Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Young Athlete Badly Beaten in Hate Crime in Morgan City Area

Blair Irvin is an aspiring professional athlete from the small Louisiana town of Patterson, near Morgan City on the Gulf Coast. He believed that racial divides in our society were mostly a thing of the past. But that changed on August 14, when he was badly beaten outside an all-white bar not far from his home, by attackers who shouted racial epithets at him as they beat him, while a crowd of at least thirty people watched.

Irvin had gone to a mostly white college – Kansas State University – and his ex-wife and much of his social circle is white. On August 14, according to Irvin, a white woman who he had met two weeks before, named Denise Aucoin, called him from a nearby bar named Charlene’s Roadhouse and asked if he would give her a ride home. Irvin was a bit confused as to why she called him, but he agreed to come. Irvin says it now seems clear that he was set up – that they invited him to the bar specifically to beat him.

When he got to the bar, he found Aucoin with her brother and a friend, and told her it appeared that she didn’t need a ride. Irvin left, but Aucoin and her friends followed him out. As a crowd gathered to watch – including Charlene Estay, the owner of the bar – Aucoin and her friend Bengie Lafleur and brother Robert Taylor savagely beat Irvin, breaking his jaw in two places. As they beat him, Irvin says Aucoin, Lafleur and Taylor yelled racial epithets at him, telling him that “(N-word)‘s don’t belong here,” and bragging that they had “whipped the Black off your ass.”

None of the onlookers, including the bar owner, called the police. “I almost died out there,” he says. “They left me for dead.”

Irvin says he still feels traumatized. He says he has lost 15 pounds since the incident, and has regular dizzy spells. The nature of his injuries have shattered his hopes of a career in sports – he cancelled an upcoming tryout with the Florida Tuskers, a UFL team based in Orlando. Irvin also complains of fears as he goes about his day. “I can't walk in a store without getting scared by people walking behind me,” he says.

On August 18, Aucoin, Lafleur and Taylor were arrested and charged with second-degree battery and hate crimes. Their bonds were set at $150,000 each. Employees reached by phone at Charlene’s Roadhouse refused comment.

Pictured above: Top: Blair Irvin. Left: Bar owner Charlene Estay.

Thursday Secondline to Save Charity Hospital

From our friends at SaveCharityHospital.com:

On Thursday, September 2, 2010, join SaveCharityHospital.com, the Treme Brass Band, The Hot 8 Brass Band, Free Agents Brass Band, Original Brass Band and Pinstripe Brass Band, on a secondline/march from Charity Hospital to City Hall to deliver thousands of your petitions to Mayor Landrieu.

The march begins at 4:45PM, at 1532 Tulane Ave.

Help us keep our word and make Mitch Landrieu keep his. We told him we would get 10 000 people to sign the petition cards to Reopen Charity Hospital as a hospital. He said he would listen and has an open mind.

We are more than halfway there! Help us reach our goal.

Reopening Charity Hospital is the fastest, most sensible and sustainable way to restore healthcare, jobs, a state-of-the-art teaching hospital, and economic development to New Orleans. We can build it without further borrowing – with money already in hand. Current plans lack funding and will cause unknown delays.

Reopening Charity Hospital also saves an historic neighborhood by providing an alternate, less destructive, opportunity for the VA Medical Center to build next to Claiborne Avenue – closer to the heart of the medical district.

Reopening Charity Hospital is the faster, less expensive, less destructive, and sustainable solution!

Tell Your Friends!

Photo above of 2009 Secondline to Save Charity by Abdul Aziz.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The September 1874 White League Coup D’état Against the Reconstruction Government

The Louisiana Museum of African American History Lecture Series Presents:

The September 1874 White League Coup D’état Against the Reconstruction Government

The story behind the White Supremacy Monument:

A Lecture by Malcolm Suber

In 1891 the white ruling class of New Orleans erected a monument on Canal Street to commemorate the September 14, 1874 military coup that temporarily overthrew the reconstruction government. The so-called “Battle of Liberty Place“ was carried out by the White League. The White League was the military arm of the Democratic Party whose sole purpose was to force Black reconstruction politicians and their white republican allies from office. The White League seized political power for three days until this coup was put down by the Federal troops. Come hear about the significance of this event and the lasting historic and contemporary meaning of the white supremacy monument which still stands at the foot of Iberville Street.

Saturday September 11, 2010 1:00pm - 3:00pm New Orleans Public Library Auditorium 219 Loyola Ave For further Info: 504-931-7614

Friday, August 27, 2010

Scraping by on Mud Cookies

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug 27, 2010 (IPS) - At six in the morning in Cite Soleil, the poorest zone of Haiti's capital city, the sun is already up. It's the start of another workday for Lurene Jeanti, making cookies from mud, butter and salt. She's been mixing the ingredients on the side of the road to sell to her neighbours for the past eight years.

"The mud helps me take care of my children," she says matter-of-factly.

Jeanti is a slight, muscled woman, one of millions of Haitians who have migrated from the countryside to Port-au- Prince over the past decade. She left her hometown to find a way to feed her five kids.

"My children have no father. I am the mother and the father of them," Jeanti told IPS. The father is gone and Haiti has no statutes protecting women who are abandoned with their children.

Jeanti grew up in Anse D'Hainault, a remote town in Haiti's southwest near Grand Anse, known as the "city of poets". Ezer Villaire, one of the great Haitian poets, was born and raised there.

Unlike other parts of rural Haiti, trees still populate the mountains and little plateaus where yams and cacao are grown. "Have you visited Anse D'Hainault? It's really nice. You should go," she told IPS. "I used to farm. I am a farmer."

