Thursday, October 28, 2010

ACLU Seeks FEMA Records Related To Proposed Expansion Of Orleans Parish Prison

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:
Increasing Already Excessive Capacity Of Prison Could Be Waste Of Taxpayer Money

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine what resources it has allocated to the proposed expansion of the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP).

Despite his plans to dramatically expand the capacity of OPP to 5,800 prisoners, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has provided no documents showing the funding that he says is committed to the project. Although Sheriff Gusman asserts that the project will be underwritten by FEMA, he has never disclosed the extent of FEMA funds or the conditions imposed upon those funds.

“There is a massive expansion planned for OPP yet the public has no idea where the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to expand the prison is coming from,” said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “We need a better understanding of the source of the funds, how much the City of New Orleans will have to pay, and whether there are better ways to put this kind of money to use. To do that we need more information.”

Among other things, the ACLU’s FOIA request seeks the disclosure of any plans or proposals concerning the demolition, rebuilding, repair or expansion of OPP and any documents related to funds FEMA has allocated or disbursed for such projects as well as how the use of those funds might be restricted.

The proposed new size of OPP would be large enough to incarcerate one out of every 60 residents of New Orleans. Yet outside experts have shown that the jail's size could easily be reduced if New Orleans were to adopt commonsense criminal justice policies like expanding pre-trial release options, providing community service sentencing, and setting more appropriate and cost-effective sanctions for minor municipal offenses.

New Orleans residents have expressed mounting concerns during the past year about whether this massive expansion of OPP is warranted. These concerns prompted the New Orleans City Council to postpone in July final approval of Gusman’s expansion plans until a special working group convened by Mayor Mitch Landrieu determines the optimal size for OPP. The working group is expected to release its findings in late November.

“Independent scrutiny of Sheriff Gusman’s plans is vital to this policy debate,” Esman said. “There is a lot of essential information about the planned expansion of OPP that we don't have. An important component is where the money will come from and whether there are strings attached to it. At a time when the City of New Orleans is struggling for resources, the public deserves to know how much this will cost. Now may be the final window of opportunity to access that information.”

A copy of the ACLU’s FOIA request is available online at this link.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Haiti’s Faithless Elections: Lack of Certainty of the Provisional Electoral Council Pushes National and International Leaders to Speak Out


On November 28, Haitian voters are supposedly going to vote to choose a President, 10 Senators and 99 members of parliament. These general elections, as many politicians and experts expressed, are crucial for Haiti’s political future, and for the rebuilding process on the aftermath of the Jan. 12 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The uncertainty that plagues over these elections can comprise the legitimacy of the elected President, Representatives and Senators from these forthcoming elections.

On July 28, supporters of Fanmi Lavalas (FL) demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to demand the U.S. Government to not fund the November 28 Presidential and Legislative Elections "We come here today to question the behavior of the U.S. government. We're asking if they will continue to finance the exclusion of Lavalas by the CEP,” said Lionel Etienne, a former Fanmi Lavalas congressman.

The dubious exclusion of 15 political parties, amongst of them Fanmi Lavalas (FL), created concerns regarding the credibility of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council to organize fair, transparent and democratic elections for the country. It must be noticed that FL is widely seen as the Haiti’s largest and most popular political party.

While the United States is preparing to spend millions of dollars in the Haiti’s 2010 Presidential and Legislatives Elections, Congresswoman Maxine Waters along with other 44 U.S. members of U.S. Congress, warned the U.S. Government to push for fair, democratic and transparent elections in Haiti.

In an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and 44 other members of Congress urged the U.S. government to ensure that Haiti’s November 28th elections will be fair, inclusive and democratic. This letter called on the U.S. government to clearly pronounce that the United States will not fund unfair, exclusive and undemocratic elections. The letter states, “The United States government should also state unequivocally that it will not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements.”

