How much murder can you tolerate as a neighborhood? It isn't only a question being asked in Chicago, where a particularly violent night claimed the life of a 27-year-old man Wednesday, or in Miami where violence has encroached on children's ability to travel safely to and from school, but in New Orleans, the subject of a new documentary, "Shell Shocked."
According to a report released last month by the Center for American Progress, Louisiana has been hit harder by gun violence than any other state in the country. As of 2010, Louisiana had the worst gun-murder rate in the nation -- 9.5
murders per 100,000 people, more than two-and-a-half times higher than the national average of 3.6 murders per 100,000 people.
The epidemic, as "Shell Shocked" director, John Richie, calls it, has plagued New Orleans youth in particular for years. And in 2008, Richie and producer Jonathan Jahnke began documenting it.
"I was shocked at how easy it was for them to talk about, and it was chilling how normal a part of everyday life they considered it to be," Richie told New Orleans' Times-Picayune of the teens he interview for the film.
According to the paper, Richie began the project by handing out seven cameras to teens and children living in different neighborhoods across New Orleans and asking them to shoot scenes from their world, through their own eyes. The finished product, which is being screened around Louisiana, features those confessionals, alongside crime scene footage, testimonials from community leaders and activists and clips from local media covering the devastation.
"There's not any issue more important today, and I refuse to be aware of this problem that our urban youth face and sit back and do nothing," Richie said, adding that the film will be used in an ongoing process designed to raise awareness and funding for effective anti-crime and violence youth programs in New Orleans.
Check out a trailer for "Shell Shocked" above.