But the income from farming small crops wasn't enough. Unemployment rates rise to 80-90 percent in much of the countryside.

Now Jeanti lives in Cité Saint Georges, a tiny district within Cité Soleil. The concrete canal running through the neighbourhood is full to the brim with plastic bottles.

She sits in a dirty corner near the entrance to a narrow corridor where people come to buy mud cookies or a gallon of water from a neighbour. Most the houses are made with concrete blocks and unfinished.

During her first two years in Port-Au-Prince, Jeanti managed the products she brought from Anse D'hainault. But it wasn't enough, so she started baking and selling mud cookies herself.

"I buy two bags of mud for 500 gourdes (12.57 U.S.). And I made 100 gourdes (2.50 U.S.)," she told IPS.

Mud cookies are big business. The mud mine is located in the central of Haiti. A cookie-maker like Jeanti has to buy the mud from middle-man who purchases it from someone with access to the mine, then brings it to Port-Au-Prince.

Jeanti wants to go back to her town Anse D'hainault to take of her mother. She is the only daughter. "I want to come back to my home. My mother is getting old. I have to come back to take of her. I am her unique daughter," she explained.

But she is worried about how she is going to support her five children, plus her mother. "I have one problem. I can't come back with 2,500 gourdes to Anse D'ahainault. It is not going to help me. But I am getting old as my mom. I'm 49. And… I have to come back to Anse D'Hainault," she said.

Jeanti knows her story is like those of many Haitian single mothers. "I am not the only one who is making mud cookies to sell. There are many women here who are doing the same business like I do to support their children." She points to a group of women drying mud cookies on top of the roof.

The voice of Lurene Jeanti is the voice of many hundreds of thousands Haitian women who left their towns to come to Port-Au-Prince in the hope that life will smile on them. With 1.5 million people living in tent camps months after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, it doesn't appear their situation will improve anytime soon.

While 5.3 billion dollars was pledged by international donors to aid in the rebuilding, less than 20 percent has been disbursed.

Best regards
Wadner Pierre
Photojournalist, Haiti
blog: www.wadnerpierre.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

St. Tammany Sheriff Reforms Conditions, But Serious Problems Remain

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:

St. Tammany Sheriff Issues New Policies for Suicidal Prisoners - ACLU Investigation Prompted Changes

After the ACLU of Louisiana reported that St. Tammany Parish officials were keeping suicidal prisoners in cages three feet square for extended periods of time, the Parish has now agreed to provide more humane treatment for the most vulnerable prisoners held there. Last month, the ACLU called upon Sheriff Jack Strain to stop keeping suicidal prisoners in “squirrel cages” clad in short “hot pants” and with inadequate access to bathroom facilities. These cages, one-fourth the size of those required for dogs, sometimes held prisoners for days and even weeks at a time.

New policies adopted by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office provide that instead of the cages, suicidal prisoners will now be housed in a holding cell monitored by guards, where prisoners will have access to bathrooms, potable water, and beds. Prisoners on suicide watch will be given jumpsuits and clothed as modestly as possible. The cages will be used only as a last resort in emergency situations, only on order of a doctor when no alternative is available, and for no more than ten hours at a time. Additionally, a new position has been created as a “jail inspector,” who will oversee conditions in the jail.

“These changes are long past due,” said Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. “No one should be held in the conditions that existed in St. Tammany Parish jail. It's unfortunate that it took public exposure of these serious problems in order to have them corrected, but we're relieved that conditions should improve for the most vulnerable people in the Sheriff's custody.”

Additional problems not directly addressed by these changes include inadequate sanitary supplies for women, many of whom have been denied menstrual pads and report bleeding on themselves for several days.

“The new jail inspector will, we hope, address other systemic problems with the St. Tammany Parish jail,” Esman continued. “We welcome these reforms and will continue to monitor conditions with the hope of long-term improvement.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mayor Landrieu and Police Superintendent Serpas Release Plan to Rebuild the NOPD

Today, Mayor Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Serpas released a 65-point list of steps they are taking - or have taken - to rebuild the NOPD. We have posted the document on our site.

While we welcome any serious efforts at change in the NOPD, we remain skeptical that these changes are an attempt to deflect the movement for real change in the department. Some of these so-called reforms point out how far we still have to go. For example, we're glad that they are instituting a policy of termination for "materially false statements with the intent to deceive" but concerned that something so basic needs to be added.

We hope these changes are the beginning of real change for the NOPD.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Press Conference

From the New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation:

On Tuesday, August 24, the New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation will have a press conference, with the theme New Orleans has not finished rebuilding.

WHY: We must never forget Hurricane Katrina victims, who died without warning. We must remember the human cost of the destruction and the reason for the destruction – levee failure. The New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation is hosting its Fifth Annual Katrina Commemoration March/Secondline to commemorate loved ones lost during Hurricane Katrina and the Great Flood. In addition to a commemoration of lives lost, we march to support those who are working to rebuild and restore our community and environment to its healthy entirety. It is very difficult to restore our community when so much of New Orleans – Uptown, Downtown and New Orleans East- needs serious infrastructure upgrades.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, with oil washing ashore from the BP Drilling Disaster and another hurricane season upon us, the hard times in New Orleans keep getting harder. Poor decision-making; from inadequate levees and flood control to unsafe drilling, have devastated local communities, economies and the environment. It’s time to make better decisions. We know we need restoration on both sides of the levee to fully recover. Restoring the coastal wetlands protecting our communities from storm surge is key to a resilient, sustainable New Orleans. We have learned from the past that maintaining sufficient wetlands will protect coastal Louisiana communities in the future. This is why we need the nation’s support to restore our coast and protect New Orleans, a unique American treasure.

