launched in the wake of the post-Hurricane Katrina violence in 2007, provides direct services to victims and their families and advocates for the reformation of the police department. I spoke with Ms. Tamara Jackson, the organization’s executive director, about the efforts women are taking to end crime in New Orleans.
Those that have experienced the guts of grief remember forever the initial disbelief, shock and maybe even a short lived inability to tell time, but only those who have lost someone to violence know the uphill battle of facing a justice system such as the one we have in New Orleans. Silence is Violence provides guidance and support for family members who have lost loved ones. In the immediate aftermath of crime, Ms. Jackson explained, “Parents of the victims are too overwhelmed. It is often siblings and the children of the victims of violence who tend to be the most active with the services.” In this community, most tend to be women.
Ms. Jackson started at Silence is Violence as a volunteer for the Allies Project in 2009 and quickly moved into a larger leadership role. At the end of 2011, she was hired as executive director of the organization. As a New Orleans woman who has lost her own father to violence, Jackson is dedicated to tackling this harrowing problem and paving the road for others to create a more just city.
When families arrive to speak to the staff at Silence is Violence, Ms. Jackson has found that most people feel more comfortable speaking to female staff members. Though the Landrieu administration has made it a priority to build a better relationship with the community, there is still a deep distrust between victims of violence and the police department. Couple this reality with the fact that the majority of New Orleans police officers and those that tend to be involved in violent crimes are male, and it’s easy to see why women tend to take on advocacy positions in the aftermath of violence.
In 2009, Silence is Violence worked with Rose Preston, a woman who lost both her husband and mother-in-law to a Mid-City violent crime, to publish a Crime Victims Guidebook that Mrs. Preston had written. “The Guidebook is considered so successful, families often receive a copy directly from law enforcement before we are even able to speak with them,” explained Jackson. This informative guide walks family members through the processes of the justice system and assists them in understanding these procedures, allowing families to feel more powerful as they seek justice. The Crime Victims Guidebook will be updated and republished this month.
When, this past August, the Federal Department of Justice and the New Orleans Police Department signed a consent decree to implement improved procedures in the Police Department, the staff at Silence is Violence was not surprised by the procedure changes. The organization has been an active opponent of Police Chief Serpas, regularly calling for the same changes written into the decree. This first hand experience has led Ms. Jackson and Silence is Violence supporters to circulate a community petition calling for the removal of Serpas.
In early December, I attended the Goodnight Show, a monthly theater piece performed and coordinated by John Calhoun at Istanbul Café, where Ms. Jackson was a guest. Her vibrant personality stole the spotlight, and her ultimate message was crystal clear: "Despite what city officials might want you to believe, crime is not down [in New Orleans]. Murders are not down."