Of all the challenges facing the city of New Orleans, none is as urgent or as relentlessly grim as the city’s homicide rate. It was measured at 10 times the national average in 2010, long before shootings on Halloween night in the crowded French Quarter revealed to a larger public what was going on in poor neighborhoods around the city every week. There were 51 homicides per 100,000 residents here last year, compared with less than 7 per 100,000 in New York or 23 in similar-size Oakland, Calif.
New Orleans has long been a violent town; in 1994, there were 421 killings here, one of which was a hit ordered by a police officer. With federal intervention, the homicide rate dropped precipitously but began rising again around 2000 and has been fluctuating since Hurricane Katrina. The killers and their victims are overwhelmingly young black men, according to an analysis of homicide cases by outside experts last March, and sponsored by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. As police officials frequently point out to the anger of some families, most victims and offenders had prior contacts with the police, often for violent crimes. Less than a quarter were listed as having a steady job.
The narrower causes are less clear. There are no large organized gangs in town, nor are there major drug wars, though some killings are turf disputes over the drug market, made worse by the drastic reshuffling of the urban poor after Hurricane Katrina and the demolition of public housing projects.
Many killings in New Orleans are a result of conflicts and vendettas among small, loosely organized groups, the analysis concluded, but in nearly half the cases, the experts listed the primary motive as uncertain or unknown. Only about half the homicide cases are cleared.
Working off a program that started in Milwaukee, the city is setting up a commission to analyze past killings and try to prevent violence. Businessmen have pledged to find work for people returning from prison. A few hundred volunteers have begun training to set up neighborhood watches or become mentors. The city has also announced that it is adopting a Chicago program that recruits people who have experience in violent neighborhoods and sends them out to counsel and intervene.
Fighting the homicide epidemic is doubly hard with a police department already known for corruption and facing a major federal overhaul. For nearly a year officials from the Department of Justice have been in negotiations with city officials over the terms of a consent decree, a legally binding blueprint for reform.
That is from this NYT article.
From an economics point of view it is not clear that young people in New Orleans are killing to maximize their utility. Vendettas are often motivated by emotions. It seems that there are not economic motives in the killings at least for fifty or so percent of the incidents. It might be possible that killings enforce certain informal, street, rules, but there is not evidence of that. They might be related to psychological traumas of certain profile of people. The real question is how societies face the problem. A combination of a strong judiciary system with programs that pay attention to psychological traumas is key. Homicides in Mexico and Central America have been linked to drug activity, which actually might explain a lot. However we don't really know how much of the killings is related to drug trafficking and how much to the dynamics that seem to be happening in New Orleans. In one question: How different Central America and Mexico are from New Orleans?