The members of Congress also stated that the exclusionary elections would be to deny the right to vote to majority of Haitians who are eligible to vote. The exclusion will undermine both Haitians’ right to vote and the resulting government’s ability to govern.” In addition, the members of Congress recalled a previous CEP decision to exclude Fanmi Lavalas, and the Haitian Voters boycotted the 2009 Senatorial Elections. “A previous CEP, with many of the same members, also excluded Fanmi Lavalas and other parties from Senatorial elections in April 2009. Haitian voters boycotted, and most observers estimated a 3-6% voter turnout,” stated the members of Congress in their letter.

In a July 22, 2010 report addressed to members of the U.S.Senate Committee On Foreign Relations, Rep. Senator Richard G. Lugar, a Ranking Member of this committee,criticized the Haitian President Rene G. Preval for not responding to amounted calls to reform the controversial CEP in order to bolster the credibility on the November 28 General Elections. ”Despite widespread calls for President Rene Pre´val to reform the beleaguered Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), in order to buttress the credibility of presidential and parliamentary elections in Haiti, he has refused,”Senator Lugar sated in his report.

Most likely the 45 members of Congress, Sen. Lugar expressed his concern about the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, which he acknowledge as Haiti’s largest political party. Senator Lugar said, “President Rene Pre´val has also demonstrated little interest in encouraging the CEP to engage the factions of Fanmi Lavalas (FL), one of Haiti’s largest political parties. If a solution is not reached promptly, the legitimacy of the upcoming elections could be compromised.”
Dan Beeton of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Dan Beeton,Co-founder of Center for Economic and Policy Research, questioned the United States’ willingness to fund November 28 Elections, which he has foreseen as flawed elections. In a publicized statement, Beeton asked, "Why is the U.S. funding these elections when they are so clearly deeply flawed?"

As the date for the general elections is approaching, Haitian voters do not know who they can count on for their security. The rights of Haitians are being violated whether by their own government or by the international occupation force in Haiti, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH. On October 15, UN so-called peacekeepers clashed with a group of nearly 100 anti-UN demonstrators. The demonstration was against the extending UN mission in Haiti for another year.

The renewal mission will cost the country $380 million. A Port-Au-Prince-based human rights organization, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux or BAI through a statement, pronounced on the renewal of UN mission and its budget. “Money is wasted on the mission, and protesters want real assistance, not the renewal of ... an occupying military force," said members of the BAI.


Wadner Pierre is a Haitian photojournalist who currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. Wadner is also a 2010 Justice Revius Ortique, Jr. Internship Award recipient. Originally from the city of Gonaives in Haiti, he regularly writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and Haiti Liberte. Wadner is a co-founder and frequent contributor to HaitiAnalysis.com, a media collective of young journalists. In 2007, he was a Project Censored Award recipient for his investigative journalism work on the impact of media and corruption in military policies.

Socialism? The Rich Are Winning the US Class War: Facts Show Rich Getting Richer, Everyone Else Poorer, By Bill Quigley


The rich and their paid false prophets are doing a bang up job deceiving the poor and middle class. They have convinced many that an evil socialism is alive in the land and it is taking their fair share. But the deception cannot last – facts say otherwise.

Yes, there is a class war – the war of the rich on the poor and the middle class – and the rich are winning. That war has been going on for years. Look at the facts – facts the rich and their false paid prophets do not want people to know.

Let Glen Beck go on about socialists descending on Washington. Allow Rush Limbaugh to rail about “ class warfare for a leftist agenda that will destroy our society.” They are well-compensated false prophets for the rich.

The truth is that for the several decades the rich in the US have been getting richer and the poor and middle class have been getting poorer. Look at the facts then make up your own mind.

Poor Getting Poorer: Facts

The official US poverty numbers show we now have the highest number of poor people in 51 years. The official US poverty rate is 14.3 percent or 43.6 million people in poverty. One in five children in the US is poor; one in ten senior citizens is poor. Source: US Census Bureau.

