Residents are concerned, determined as carjackings take over the city


Brooklyn Joyner

A man protests gun violence in New Orleans at a demonstration Jan. 31. Residents of the city of New Orleans are concerned about the uptick in crime but determined to do something about it.

Arianna Blakely

Feb. 8, 2022 will be the first anniversary of one of Deirdre Barolak’s biggest fears coming true: getting carjacked.
“I thought I was going to die,” Barolak said.
The 58-year-old Broadway Street resident walked to her blue 2006 Honda Accord in the early morning of Feb. 8, 2021 to make her way to work. She noticed a man standing on the sidewalk nearby but thought nothing of it.
That is until she saw his gun pointed directly at her head seconds later.
The man pulled on her door handle repeatedly until she got out of the car. She reached for her purse and work bag before fleeing, but he demanded that she leave them behind. The gun was aimed behind her right ear. At her refusal, he fired, leaving a bullet hole in her car that remains today.
“I let go of my possessions,” she said. “He got in. I’m standing there in the driveway feeling completely helpless.”
The man drove away with her car, leaving Barolak stranded without her phone, keys, or wallet. The 23-year-old accused assailant has been caught and is being charged with attempted second-degree murder and armed robbery with a firearm. His court hearing was Monday, Feb. 7.
But Barolak’s story is like those of many today. Carjackings have been on the rise in New Orleans, where more than 35 people have been held at gunpoint and robbed of their vehicles, belongings and sense of safety this year, according to the New Orleans Police Department.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission Orleans Parish Crime Bulletin reported that carjackings have increased 400% since 2019 and 92% already since 2021.
Students of both Tulane and Loyola have been victims of carjackings, according to Loyola’s police chief Todd Warren. To stay safe, Warren advised students to be vigilant.
Loyola and Tulane police have increased patrols in surrounding areas in hopes of discouraging carjackers, Warren said. The department does security escorts to get people to locations safely as well, he said.
“Carjackers pick on people who don’t seem alert or are preoccupied, Warren said. “Don’t stay parked any longer than necessary, texting, talking on the phone, etc.,”
And carjackings can happen in a fleeting moment. Tracey Smith, 61, witnessed an attempted carjacking at her doorstep last month. She and her boyfriend had ordered food through Uber Eats Sunday, Jan. 30. Smith said around 8 p.m., the driver arrived at her Valmont Street home, and left his car running as he brought the food to Smith’s porch.
As soon as the driver left his car, Smith saw a black SUV pull up, and a man got out and jumped into the delivery driver’s car. The man tried to disengage the car’s emergency brake but couldn’t and instead drove away in his black SUV down Magazine Street. Smith’s boyfriend called the police immediately, but there was nothing they could do.
The uptick in crime has made law student and Loyola alumnus Emma Nesbitt, 22, anxious about her safety in the city.
She lives on the corner of Lowerline and Burthe Streets where a carjacking was reported on Dec. 15, 2021, according to a crime report from the Loyola University Police Department. With a crime taking place so close to home, Nesbitt said she is uneasy.
“It’s still in the back of my mind, especially at night,” Nesbitt said. “If I’m coming from a friend’s house or just anywhere and it’s nighttime and I have to get out of my car, I will walk very quickly to get inside.”
She said she drives in loops to avoid suspicious individuals circling the area just to be safe, and she’s equipped herself with a taser for protection.
Though traumatic, Barolak said she doesn’t dwell on her carjacking experience and encourages other victims to free themselves from the binds of their fear.
“This does not dominate my life by any stretch of the imagination because I refuse to let it,” she said.
Staff writer Chloe Caudle contributed to this report.