WHO: Sess 4-5, CEO Nuthin But Fire Records and the Co-Founder, New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation; Keilen "Shrimp Man" Williams, The Only African-American Shrimp Brand In the U.S.; Derrick Morrison, Committee To Reopen Charity, Monique Harden, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and Sharon Jasper, Housing Activist and Freedom Fighter; Amanda R. Moore, National Wildlife Federation; and Tracie L. Washington, Louisiana Justice Institute.

WHAT: Press Conference To Focus on Rebuilding Our Environment and Community.

WHERE: 3400 Florida Avenue - The Florida Desire Mental Health Clinic (Corner of Desire Street and Florida Avenue).

WHEN: 10:00am, Tuesday August 24.

Mr. Reggie Dance, P: 973-353-8413, Rdance@therdprgroup.com,
Ms. Upenda Glover, C: 504-496-2668, katrinacommemoration@email.com

ABOUT THE NEW ORLEANS KATRINA COMMEMORATION FOUNDATION: The New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation is a local grassroots organization formed to commemorate loved ones lost during Hurricane Katrina and the Great Flood. The annual commemoration march secondline supports the community's hard work for housing justice, education justice, healthcare justice, law enforcement justice and environmental justice.

ABOUT THE HIP HOP CAUCUS: The Hip Hop Caucus organizes young people in urban communities to be active in elections, policymaking, and service projects. The Hip Hop Caucus is a member of the Black Leadership Forum and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. With nearly 700,000 members around the country, in 2008, the Hip Hop Caucus created the “Respect My Vote!” campaign with recording artists T.I. and Keyshia Cole.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION: The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization. We work with more than 4 million members, partners and supporters in communities across the country to protect and restore wildlife habitat, confront global warming and connect with nature.


Monday, August 16, 2010

The Justice Revius O. Ortique, Jr. Civil Rights Awards Banquet

The Louisiana Justice Institute is holding its first gala fundraiser, the Justice Revius Ortique Civil Rights Awards Banquet at the Xavier University Ballroom, Thursday, August 26, at 7:00pm. Proceeds from this event will support for Louisiana Justice Institute programs such as Gulf Coast Advocacy and Claims, High School and Post-Secondary Education Internships, Education Advocacy, Project Transparency and more.

Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore' will deliver the keynote address.

"We need the community's support so we can continue to fight for the people who need help the most," said Tracie Washington, Managing Director of LJI.

This year the event will honor national, state, and local Champions of Civil Rights and Social Justice such as Rep. Maxine Waters, Shirley Sherrod, Alden McDonald, Bishop Charles Jenkins, Rev. Tyronne Edwards, Mary Joseph, Jerome Smith, Bill Quigley, and Don Hubbard.

"We are proud to honor some our most courageous Civil Rights champions. They inspire our work at the Louisiana Justice Institute each day," said Jacques Morial, Co-Director of LJI.

The event will feature cuisine from some of New Orleans' finest dining establishments, including Dooky Chase, Lil Dizzy's, Galitoires, and a host of others. This event will also feature networking, entertainment and libations. Individual Banquet tickets are available at a cost of $100. Patron Sponsorships may be purchased at a variety of levels including $500, $1,000, $1,500, and $2,500. As a convenience, all tickets and table sponsorships may be purchased online by visiting LJI's website at louisianajusticeinstitute.org.

For more information on the Awards Banquet contact Shaena Johnson at 504.872.9134 or shaena@louisianajusticeinstitute.org.

Happy New Orleans? Kaiser Report Reveals Two Cities Five Years After The Storm

By Lance Hill, Ph.D., Executive Director, Southern Institute for Education and Research

Today the Times-Picayune published an editorial “New Orleans Is A Happy Place to Be,” drawing on the recent Kaiser Foundation survey. The Kaiser survey did reflect increased optimism but it is a frank overview of the problems and racial disparities that bedevil the recover. Moreover, the survey did not interview any of the 100,000 people that the Census Bureau estimates remain displaced from the city. A 2008 Louisiana Family Recovery Corps survey indicated that 75% of displaced African Americans want to return but could not afford moving costs, housing, and had no employment prospects.

Kaiser plans to release the total datasets which would allow us to see the racial breakouts of all the responses, but they have released some additional data that pertains to the need for affordable housing: for example, 42 percent of African American respondents said they were renting their residence, nearly double the 24 percent of whites who rent.

Here is the link to the new Kaiser Foundation report: New Orleans Five Years After The Storm. Much of the local media has spun this as a feel-good report in which New Orleanians are more concerned with the Horizon Oil Spill than with the lingering effects of Katrina. In fact, a slight majority of respondents simply said they thought the oil spill “will cause more damage” than Katrina, which could be taken as an assessment of the larger Gulf-Coast impact of the spill. Indeed, seventy percent of the respondents think that America has forgotten the challenges facing New Orleans.

Some of the responses were broken out by race and they provide some useful insights into the difference of opinions between black and white storm victims and the different ways they continue to experience the impact of the storm.

