Some say faith won't cut it when it comes to the murder problem in New Orleans. They say religion is no longer present in most homes. Last year, New Orleans reported 2,748 violent crimes and 200 murders. This year, the city is on pace to meet those homicide numbers for 2012, retaining the sad distinction as the city with the nation's worst per-capita murder rate.
Experts like criminologist David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, recently spoke at an anti-violence symposium held at Loyola University New Orleans. Kennedy says a "street code" is dictating the violence in places like the Crescent City. That code says disrespect should be answered with violence and killing.
We have our own code. Four simple words remind everyone of the most basic and biblical premise of a civil society: "Thou Shalt Not Kill." This fall, the Archdiocese of New Orleans is posting yards signs printed with the words of the timeless commandment. Loyola, with its buildings fronting historic St. Charles Avenue and the iconic streetcar line, has posted the signs on both its campus. This is our street code. The signs, reflecting our Catholic and Jesuit mission, serve as a call to action. It's a code we can all unite under and a way to support a community in need of peaceful solutions. The signs are reminding us that violence and murder are not the answers to the problems we face.
Like other major U.S. cities, New Orleans and the greater metropolitan area are facing major challenges in terms of our criminal justice system. We know the solution to stopping the murders can't be solved with a simple yard sign. But that yard sign reminds us of the foundation we should build our lives -- and our city -- on. Without a strong foundation, our anti-violence strategies will never succeed.
Our own criminal justice professors at Loyola tell us that locking people up and throwing away the key is not the only answer to stop the killing. William E. Thornton, chair of the Loyola Department of Criminal Justice, says that broad-based community development and neighborhood intervention strategies offer important solutions to ending the cycle of violence as well as renewing hope. We cannot ignore the cancerous culture of killing born of illiteracy, unemployment, substance abuse and poverty. The well-being of all of our neighborhoods and communities is vital to preventing and reducing violence.
To that end, Loyola University is not stopping with the yard signs. This is our rallying cry and the foundation to build solutions. Our Catholic university serves as a source for alternative and creative solutions to combat the city's crime rates and to make the community a better place. On Oct. 26, Loyola hosted a daylong symposium featuring Kennedy along with other local and national criminal justice experts. Thought leaders like Harvard criminologist Rob Sampson told us that the more neighbors demonstrate care for one another, the lower the level of violence. Other experts reiterated the fact that community-based solutions must address the needs of disadvantaged families and provide practical resources for at-risk communities. That's important to New Orleans where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a quarter of residents live in poverty.
Reminding people of those four words from the Bible may seem naive to some. But to a community desperate for solutions, the message "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is one way to unite in faith, safety and peace. Killing each other is not acceptable to our community under God. We have not forgotten the code we live by.
Rev. Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., is the president of Loyola University New Orleans. He is a founding member of the New Orleans Ethics Review Board and has lectured internationally on medicine, ethics and health care.