Murder at the Superdome? Not so much

The Times-Picayune (the New Orleans daily, not the near-worthless Spanish coin) is reporting today that tales of murder, rape and rampant violence at the Superdome and Convention Center were apparently just not true.

The National Guard sent a refrigerated tractor-trailer to the Dome expecting to retrieve 200 bodies. They found 6 (four died of natural causes, one overdosed and one committed suicide).

At the Convention Center, four bodies were found, not the stacks of corpses that were supposed to be in a freezer there. One of those people appeared to have been murdered.

And across the city, it appears the tales of violence were extremely bloated. The D.A. says the city can only confirm four murders in New Orleans since Katrina. That”s a typical week”s worth of killings there.

Yet the international media reported the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl at the Convention Center and the general “wave of rapes, murders, looting, shootings and carjackings” in the city following Katrina.

So the image that”s been painted of New Orleans across the globe is of violence, murder and basic lawlessness. To be sure, New Orleans has always been a little more violent and a little less safe than your average American city, but the grossly exaggerated tales of violence in the city after Katrina won”t exactly endear the city to the tourists and residents it desperately needs to return.

To quote a friend”s first email after Katrina drowned his house: “Friends who are firemen, etc. say the human garbage that remains is looting every house and building and shooting at rescue personnel. Total garbage. Not going back to live there, regardless.”

Not what you would call a Chamber of Commerce Moment.

So the media is to blame, right? Sort of. But the real fault lies in the unimaginably irresponsible actions of Mayor Ray Nagin and police chief Eddie Compass, who spread these untrue tales of murder and mayhem across the national media – including an interview with Oprah where Compass said “some of the little babies (are) getting raped” and Nagin said of the Dome situation “they have people standing out there, have been in that frickin” Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.”"

Compass also apparently greatly exaggerated supposed encouters his cops had with armed gangs in the city. One story he related about cops following muzzle flashes at night to round up 30 armed thugs turned out to be completely untrue.

Why would the city”s leaders make up tales of violence? It was likely a tactic to hustle up the federal response. If New Orleans is an chaos, the troops might come quicker, I suppose.

But Nagin and Compass have likely done irreparable harm to the city”s image at exactly the time they need the support of the world the most. How eager will tourists be to return to a city where the mayor told of such violence? What motivation will residents who have uprooted themselves to Baton Rouge, Houston or elsewhere have to pull their kids out of school, quit their new jobs and move back to New Orleans if this is the image their own mayor has given them?

In the long term, this may be Nagin”s biggest failure of leadership. He”s set the image of New Orleans going forward. And this isn”t even to speak of this in terms of two black leaders helping promote the stereotype of blacks as murders, rapists and thugs.

The story: Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated

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