From the report:

Compared to whites, African Americans in Orleans Parish…

--are more likely to say that both their own lives (42% vs. 16%) and the city in general (66% vs. 49%) have not yet recovered from Hurricane Katrina;

--are more than twice as likely to be living in a low-income household (61% compared to 24%);

--are more likely to report having had trouble paying for food or housing over the past year (both 31% vs. 8%);

--are more likely to report being uninsured (25% vs. 10%) and to have had problems paying medical bills (29% vs. 13%);

--are substantially more likely to report worries, such as the 64% who say they are very worried their children won’t be able to get a good education, compared to 18% of whites, and 59% who say they are worried health care services might not be available when needed (vs. 21% for whites);

--are more likely to see the city as a bad place to raise children (51% vs. 35%).

Kalamu ya Salaam: "What To Do With The Negroes?"

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Katrina, we encourage you to read these reflections on race and recovery by brilliant poet, writer, organizer and educator Kalamu Ya Salaam. Please see Kalamu Ya Salaam's blog: wordup.posterous.com for this entire piece, as well as poetry, essays, and other writings.

There is a secret hidden in the heart of New Orleans, a secret hidden in plain sight but ignored by all but the secret citizens themselves. Before Bienville arrived in this area in 1718, Native American scouts informed the adventurous Frenchman that there were groups of Africans—they probably said “blacks”—living over there in their own communities and that these self-ruled women and men would not talk to whites.

Although how the Native Americans knew that the blacks would not talk to whites remains unexplained, the report seems accurate on the face of it. After all, close to three centuries later in post-Katrina New Orleans there remain a number of us who are reluctant to talk truthfully to outsiders—not out of fear of repercussions or because of an inability to speak English but rather we remain reticent on the general principle that there’s no future in such conversations.

Indeed, I am probably breaking ranks simply by writing this although what I have to say should be obvious. Whether considering our 18th century ancestors who inhabited the swamps of the North American southeast from Florida to Louisiana, or unsuccessfully trying to question a handful of staunch holdouts among the Mardi Gras Indians, there have always been blacks who were both proud of being black and determined to be self-determining—not just constitutionally free as any other 21st century U.S. citizen but independent of any higher authority whether that authority be legal, religious or cultural; whether that authority be other blacks, wealthy whites, politicians of any race or economic status, or whatever, none of that mattered. We recognized no higher earthly authority than ourselves.

Sometimes when it looks like we are doing nothing but waiting on the corners, sitting quietly on a well-worn kitchen chair sipping a beer in the early afternoon shade, sometimes those of us people pass by as we hold court on one of the many neutral grounds, i.e. medians, separating the lanes of major streets and avenues in Central City, sometimes those blank stares you see at a bus stop, sometimes what you are witnessing is not what you think it is.

We are not waiting for the arrival of a messiah or for a government handout. We expect nothing from our immediate future but more of the past.

Our talk will seem either fatalistic or farcical, and certainly will not make sense to you. The weary blues etched into our cheeks and coal-coloring the sagging flesh beneath our eyes; the mottled black, browns, greys and streaks of blond or red on our woolly heads and the aroma of anger clinging to our clothes has nothing to do with our failures or with failed expectations. We never anticipated that we would be understood or loved in this land ruled by men with guns, money and god complexes.

No, what you see when you look at us looking back at you is a resolve to keep on living until we die or until someone kills us.

* * *

The history of New Orleans is replete with the inexplicable in terms of how black people lived here. In the late 1700’s before the Americans arrived as a governing force in 1804, a nominally-enslaved black man could be seen walking to his home, which he owned, carrying a rifle, which he owned, with money of his own in his pockets—yes, I know it seems impossible but the impossible is one of the roots of New Orleans culture.

Under the Spanish there were different laws and customs. We had been offered freedom in exchange for joining the Spanish in fighting the English. Join the army and get emancipated—all you had to do was shoot white men… and avoid getting shot.

The Black Codes guaranteed Sundays were ours. All the food, handicrafts, services or whatever we could sell, we could keep all the proceeds. If you study the colonial administrative records you will notice that our economy was so rich that the city merchants petitioned the governor to be able to sell on Sundays (like the slaves did).

Prior to the Civil War the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that one man had to pay back money he borrowed from a slave. Not to mention, a shocked Mrs. Latrobe, the wife of the architect who designed and built New Orleans waterworks—imagine “…how shocked I was to see three Mulatto children and their mother call upon me and say they were the children of Henry.” Henry was the dearly departed son of Mrs. Latrobe. He died of yellow fever and was buried in New Orleans in 1817, three years before his father who also died of yellow fever and was buried next to his son in St. Louis Cemetery. Much like many, many people today, Mrs. Latrobe had no idea about what was really going on in New Orleans.

You can read the papers all day and sit in front the TV all night and never get the news about a significant and shocking subculture in New Orleans. A subculture that not only is unknown to you but a subculture that really does not care to be known by most of you.

Our independently produced subculture is responsible for the roux that flavors New Orleans music, New Orleans cuisine, New Orleans speech idioms, New Orleans architecture, the way we walk down here and especially how we celebrate life even in the face of death. From the African retentions of VooDoo spiritual observances to the musical extensions from Congo Square, this subculture has made New Orleans world renown.

I don’t remember the black sufferers ever receiving a thank you or a blessing. Instead of recognizing our contributions, the black poor and those who identify with them have been demonized. When the waters came, those who were largely affected and eventually washed away were overwhelmingly black. Our saviors gave us one way tickets out of town. Four years later there have been no provisions to bring blacks “back here”—I say back here instead of back home because “back here” is no longer “back home.” Post Katrina New Orleans is not even a ghost of what our beloved city was.