One of every six workers, 26.8 million people, is unemployed or underemployed. This “ real” unemployment rate is over 17%. There are 14.8 million people designated as “ officially” unemployed by the government, a rate of 9.6 percent. Unemployment is worse for African American workers of whom 16.1 percent are unemployed. Another 9.5 million people who are working only part-time while they are seeking full-time work but have had their hours cut back or are so far only able to find work part-time are not counted in the official unemployment numbers. Also, an additional 2.5 million are reported unemployed but not counted because they are classified as discouraged workers in part because they have been out of work for more than 12 months. Source: US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics October 2010 report.

The median household income for whites in the US is $51,861; for Asians it is $65,469; for African Americans it is $32,584; for Latinos it is $38,039. Source: US Census Bureau.

Fifty million people in the US lack health insurance. Source: US Census Bureau.

Women in the US have a greater lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related conditions than women in 40 other countries. African American US women are nearly 4 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. Source: Amnesty International Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA.

About 3.5 million people, about one-third of which are children, are homeless at some point in the year in the US. Source: National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Outside Atlanta, 33,000 people showed up to seek applications for low cost subsidized housing in August 2010. When Detroit offered emergency utility and housing assistance to help people facing evictions, more than 50,000 people showed up for the 3,000 vouchers. Source: News reports.

There are 49 million people in the US who live in households which eat only because they receive food stamps, visit food pantries or soup kitchens for help. Sixteen million are so poor they have skipped meals or foregone food at some point in the last year. This is the highest level since statistics have been kept. Source: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.

Middle Class Going Backward: Facts

One or two generations ago it was possible for a middle class family to live on one income. Now it takes two incomes to try to enjoy the same quality of life. Wages have not kept up with inflation; adjusted for inflation they have lost ground over the past ten years. The cost of housing, education and health care have all increased at a much higher rate than wages and salaries. In 1967, the middle 60 percent of households received over 52% of all income. In 1998, it was down to 47%. The share going to the poor has also fallen, with the top 20% seeing their share rise. Source: Mark Trumball, Obama’ s challenge: reversing a decade of middle-class decline, Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2010.

A record 2.8 million homes received a foreclosure notice in 2009, higher than both 2008 and 2007. In 2010, the rate is expected to be rise to 3 million homes. Sources: Reuters and RealtyTrac.

Eleven million homeowners (about one in four homeowners) in the US are “ under water” or owe more on their mortgages than their house is worth. Source: Home truths, The Economist, October 23, 2010.

For the first time since the 1940s, the real incomes of middle-class families are lower at the end of the business cycle of the 2000s than they were at the beginning. Despite the fact that the American workforce is working harder and smarter than ever, they are sharing less and less in the benefits they are creating. This is true for white families but even truer for African American families whose gains in the 1990s have mostly been eliminated since then. Source: Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz, State of Working America.

Rich Getting Richer: Facts

The wealth of the richest 400 people in the US grew by 8% in the last year to $1.37 trillion. Source: Forbes 400: The super-rich get richer, September 22, 2010, CNNMoney.com.

The top Hedge Fund Manager of 2009, David Tepper, “ earned” $4 billion last year. The rest of the top ten earned: $3.3 billion, $2.5 billion, $2.3 billion, $1.4 billion, $1.3 billion (tie for 6th and 7th place), $900 million (tie for 8th and 9th place), and in last place out of the top ten, $825 million. Source: Business Insider. Meet the top 10 earning hedge fund managers of 2009.

Income disparity in the US is now as bad as it was right before the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s. From 1979 to 2006, the richest 1% more than doubled their share of the total US income, from 10% to 23%. The richest 1% have an average annual income of more than $1.3 million. For the last 25 years, over 90% of the total growth in income in the US went to the top 10% earners – leaving 9% of all income to be shared by the bottom 90%. Source: Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz, State of Working America.

In 1973, the average US CEO was paid $27 for every dollar paid to a typical worker; by 2007 that ratio had grown to $275 to $1. Source: Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz, State of Working America.

