NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Breakfasting on beignets in the French Quarter on a Sunday morning, Dorothy Washington was a tourism official’s dream – she saw none of the scars that still mark most of New Orleans 11 months after Hurricane Katrina and she had heard nothing about six weekend shooting deaths.

“Really, I haven’t seen any sign of the hurricane or crime. The French Quarter’s a whole other world to itself,” said Washington, 26, of Philadelphia.

However, city leaders and people who make a living in the tourism industry fear that New Orleans is building a national reputation that could harm its fragile recovery.

That reputation was fostered by the June deaths of five teenagers gunned down while sitting in a sport utility vehicle, the subsequent assignment of state police and National Guard troops to help keep the peace in the city, and then this weekend’s six gunshot killings in 24 hours.

“It dampens the progress we are making since the hurricane,” said City Councilwoman Shelley Midura.

“This is not what most people in New Orleans encounter. Most people in New Orleans do not experience any type of violence. But this is the image that is being formed of the city and it will hurt us if it continues.”

This weekend’s spate of violence began Friday night when three brothers and a friend were killed several blocks away from the French Quarter in the Treme neighborhood. They were sitting on a porch when two men walked by, turned around and fired, police Superintendent Warren Riley said.

Two other people were gunned down in separate incidents hours later in other neighborhoods, one close to busy St. Charles Avenue, between a daiquiri shop and a restaurant that both had customers at the time.

No arrests had been made in the latest killings as of Sunday afternoon.

“On top of everything else, this is just what we need,” said Archie Casbarian, owner of Arnaud’s restaurant in the French Quarter. “So far I don’t think it’s hurting tourism. I haven’t heard any tourist expressing concern. But there’s no question I’m concerned.”

Police and City Council members expressed frustration at their inability to stop the bloodshed, but are eager to spread the word that the violence is usually drug related or retaliatory and rarely touches tourists.

“It bothers me tremendously because there are so many things that are great about New Orleans,” Midura said. “But this is what people will be reading about.”

Murder and other crimes plummeted in the first months after Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29 and flooded 80 percent of the city, forcing thousands of people to move out.

The population is estimated to be about half of the pre-storm total of about 455,000. But the body count is mounting with 78 homicides so far, 21 of them in July. In the first six months of last year, before the Katrina exodus, 134 people were killed.

“Our population is increasing, and our Police Department numbers are decreasing,” Riley said. “We have to get this department back up to a minimum of 1,600 police officers.” It currently is about 200 short of that goal.

On June 20, Gov. Kathleen Blanco sent 300 National Guardsmen and 60 state police troopers to assist the city. State police officers are patrolling the French Quarter and the Guard is covering the still thinly populated areas of the city.

The reinforcements freed city police to patrol more violent areas. Arrests were up and the murder rate appeared to be slowing.

However, the weekend’s killings showed that putting more people on the street is not the complete answer, Riley said. He blamed the city’s long-criticized school system, illiteracy, unemployment and “just basically ignorance” for contributing to the crimes.

“Unfortunately, the city of New Orleans is the victim of 40 or 50 years of neglect as it relates to the education system, as it relates to literacy,” Riley said at a news conference Saturday. “Obviously, there has been something that is feeding the mentality of our criminals that allows them to be brazen and vicious, and allows them to kill four and five people at a time.”

AP-ES-07-30-06 1625EDT



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