What is gone is not just houses or pictures on the wall, not just the little neighborhood store we used to frequent, or the tavern where we hung out on warm nights; not just the small church in the middle of the block or even the flower bed alongside the house; not just the old landmarks or some of the schools we used to attend, not just the jumble of overcrowded habitations or the storied stacks of bricks we called the ‘jects (aka projects), housing schemes we knew by name and reputation. No, it is not just brick and wood that is missing from the landscape. What is gone, what we miss most of all is us.

We the people are not here. What is left is an amputated city ignoring its stumps. Moreover, even if it were possible, our city does not desire to re-grow or replace what was “disappeared.” Good riddance is what many of the new majority says.

“Good riddance” is sometimes proclaimed using the coded language of “a smaller footprint” (reductively, smaller footprint means fewer black butts). At other times, “good riddance” is spewed forth as the uncut racist cant of “lock all those savages up.”

* * *

Although poor blacks controlled none of the city’s major resources, we were blamed for everything that was wrong—from a failing school system to rising crime; from ineffective and corrupt political leadership to an “immoral” street culture of drugs, sagging pants and loud music; from a rise in sexually transmitted diseases to deteriorating neighborhoods. When responsible citizens wrote to the Times Picayune daily newspaper suggesting what ought be done do address these concerns, high on the list of panaceas was our incarceration, as if so many—indeed, far, far too many of us—were not already in prison.

How convenient to ignore the glaring statistic: the largest concentration of black women in New Orleans is located at Xavier University and the largest concentration of their age-compatible, male counterparts exists across the expressway in the city jail—dorms for the women, cells for the men. The truth is disorienting to most: what has been tried thus far, whether education or jail, has not worked.

The people who complain the most about crime in the city, or should I say the voices that we most often hear in the media complaining about crime are from the people who are the least affected.

However, worse than the name-calling is the fact that New Orleans is now a city that forgot to care. In the aftermath of the greatest flood trauma ever suffered by a major American city, New Orleans is devoid of public health in general and mental health care in particular.

In the entire Gulf South area that was directly affected by Katrina, only in New Orleans were 7,000 educators fired. The Federal Government guaranteed the salaries of teachers in all other areas and guaranteed the same for New Orleans teachers but the state of Louisiana made a decision to decimate the largest block of college educated blacks, the largest block of regular voters, the largest block of black home owners.

The denouement was that the entire middle class black strata was disenfranchised. Black professionals, the majority of whom lived in flooded areas in New Orleans East, whether government employees or independent professionals (doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants and the like), black professionals no longer had a client base. Most professionals could not re-establish themselves in New Orleans. What was left of the black New Orleans social infrastructure was nothing nice.

* * *

How does anyone explain why in post-racial America economic inequality gaps are widening, not closing?

In a city that prior to Katrina had one of the highest rates of native residents, why are so many young adults leaving rather than staying?

Why is spending nearly twice as much per pupil to service half the pre-storm population called a success in education innovation, especially when the current status quo is economically unsustainable, not to mention that comparable pre-storm health care and retirement benefits are no longer offered to teachers?

I don’t even know how to identify what is happening to us without sounding like a cliché of class warfare, without sounding bitter about racial reconciliation or ungrateful for all the charitable assistance New Orleans has received.

I know that my voice is a minority voice. I know I don’t represent all blacks, nor most blacks, nor educated blacks, nor your black friend, nor Malia and Sasha, nor… I know it’s just plain “stupid” to talk like I’m talking…

I know. I know we blacks are not blameless. Indeed, we are often a co-conspirator in our own debasement. Too often we act out in ways for which there is no sensible justification. Yes, I know about corrupt politicians and a seeming endless line of street level drug dealers, about rampant gun violence and an always for pleasure, 24/7 party attitude.

But amidst all our acknowledged shortcomings, I ask one simple question: who else in this city has contributed so much for so long to this unique gumbo we call New Orleans culture?

Like the state of Texas finally admitting that “abstinence only” sex education has led to higher, not lower, rates of teen pregnancy, unless we materially address the realities of our social situation, we may find that the short-sighted solutions we have put in place will, in the long run, worsen rather than solve our problems.

* * *

Most days I am resolved to soldier on, to suck it up and keep on keeping on, but sometimes, sometimes I feel like Che Guevara facing a summary execution squad of counter-insurgency soldiers.

Sometimes after working all day in the public schools or after hearing Recovery School District administrators refusing to allow us to teach an Advanced Placement English Class because “we don’t have any students capable of that kind of work”; or sometimes after finding out that a teacher we worked with last year is no longer employed not because she was not a great teacher but rather because (as they told her without a note of shame or chagrin in their voices): you are being surplused (i.e. terminated) because we can get two, young, straight-out-of-college, Teach-For-America instructors for the same price we paid your old, experienced ass; sometimes when the city accidentally on purpose bulldozes a house that the same city issued a building permit to the couple that is struggling to rehabilitate that property and this happens while this insane city administration that, four years after the flood, has yet to come up with a coherent plan to address the 40,000 or so blighted properties that dominant the Ninth Ward (Upper Nine, Lower Nine and New Orleans East) landscape; sometimes, I just want to calmly recite Che’s command: go ahead, shoot!

Just kill us and get it over with.

* * *
But until then: a luta continua (the struggle continues)!

Photo above by Peter Nakhid.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happening Here: An Evening of Theater, Poetry, Film and Food

Louisiana Justice Institute encourages you to check out the first local screening of Land of Opportunity, a multi-platform documentary project that follows people from different walks of life through the post-Katrina reconstruction of this city.

