NEW ORLEANS — Sometimes the sadness gets too heavy for Tamara Jackson, a victim advocate in a city dubbed the nation’s homicide capital.
“I just need to turn off my feelings,” Jackson said. “If you don’t do that, I’m emotionally drained and need to make myself valuable and useful to the next family.”
Victim advocate Tamara Jackson is often one of the first to respond to murder scenes and acts as a liaison between investigators and victims’ families. (Fox News Digital)
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More than 50 people have been killed in New Orleans so far this year. Three died in a chase and a shootout. A 15-year-old girl was shot through a wall during an overnight stay. Two siblings were shot dead at an intersection less than a year after their younger brother was also shot.
Jackson works for the coroner’s office and is sent to the scene of as many murders as possible. She comforts the families of the victims and helps guide them through the legal system.
“Her grief and trauma need to be addressed,” she said. “And I’m a therapist. Although I am responsive, I can deliver that crisis intervention even when it is most needed.”
Jackson knows what it’s like to be in the family of the victims – her father was murdered almost 23 years ago.
“I was one of those people,” she said. “So I hate to say I understand because every situation is different … but I have some working knowledge of how that can be because I’ve felt that way.”
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Violent crime has increased dramatically in New Orleans in recent years. The city had most homicides per capita among major US cities in September, briefly earning it the title of the nation’s homicide capital. Just three years earlier, New Orleans recorded its lowest number of homicides — 119 — in nearly half a century.
“We don’t have the population that we had before Katrina, and we’re still experiencing tragedy after tragedy,” Jackson said. “The violence is still going on and people are still dying.”
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Mourning families may have questions about the crime that police can’t answer, Jackson said. She sees her role as bridging the gap between two key partners in the investigation.
“I can collect information from the families and share it with law enforcement and vice versa,” she said. “The family is an important ally because they know it [the victim]good or bad.”
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Jackson is also executive director of Silence is Violence, a community organization founded in 2007 to promote safety and youth engagement in New Orleans.
She said she’s forged valuable relationships within law enforcement that she didn’t have 16 years ago. But she also encounters bureaucratic hurdles when working with the government. Her brief stint with the mayor’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention was interrupted during a funding freeze, Jackson said.
“The community will be there first before law enforcement,” she said. “So we need to build stronger communities, healthier communities.”
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On a good day there are no murders for Jackson to respond to. Those days are getting rarer and rarer.
“I’ve had days where we’ve had six [homicides]and we all move the same people from one scene to the next,” she said.
Tamara Jackson, left, sees herself as the liaison between law enforcement and victims’ families in New Orleans. (Tamara Jackson)
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Jackson has a ritual after dealing with a particularly difficult scene. Sitting in her SUV, she takes a minute to breathe deeply and says a prayer.
But another family is waiting, and once she’s recharged and ready to give the job “110% back,” Jackson puts her car into power and drives to the nearest crime scene, where she’ll reunite with the coroner and homicide detective.
And they will do it again.
Hannah Ray Lambert is Associate Producer/Writer at Fox News Digital Originals.