Since 1992, the average tax rate on the richest 400 taxpayers in the US dropped from 26.8% to 16.62%. Source: US Internal Revenue Service.

The US has the greatest inequality between rich and poor among all Western industrialized nations and it has been getting worse for 40 years. The World Factbook, published by the CIA, includes an international ranking of the inequality among families inside of each country, called the Gini Index. The US ranking of 45 in 2007 is the same as Argentina, Cameroon, and Cote d’ Ivorie. The highest inequality can be found in countries like Namibia, South Africa, Haiti and Guatemala. The US ranking of 45 compares poorly to Japan (38), India (36), New Zealand, UK (34), Greece (33), Spain (32), Canada (32), France (32), South Korea (31), Netherlands (30), Ireland (30), Australia (30), Germany (27), Norway (25), and Sweden (23). Source: CIA The World Factbook.

Rich people live an average of about five years longer than poor people in the US. Naturally, gross inequality has consequences in terms of health, exposure to unhealthy working conditions, nutrition and lifestyle. In 1980, the most well off in the US had a life expectancy of 2.8 years over the least well-off. As the inequality gap widens, so does the life expectancy gap. In 1990, the gap was a little less than 4 years. In 2000, the least well-off could expect to live to age of 74.7 while the most well off had a life expectancy of 79.2 years. Source: Elise Gould, Growing disparities in life expectancy, Economic Policy Institute.

Conclusion

These are extremely troubling facts for anyone concerned about economic fairness, equality of opportunity, and justice.

Thomas Jefferson once observed that the systematic restructuring of society to benefit the rich over the poor and middle class is a natural appetite of the rich. “ Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to…the general prey of the rich on the poor.” But Jefferson also knew that justice can only be delayed so long when he said, “ I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

The rich talk about the rise of socialism to divert attention from the fact that they are devouring the basics of the poor and everyone else. Many of those crying socialism the loudest are doing it to enrich or empower themselves. They are right about one thing – there is a class war going on in the US. The rich are winning their class war, and it is time for everyone else to fight back for economic justice.

Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

DHH Promises ‘Community-Based Care’ but People with Mental Health Needs Imprisoned Instead

The mental health care system in New Orleans and the greater metropolitan area is failing. Governor Jindal and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) have promised to develop community-based, outpatient mental health care throughout the state but have not adequately funded the initiative, and the mental health services presently available fail to meet the needs of our communities. The severe underdevelopment of state-funded community-based services in combination with the scarcity of inpatient beds in the greater New Orleans Metropolitan area has had a deleterious impact on people in need of services and their families, hospital emergency rooms, outpatient clinics, and the legal system.

At a recent Health Care and Social Services Committee meeting, DHH Deputy Secretary Tony Keck criticized local advocates for requesting greater access to inpatients beds in the New Orleans Metropolitan area. Keck maintained that the state should not be directing funds towards inpatient hospital care, arguing that state-run mental health hospitals are “No different from locking [people with mental illness] in prison…it has the same effect on their lives.” Many patients and former patients of state-run mental health hospitals as well as their advocates would agree with this comparison. However, what DDH refuses to recognize is that prisons – not hospitals or community-based clinics – are exactly where people with serious mental health issues are being funneled and warehoused by the state.

Last year, the state closed the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital, which provided inpatient care for children and adolescents with serious mental health needs. In its place, two outpatient mental health clinics have been opened and together the clinics have the capacity to serve 1,200 children, adolescents and their families annually. Yet no similar developments were made for adults in need of care following the illegal closure of Charity Hospital. According to a study released through the Mayor’s Office in March 2010, there are only 135 inpatient psychiatric beds for adults in all of the greater New Orleans Metropolitan area (Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes) for a population of nearly 860,000.