During the last four and a half years, footage and short pieces from the film have been used as tools for organizing and education and even featured in art exhibits in New Orleans and across the country. According to the filmmakers:
After years of filming, we and our partners want to share this work with our friends and family: the entire New Orleans community! Please join us as we present this evening of performances and film to designed to inspire, educate, and galvanize.
This event also features the brilliant poet Sunni Patterson and The New Orleans Day Labor Theater of Revolution.

Happening Here: An Evening of Theater, Poetry, Film and Food
Saturday, August 14th
5:00pm - 9:00pm
Warren Easton High School, 3019 Canal Street
This is a free event. Food will be available for purchase.

Happening Here is organized in partnership with JoLu Productions, New Orleans Video Access Center, PATOIS: The New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival, The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, and Survivors Village.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ColorLines: Here’s Where BP is Dumping Its Oil Spill Waste

Some illuminating graphs (and explanatory notes) from our friends at ColorLines Magazine:

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved nine landfills in the Gulf Coast to receive the waste products from the country’s largest oil spill. Five of those nine landfills are located in communities where a majority of residents are people of color.

The sites are in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi and are regular municipal landfills, not designed for hazardous waste, according to the Miami Herald. That’s because waste management officials claim the debris is not hazardous. So far, the landfills have received 40,000 tons of “oily solids” and waste from the clean up of the disaster, including soiled gloves.

The analysis of the landfill sites and racial data was done by Robert D. Bullard, a prominent figure in the environmental justice movement and director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center. Calls to the EPA were not returned.

The only place that has successfully halted dumping at their landfill is Harrison County, Mississippi, where 71 percent of residents are white.

In Florida, white residents were incredulous that their town of Spring Hill was picked for dumping oil waste —- until they realized the EPA had printed a typo. The federal agency didn’t mean Spring Hill, where whites make up 94 percent of the town’s residents. They meant the Springhill Regional Landfill in Campbellton, a town of just 221 people, where 60 percent of residents are African American.

The waste is being hauled around the Gulf Coast by three giants in the business of waste management: Heritage Environmental Services in Louisiana; Waste Management Inc. on the Louisiana-Mississippi border and in Florida; and Republic Services in Florida.

As Bullard pointed out in his analysis, the decision about where to dump BP oil waste is no surprise. Black and Latino communities in the South have long been “sacrifice zones.”

An investigation by the Associated Press in June found that “the handling and disposal of oily materials was haphazard at best.” Reporters found a truck leaking tar balls, sand and water on a main beach road and also oily sand sitting in an uncovered waste container in a state park.

Monday Candlelight Vigil for Adolph Grimes III, Thursday Meeting for Consent Decree

This announcement comes from the family of Adolph Grimes III:
The Grimes family will be hosting a candlelight vigil on Monday, August 16th at 6 PM on the corner of Governor Nicholls and Claiborne (1700 block side) in New Orleans. The vigil will take place on what would have been Adolph Grimes III’s birthday. Adolph was killed by police fire New Year’s Day 2009. See this CNN news story for more information.
Next week, Community United for Change will also have a meeting to gather input for the Consent Decree that community activists - supported by the initiative of Louisiana Justice Institute - have been drafting to present to the Department of Justice. This Consent Decree, it is hoped, will become a contract between the federal government, the city of New Orleans, and the
community. According to Community United for Change:
We must insure that every possible effort has been made to include as many people of New Orleans as possible. It is therefore necessary for the community to come together at least one last time to ensure all voices are heard and that all persons are clear with the direction we want the Consent Decree to go.

CUC is excited to announce a final meeting of the Peoples Consent Decree forum where all additions, corrections, and changes can be aired publicly for the crafting of the final draft of this important document. This meeting will be Thursday, August 19, beginning at 6:00pm at the Treme Community Center

We are encouraging everyone who has any interest in making the contract a living document that can reduce the brutality, harassment, disrespect, inhumanity, and murder of the Black and the poor residents of New Orleans, to come and take the time to put your footprint on this Consent Decree.
For more information you can contact CUC at 504-251-2201 or cuc.nola@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

NEWS RELEASE: “Just Say No” to Illegal School Fees

Louisiana Justice Institute Advises Orleans Parish Public Schools parents and guardians “Just Say No” to Illegal School Fees and Reports Charter School Operator to U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights
For the third consecutive year Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) advises parents to beware of illegal school fees charged by public school operators. Since July, LJI has received numerous reports from parents, distressed by the school fees being charged for their children to participate in required school activities. These charges are prohibited by the Louisiana Constitution and by state statute.

“Students are being assessed ‘instructional fees’ that are not related to any particular activity or service and amounts to an ‘attendance fee’ prohibited by law. Secondly, the Louisiana Constitution specifically requires that all school books and materials of instruction be provided free of charge. Thus, any fee for taking AP courses and study guide materials is also prohibited,” states Tracie L. Washington, LJI Co-Director and Attorney.

Further, and equally important, parents have an absolute right to free transportation of their child(ren) to school if the child resides more than 1 mile from the school site. “If you have been denied free transportation, or in any way coerced or discouraged from requiring your school to provide this transportation, then the school is violating Louisiana law.”

New Orleans is being lauded by the U.S. Department of Education and national school experts, who have proclaimed this model a success. But since Hurricane Katrina, each year children and families are stressed by the ‘Ringing of the Opening Bell’ because they cannot afford the rising cost of public education. “In all, my step-daughter and my step-son are required to pay over $1,150 in fees for school; it’s just too much. Where is the free and appropriate public education?” asks Angela Watson Daliet, co-founder of Save Our Schools NOLA.

