My frustration with New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro led me to write this letter to Professor Derrick Bell, renowned legal scholar and professor at New York University School of Law. Is the Racial Preference Licensing Act the answer for NOLA? Food for thought...
We’ve never met, but I have been a fan of yours for many years. After Hurricane Katrina and deciding to return to New Orleans – with the not-so-gentle nudging of Bill Quigley – I began a full time civil rights practice. I was reminded this weekend of your writings in Faces at the Bottom of the Well, and thought I’d share with you a bit of 2009 New Orleans.
Last year, on the evening of February 5, 2008, several off duty employees of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) were assaulted and beaten by off-duty New Orleans police officers assigned to the Special Operations Division of the New Orleans Police Department. Before the assault began, the victims, who are all African American, were subjected to racial slurs and epithets. Just after the RTA employees decided to leave the Beach Corner Bar and Grill, the police officers then beat and kicked the RTA employees. On duty New Orleans police officers arrived on the scene to investigate; because the off duty officers responsible for the assault were actively interfering with the investigation, the investigating officers had to remove the victims from the scene of the crime and take them to the Third District station to interview them. Police officers searched the vehicles of the victims without probable cause and after claiming to find a firearm, charged one of the victims with carrying a concealed weapon, charges that were later dismissed. The current Orleans Parish District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, has confirmed the allegedly concealed firearm was ‘planted’ by one of the off-duty police officers. At least three of the victims required medical attention. Among the witnesses to the violent assault were Capt. Jeff Winn, who at the time was the commander of the Special Operations Division of the New Orleans Police Department, and the supervisor of the police officers responsible for the assault. Also present at the time of the racially motivated assault was Laura Cannizzaro, an Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney, and the daughter of the current Orleans Parish District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, and Ms. Cannizzaro’s boyfriend, also a NOPD Officer. Neither the New Orleans Police Department nor the Orleans Parish District Attorney charged any of the officers responsible for the assault with any crime. The Public Integrity Division of the New Orleans Police Department conducted a separate investigation which more than fourteen months after the incident resulted in the termination of one of the officers responsible for the assault, Joey Lapene. Just two months ago, D.A. Cannizzaro hired Joey Lapene to serve as one of his Lead Investigators, to canvass New Orleans’ cold case files, interview witnesses (in this 65% African-American populated city), and ride along with the police at crime scenes.
My father and I were discussing this incident yesterday, and I indicated to him that on today, LJI would write to Attorney General Eric Holder and request his office to intervene and investigate. The current U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, in his six year tenure, has not yet ‘found’ a civil rights violation in his 10 parish jurisdiction, and he has refused to investigate this incident.
My dad (age 71) just chuckled. He said to me, at least in the 50s you knew where you could go. “For the sake of my grandson, maybe these devils could just start posting signs,” he said. “Blacks Not Welcomed.”
Fifty years later, and what was old is new again. Racial Preference Licensing Act, indeed!
I sent the letter to Mr. Holder, but I’m wondering whether a 10% tax (adjusted for inflation from Ms. Crenshaw’s suggested 3%) might just be better.