Meanwhile, Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) is home to the largest number of inpatient psychiatric beds in New Orleans. Treatment at OPP is only available through an order by the city’s mental health court. That is, a person in need of mental health services must first be arrested in order to access “treatment” at the prison facility. Furthermore, a 2009 investigation of OPP by the Department of Justice found that the prison failed to meet numerous constitutional standards with respect to treatment of the people imprisoned there, including dangerous administration of medication; failure to obtain informed consent in the provision of medication; inadequate suicide prevention; failure to provide timely psychiatric assessment and treatment; and the failure to protect people from harm who have been put in restraints.

Comprehensive mental health services should not primarily nor solely focus on the provision of inpatient care in hospitals. The reason local advocates are asking for more inpatient beds is because there is no place for people who are suicidal or experience acute psychiatric episodes to go for help. The shift towards community-based services, such as Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams which provides home mental health care, are welcome changes to the mental health system. However, the state has not adequately funded nor developed these programs. Cecile Tebo, leader of the volunteer-based New Orleans Police Department Crisis Unit, explained that ACT teams are merely “Chipping the tip of a large iceberg.

The deinstitutionalization of people with mental health needs in the absence of a comprehensive plan to adequately address mental health has simply led to another kind of institutionalization – prison. Louisiana is not alone, as many states across the country have cut funding for mental health services and have decided instead to warehouse people with mental health needs in jail. A comprehensive mental health plan would not only provide for a broad range of treatment and services but would also recognize the ways in which mental health intersects with economic exploitation, access to housing and food, racism, heterosexism, transphobia, gender-based violence and other forms of systemic oppression.

The absence of a comprehensive plan to address mental health affects our whole community. In a city where an estimated one third of residents experience symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, where the suicide rate is steadily increasing, and the attempted suicide rate is well above the national average, it is our responsibility to ensure that our communities are receiving the services and support they want and need. Sherriff Gusman’s plan to build a larger jail is, unequivocally, not the solution to this mental health crisis. We need free, culturally competent, non-punitive, comprehensive, and sustainable mental health services and we need it now.


Maggie Zambolla is a graduate of the City University of New York School of Law where she was a Haywood Burns Fellow in Civil and Human Rights. As a 2010 Justice Revius Ortique, Jr. Internship recipient, Maggie is deeply committed to racial and economic justice and aspires to use her legal education as a tool for social change.

Haiti’s Flawed Elections: A Set-Back for the Country’s Political Future-and the Post-Earthquake Rebuilding Process

Photo courtesy of Wadner Pierre

As Haiti prepares to hold Legislative and Presidential Elections on November 28th this year, more questions are being raised regarding whether unfair and exclusionary elections would be beneficiary for the country. The Conseil Electoral Provisoire of Haiti, or CEP (Provisional Electoral Council) unjustifiably barred 15 political parties from running in the 2010 presidential elections, Fanmi Lavalas or FL, Haiti’s largest and most popular political party. The CEP barred FL from participating in neither presidential nor legislative elections. This decision by the CEP created unrest amongst national and international political leaders regarding the validity and credibility of the November 28th elections.

A similar situation occurred in the April 2009 Senatorial Elections. The CEP banned Fanmi Lavalas, from participation. As a result, less than three percent (3%) of Haitians voted in the election. The CEP’s actions in the current Presidential and Legislative elections will likely cause the November 28th elections to be boycotted by a substantial number of qualified voters once again.

Participation in Haiti’s Presidential campaign is directly correlated with voter turnout. The 1990 and 2006 Presidential campaigns were an example of this fact. More than one month before elections took place in 1990 and 2006, the level of participation in the campaign foreshadowed the winner of the Presidential Election. In a report published by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs or NDIA on the 1990 Haiti’s Presidential Elections, the NDIA report stated, ”The people of Haiti voted in record numbers to express their desire for democratic change. While administratively problematic, the elections were the nation’s freest and represent a milestone in Haiti’s history.” The NDAI report further said, “The overwhelming popular mandate given to Jean-Bertrand Aristide expressed the people’s desire to break with Haiti’s history of authoritarian rule and economic stagnation.”