If you are a student or parent being charged illegal school fees, contact LJI at 504.872.9134.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Katrina Pain Index 2010 New Orleans - Five Years Later

By Bill Quigley, Davida Finger and Lance Hill
It will be five years since Katrina on August 29. The impact of Katrina is quite painful for regular people in the area. This article looks at what has happened since Katrina not from the perspective of the higher ups looking down from their offices but from the street level view of the people – a view which looks at the impact on the elderly, the renter, people of color, the disabled, the working and non-working poor. So, while one commentator may happily say that the median income in New Orleans has risen since Katrina, a street level perspective recognizes that is because large numbers of the poorest people have not been able to return.

Five years after Katrina, tens of thousands of homes in New Orleans remain vacant or blighted. Tens of thousands of African American children who were in the public schools have not made it back, nor have their parents. New Orleans has lost at least 100,000 people. Thousands of elderly and disabled people have not made it back. Affordable housing is not readily available so tens of thousands pay rents that are out of proportion to their wages. Race and gender remain excellent indicators of who is underpaid, who is a renter, who is in public school and who is low income.

In short, the challenges facing New Orleans after Katrina are the same ones facing millions of people of color, women, the elderly and disabled and their children across the US. Katrina just made these challenges clearer in New Orleans than in many other places. Here is where we are five years later.

Overall population

Five years after Katrina, the most liberal estimates are that 141,000 fewer people live in the metro New Orleans area. The actual population changes will not be clear until official Census Bureau findings are released in November, but it is safe to say that over 100,000 fewer live in the City of New Orleans.

The New Orleans metro area is made up of several parishes, primarily Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany. Orleans had 455,000 people before Katrina, now they have 354,000. Jefferson had 451,000 before Katrina, now they have 443,000. Plaquemines had 28,000 before Katrina, now they have 20,000. St. Bernard had 64,000 before Katrina, now they have 40,000. Source: Census Bureau.

Displaced People

Louisiana residents are located in more than 5,500 cities across the nation, the largest concentrations in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and San Antonio. A majority of displaced residents are women – 59% compared to 41% men. A third earn less than $20,000 a year. Source: Dana Alfred, Louisiana Disaster Recovery Corps (2007).

Lost housing

More than 1 in 4 residential addresses in New Orleans is vacant or blighted – by far the highest rate in the US. Though the numbers have been reduced somewhat in the last three years, 50,100 residential properties in New Orleans remain blighted or have no structure on them. Source: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (hereafter GNOCDC), Benchmarks for Blight (May 7, 2010). See also, Michelle Krupa, Blighted Houses in New Orleans Dropping Steadily, Times Picayune.

About 58 percent of city renters and 45 percent of suburban renters pays more than 35 percent of their pre-tax household income for housing. Households should spend less than 30 percent of income on housing. Anything over 30 percent means that housing is not really affordable for that family and they are likely to cut back on other necessities. Source: GNOCDC, Housing in the New Orleans Metro, October 13, 2009.

Over 5000 families are on the waiting list for traditional public housing and another 28,960 families are on the waiting list for housing vouchers – more than double what it was before Katrina and the government destruction of thousands of public housing apartments. Since the post-Katrina bulldozing of several major public housing developments, there has been more than a 75% reduction in the number of public housing apartments available. Source: Housing Authority of New Orleans.


Under Louisiana’s “Road Home” program to rebuild storm-damaged housing, rebuilding grants for homeowners on average fell about $35,000 short of the money needed to rebuild. The shortfall hit highly flooded, historically African-American communities particularly hard. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center filed suit in 2008 against state and federal agencies charging that the grant policy was racially discriminatory and that black homeowners received far smaller grants than white homeowners. The judge in that case has opined that “on average, African-American homeowners received awards that fell farther short of the cost of repairing their homes than did white recipients” and while noting the parties’ commitment to rebuilding New Orleans, found it “regrettable that this effort to do so appears to have proceeded in a manner that disadvantaged African-American homeowners who wish to repair their homes.” Source: PolicyLink, A Long Way Home (2008) & Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

At least 19,746 applications for rebuilding homes that are eligible for funding have not received any money from the Road Home Program grant program. Source: The Road Home Program.

Economic Health

The metro area has 95,000 fewer jobs than before Katrina, down about 16 percent. Source: GNOCDC & Brookings, The New Orleans Index at 5, August 2010. Black and Latino households earn incomes that are $26,000 (44 percent) and $15,000 (25 percent) lower than whites. White household income is $56,000, Latino household income is $41,000 and African American household income is $35,000 in the metro New Orleans area. Source: Jesuit Social Research Institute, JustSouth Quarterly, Summer 2010.

New Orleans has a poverty rate of 23 percent more than double the national average of 11%. But because of the loss of people in New Orleans there are now more poor people living in the surrounding suburban parishes than in the city. Source: 2008 US Census Bureau, ACS; GNOCDC, Who Lives in New Orleans Now? October, 2009.

Within New Orleans the majority of households are lower-income.

Public and Private Education

The number of students in public schools in New Orleans, which are over 90 percent African American, has declined by 43% since Katrina. Source: Southern Education Foundation. New Orleans Schools Four Years After Katrina. (hereafter SEF).

But an average increase of 5% a year in enrollment for the last two years (35,976 to 38,051 from 2008-2009 alone) indicates that people whose children attend public schools continue to return as housing and employment opportunities allow. Source: Louisiana Recovery School District.

In 2008, 85% of white students in New Orleans attended private schools, one of the highest percentages in a major city in the US. Source: SEF.

