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New Orleanians want action

Rally in streets against string of violent crime

NEW ORLEANS -- More than 3,000 people marched on City Hall yesterday, seeking an end to the violence that has claimed nine lives in this struggling city since New Year's Day.

"A city that could not be drowned in the waters of a storm will not be drowned in the blood of its citizens," said the Rev. John C. Raphael Sr., one of several speakers from participating neighborhood groups.

Several marchers held signs reading "Silence is Violence," referring to police complaints that witnesses to some killings are not coming forward.

"Seeing a crime, seeing criminal activity, and not saying something is a crime. Tell somebody, even if they tell someone who can speak on your behalf. Get the word out," said Amy Brown, 35, who said she is rebuilding a home in the Central City neighborhood, home to some of the worst violence.

Mayor Ray Nagin, the object of many marchers' jeers and protest signs, watched from behind a podium but did not take part in the rally at the behest of organizers.

"We want to open a dialogue, but this was not the time. It would have been too big a shift from listening to the people to suddenly have a politician talking," said Baty Landis , a Tulane University professor and music club owner who helped organize the march.

At a brief news conference later, Nagin said the event marked "an incredibly powerful day."

"We pledge to you that we will get better , and we're going to start today," he said, adding that the city would not recover until residents felt safe.

The mayor did not take questions.

Members of the city's popular Hot 8 Brass Band -- whose drummer, Dinerral Shavers , was shot and killed in front of his family Dec. 28 -- led the march, chanting "We Shall Overcome" as they carried a banner that read "March For Survival, Walk With Us."

Marchers also carried pictures of independent filmmaker Helen Hill, gunned down in her home last week, and other victims.

"This is good. It's about time the people came out in support for putting a stop to this," said J.W. Jones, a police patrolman on horseback helping with crowd control.

In a black-majority city where most murder victims have been black, the crowd was predominantly white.

"It's not about white. It's not about black. I think now people are realizing that because everybody's blood is red," said Keqante Brown, 30, a black woman who said five family members have been murdered in the last 12 years.

On Wednesday, Governor Kathleen Blanco endorsed a plan announced earlier this week to increase patrols and use checkpoints to crack down on criminals. State Police and the National Guard have been supplementing city officers since June.

New Orleans had 161 homicides last year, the lowest total in 60 years. But the population was way down from its pre-Katrina total of 455,000, and is still only about 200,000.

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