The level of participation in this year’s campaign deeply contrasts with that of the 1990 and 2006 campaigns. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, people are more concerned about their livelihood, rather than a Presidential Campaign. The lack of leadership in Haiti has also impacted the level of civic engagement amongst the majority. Most of the candidates in these President Elections, including former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Yve Cristalin, Charles Henry Baker, and Mirlande Manigat, are widely regarded in Haiti as those who betrayed President Aristide, or participated in the 2004 coup d’├ętat against the people’s government.

In May 2000, when the CEP organized legislative elections and allowed participation of all eligible parties, the majority of residents voted. FL won the majority of its seats in the Senate and Deputy Chambers. Due to the overwhelming success of the FL, the United States, France and Canada, amongst others, claimed that the electoral process was fraudulent. Leaders of these countries pressured President Rene Garcia Preval’s administration to revise its electoral process and to repeat the election.

Once again, in April, 2009 the United States, France and Canada, amongst others, supported flawed elections. These countries funded the 2004 coup d’├ętat, and acclaimed these elections that excluded the majority of Haitians as fair elections. Canada has pledged to spend $5.8 million in Haiti’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary flawed elections. The United States promised $1.5 billion to the reconstruction of Haiti; yet this money has not yet been accounted for. However, the U.S. is pushing to spend millions of dollars to support the undemocratic and non-transparent elections in Haiti. This decision caused concern amongst U.S. members of Congress. They warned the U.S. government in their letter to push for fair, democratic and transparent elections in Haiti.

Almost ten months after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged the capital and its surrounding cities, the majority of the earthquake survivors continue to live under makeshift tents. The earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, and left more than a million homeless, handicapped and gravely injured. Countries from all over the world pledged several billions of dollars to rebuild the country, yet these billions of dollars have not reached Haiti. No one knows when or even if they will ever receive the pledged financial aid.

The November 28th elections are supposed to provide a beacon of hope for Haiti. Unfortunately, flawed and undemocratic elections which exclude large groups of essential Haitian stakeholders will kill this hope. Allowing all Haitians to participate in these upcoming elections will not only provide hope for change, but will allow them to physically put their country back on track. History has proven time and again that Haitians are faithful, resilient and brave people- given the opportunity, they will rebuild their own country.


The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH extended its mission on 13 October 2009, the extending mission’s mandate said, “The Security Council, by its resolution 1892, further tasked MINUSTAH with promoting an all-inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation, and providing logistical and security assistance for elections anticipated for 2010.” If the UN’s mission in Haiti and its international associates cannot assume this position in these upcoming Presidential and Legislative Elections, they should leave Haiti. They should not continue to support the CEP. The CEP denies the right to vote, and to participate in the democratic process is undemocratic. It is also a violation of the rights of Haitian citizens to freely choose whom they want to lead their country.


Wadner Pierre is a Haitian photojournalist who currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. Wadner is also a 2010 Justice Revius Ortique, Jr. Internship Award recipient. Originally from the city of Gonaives in Haiti, he regularly writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and Haiti Liberte. Wadner is a co-founder and frequent contributor to HaitiAnalysis.com, a media collective of young journalists. In 2007, he was a Project Censored Award recipient for his investigative journalism work on the impact of media and corruption in military policies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How the NOPD (Mis)uses its Citywide Alert System

From activist and blogger Darwin Bond-Graham:

In the wake of 9-11 local governments nationwide set up alert networks to notify citizens in real time of possible threats to public safety. The system is rather simple. Authorities broadcast short notifications simultaneously and in real time through email and text messages to wireless devices.

New Orleans set up its own citizens alert network after Hurricane Katrina. In a city under assault of hurricanes and toxic oil disasters, federal and local authorities have reasoned the system could save lives and help conserve emergency responder resources.