New Orleans now has more charter schools than any other public school system in the country. Of the 89 public schools in New Orleans, 48, more than half, are charter schools. Sixty percent of students now attend privately managed but publicly funded schools. Source: Louisiana Recovery School District.

Metro area has recovered 79 percent of public and private school enrollment. Source: GNOCDC & Brookings , The New Orleans Index at 5, August 2010.

People Receiving Public Assistance

Over one-third of Social Security recipients who lived in New Orleans have not returned. There were 74,535 in 2004 and 47,000 in December 2009. Source: Source: U.S. Social Security Administration.

Medicaid recipients have declined by 31%: pre-Katrina enrollment in Medicaid in New Orleans was 134,249. December 2009 enrollment was 93,310. Source: Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Supplemental Security Income recipients are down from pre-Katrina 26,654 to 16,514 – a 38% decline. Source: U.S. Social Security Administration.

Public Transportation

Total ridership declined down 65.7%. From over 33 million in 2004 to about 13 million projected for 2010. Source: Regional Transit Authority


“Violent crimes and property crimes have risen in New Orleans since Katrina and remain well above national rates.” Source: GNOCDC & Brookings, The New Orleans Index at Five, August 2010.

Oil Damage

Speaking of crime, there have been at least 348 intentional fires set in the Gulf of Mexico, controlled burns they call them, since spill. Source: Deepwater Horizon Response, July 14, 2010.

About 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant have been dumped into the Gulf, over a million on the surface and about 750,000 gallons sub-sea. Source: Marianna Nash, CNN, Scientists Dispersant Concerns Remain.

About 210 million gallons of oil (5 million barrels) were released by the BP spill. About 800,000 barrels were captured by BP – making it by far the largest oil spill into marine waters in world history. Source: Campbell Robertson, U.S. Puts Oil Spill at Nearly 5 million Barrels.

Wetland destruction

“Since 1956, when measurements began, 23 percent of the coastal wetlands have converted to open water.” Source: GNOCDC & Brookings, The New Orleans Index at Five, August 2010.

The challenges of post-Katrina New Orleans reflect the problems of many urban and suburban areas of the US – insufficient affordable rents, racially segregated schools with falling populations, great disparities in income by color of households, serious pollution from remote uncaring corporations, and reductions in the public services like transportation. Katrina made these more visible five years ago and continues to make a great illustration of the US failures to treat all citizens with dignity and our failure to achieve our promise of liberty and justice for all.

Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Bill and Davida are law professors at Loyola University New Orleans. Lance is Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com, Davida at dfinger@loyno.edu, and Lance at lhill@tulane.edu.

Special thanks to Allison Plyer of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and Amy Liu of Brookings for their great August 2010 report, The New Orleans Index at Five.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why We Sued to Represent Muslim Cleric Aulaqi By Bill Quigley

Anwar Aulaqi is a US citizen and Muslim cleric living somewhere in Yemen. The US has put him on our terrorist list and is trying to assassinate him. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU filed suit today so we can be pro bono lawyers for his father, Nasser Aulaqi, to stop the government from killing him.

We filed suit today challenge the US requirement that lawyers must seek permission from the government before we can provide free pro bono legal representation to a US citizen.

This case will not decide whether the US can legally assassinate US citizens or anybody else. This case is about whether the government can deny pro bono lawyers to US citizens who the government accuses of being terrorists. Once we win the right to be lawyers for his father, we will challenge the constitutionality of the US efforts to kill him.

The barrier to us becoming lawyers is a set of rules enacted by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (usually called OFAC) which is a part of the Treasury Department. US law essentially prohibits trading with the enemy in a time of war. OFAC regulations go further and prohibit lawyers from giving free representation to people on the terrorist list unless the government gives them permission. Violations trigger punishment of up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to one million dollars.

We think the US Constitution overrules these OFAC regulations. The First Amendment protects the right of non-profit lawyers and legal organizations to give pro bono legal representation to any US citizen. The Fifth Amendment protects the right of citizens to have that legal representation.

We know this is a controversial case. Representing someone accused of being a terrorist is a tough decision. CCR is a human rights organization. We condemn all killing of civilians for political purposes by any government or any organization or any individual.

What this case is really about is not Aulaqi but about our government disregarding the rule of law.

There are many reasons we can argue that premeditated killing by the government off the battlefield is illegal. The rule of law guaranteed by the US constitution binds even the President of the US and the military. Our constitutional system of checks and balances does not allow the executive branch of government to just decide in secret that they are going to kill people. The government certainly could not just execute him if he was in the US. The US would not allow other governments to come here and assassinate someone they opposed. And the US would never just fire drone strikes into the UK, China, Russia or Australia to kill someone. Yemen is over a thousand miles away from the battlefield of Afghanistan or Iraq. So why would anyone think it is legal to assassinate a US citizen in Yemen?

Despite these questions, Aulaqi has been the target of several unsuccessful drone strikes as the US military and CIA are actively trying to kill him.

These are all issues that should be decided in a court of law. That is why we are filing this suit.

His father, Nasser, said it best. If the government has proof his son violated the law, then they should charge him in public and let the law take its course.

If the government can find him to assassinate him, they can find him to bring him to justice.

The right to go to court to challenge the government is a core US value. It is important that we win the right to represent him no matter how controversial he is. Otherwise the government can deprive citizens of their right to a lawyer at the exact same time as they are trying to kill them. The courts should make these decisions and people deserve the right to have lawyers try to challenge the government. That is what we are after and that is fair.

Bill is Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.