Fighting Crime In Post-Katrina New Orleans

New Orleans has been submerged by a crime wave ever since the waters of Hurricane Katrina receded. Byron Pitts reports. CBS

Two years after Katrina, the "New Orleans sound" is a familiar melody of music, rebuilding and crime.

Gun sales remain brisk in a city with a deadly distinction: It has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation with 137 killings, so far this year, and counting.

Even those trying to rebuild New Orleans are under fire, reports CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts. In the past month, three contractors have been murdered.

"I like to think I'm not paranoid, but I'm scared," says Brian LeBlanc.

These days, LeBlanc works with a hammer in hand and an assault rifle at the ready.

What prompts him to have to bring gun to work?

"That's an act of desperation, no meanness intended," he says. "That's all self-defense."

Self-defense is forcing contractor Pablo Mejia to arm himself and his workers. His son, Pablo Mejia Jr., was at a house installing a lock when he was kicked, robbed and shot in the head.

"By us arming ourselves and arming our people, we are going to create a war in New Orleans. And that is what we don't want," says Mejia.

But Mejia says he has no other choice.

His son was a third-generation New Orleans resident. Soon, his widow, Luisa, will deliver a fourth generation, a little girl to be named Marianna.

Luisa Mejia says the murders are destroying the very people the city needs most.

"My husband was working, trying to make an honest living, supporting his family, trying to rebuild the city," she says.

Contractors like Mejia work in some of the hardest-hit areas and meanest streets of New Orleans. Many are newly arrived Latino workers who are often here illegally. Police say they have become prime targets.

Street thugs call the Hispanic contractors "Walking ATMs." New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley says it's because the contractors often carry large amounts of cash. But Riley insists, "We are making progress."

The police academy is about to graduate its largest class ever, and the Justice Department has made $30 million available to rebuild the city's criminal justice system.

"If New Orleans is going to get better, this is the time for it to get better," Riley says.

Is it better yet?

"We're working on it," he says.

But that is little comfort for Luisa Mejia. She's moving now. Thieves took her husband and their dreams.

"They destroyed my life and my daughter's life," she says.



New Orleans' health care system is still in shambles. Tomorrow, as we continue out series, we'll introduce you to a nurse who's had to become doctor, social worker and detective.
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