(5 of 10)
In fact, the closer you look at that grand-scale public housing experiment, the more complicated the results. Yes, young people seemed to commit less violent crime in better neighborhoods. But after a couple of years, the young men actually started deteriorating in other ways. They committed significantly more property crimes than the men who had stayed behind, the study found. "The presumption was, you get these kids in a good neighborhood and, by God, they're going to shape up," says Blumstein. "Well, in part they brought their old habits with them. In part they continued to interact with their old friends through riding public transit or whatever. And they were fish out of water. They didn't have the social control."
In the days before Katrina struck, B-Stupid Harris was in the parish jail--again--accused of shooting a man to death in Central City, a neighborhood between the Superdome and the Garden District, three months before. It was a familiar scenario. As a juvenile, Harris was arrested more than a dozen times, according to the Houston Chronicle. When he was 16, he was charged with killing a 24-year-old in the courtyard of a housing project. A grand jury indicted Harris as an adult on first-degree murder charges, but then two years went by while the court considered his mental competency. In time, the D.A.'s office dropped the charges after a key witness's testimony was deemed inadmissible. Harris went free in June 2004 and, less than a month later, was rearrested on a weapons charge. For the next two years, he cycled in and out of jail.
Finally, he was hit with another murder charge after the Central City shooting in May 2005. But on Aug. 22, a week before Katrina, the D.A.'s office dropped that charge too, after a witness refused to cooperate. "Without a witness, we can't prosecute a case," says New Orleans D.A. Eddie Jordan. Since Harris was still facing an aggravated-battery charge, he remained in jail through the storm, getting transferred to a cell in Shreveport, La. Then, on Nov. 3, on orders from a court judge, he was again released to await a future hearing date. Harris walked out of jail, his hometown in ruins and his friends and family scattered.
It would be a little more than a month before he was heard from again.
For the first two months after the storm, there was relative peace--even in Houston, to which 150,000 people had fled. Evacuees were involved in just three murders in September and October, Houston police say. "Could this mean that hurricanes are actually good for crime?" wondered criminologist Scharf.
But Texas officials were worried from the beginning. On Sept. 1, Governor Rick Perry's communications director e-mailed the state's homeland security director: "Question between you and I, at what point do we go from being compassionate to being taken advantage of (meaning, are they sending us folks we don't want?)," according to records released by the Governor's office.
As of early November, the FBI had located about 80 people on the list of 112. Some had applied for government aid. But most had come in contact with police in some way. A large number had congregated in Houston, just as their law-abiding neighbors had done.