The murder last August in New Orleans of Mandell Duplessis, 24, a seventh-grade dropout who had been dealing drugs since he was a teenager, made for a minor post-Katrina story. But it was a depressingly common one in a city with a homicide rate that was the highest in the nation in the last six months, and about 15 times the national average, reports the Los Angeles Times. Like many of the residents swept up in New Orleans’ latest wave of violence, Duplessis was young, black and versed in the drug trade.
So, too, was the man police accused of pulling the trigger, a convicted drug dealer named Garelle Smith. Though apparently strangers, their life stories were remarkably similar. Both were products of a city plagued by deep-rooted problems that the flood could not cleanse away: neighborhoods awash in guns and drugs; an older generation laid low by the first wave of crack cocaine; a dysfunctional criminal justice system hobbled by reluctant and frightened witnesses; and, for many hardened youth, a belief that the only way out was the Hail Mary pass of a rap career.