Living downstream from cancer alley's many toxic and volatile refineries, and in a region that frequently experiences deadly and freakish weather, having such a system in place is wise. New Orleanians might be surprised, however, to learn what the system is actually being used for. On October 13, for example, a NOLAReady alert landed in the inboxes and cellular devices of thousands across Orleans Parish.

Was it life-threatening weather?

A highly disruptive road shutdown?

Evacuation or Shelter in Place information?

A boil water notice?

Did the Shell Oil plant blow up? Had the river crevassed? Did a chemical tanker spill its cargo near the French Market?

The grave threat to public safety on October 13 was none other than two women stealing baby formula. According NOPD Officer Gary Flot's alert message sent far and wide at 2:46 pm;

"Members of The New Orleans Police Department are requesting the public’s assistance in locating and identifying two female suspects wanted in connection with a shoplifting. The offense occurred October 8, 2010, approximately 6:30 P.M., in the Ideal Market in the 200 block of South Broad Street.

According to investigators, the suspects entered the store and concealed 18 cans of Enfamil baby formula under a baby blanket and exited the store. Both suspects entered a dark green Dodge Intrepid and fled south on Palmyra Street then unknown."
This dire warning to the people ends with the assurance that "First District Detective Kris Vilen is actively working the case and following up on leads given by our citizens."

Please forgive me for proposing a different kind of alert for New Orleans. Maybe the NOPD would kindly send it out through NOLAReady? It goes like this:
Warning: The people of New Orleans are suffering after five years of failed and misguided reconstruction policies. The poverty rate remains 1 in 4 for the general population. 35 percent of our children endure poverty. The city lacks affordable housing, and yet the politicians and real estate companies barrel ahead to demolish public housing. A quarter of our homes are vacant, while 1 in 25 of us is homeless. The public hospital remains shuttered. Lower-Mid City is evicted. The city has lost 20% of its pre-Katrina population. Some neighborhoods never came back at all. Half of workers in New Orleans earn less than $35,000 a year, and many earn considerably less, enduring frequent spells of un and underemployment. Government remains corrupt. The cops still brutalize, and now apparently have nothing better to do than chase impoverished mothers who are just trying to feed their kids. Displaced and dispossessed after the flood, now the people of New Orleans struggle through the Great Recession. Interpersonal violence has worsened. Women and children suffer from family and institutional abuse. Young men are killing each other in the streets. Trauma and mental illness have worsened and there are few resources to help one another. The people of New Orleans have caught hell.
I'd be interested in hearing from others what you might write as an alert for the city of New Orleans.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Documentary Provokes Discussion on Race and Politics in New Orleans

RACE, a documentary film by Katherine Cecil, is an important document of New Orleans' 2006 mayoral election. The film recently received the HBO Best Documentary Award at the 2010 Martha's Vineyard African-American Film Festival, and has been provoking discussion and debate wherever it has screened. The film will be screening this weekend and next week at the New Orleans Film Festival.

RACE - which explores race and politics post-disaster and the 2006 reelection of Mayor Nagin - is playing three times at the 2010 NOFF:

Sunday, October 17, 4:30pm
The Theatres at Canal Place, 333 Canal Street - 3rd Floor

Sunday, October 17, 7:00 p.m.
The Porch, 1362 St. Anthony Street

Wednesday, October 20, 5:30 p.m.
The Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania Street

From the film publicity:
The Saints have just won the Super Bowl, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu is Mayor-elect of New Orleans, and a prominent local journalist has suggested that New Orleans could now be on the cusp of post-racial politics.

But while 45% of registered white voters turned out to vote in the 2010 election, only 28% of registered African-American voters cast ballots, a sharp contrast to the election of 2006 in which many more voters turned out despite unprecedented obstacles.

'RACE' is a documentary film about the first election held in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The film examines the intersection of race and politics post-disaster and explores how Ray Nagin was re-elected from a completely different base than had previously supported him in 2002. This Sneak Preview is generously hosted by the Dillard Political Science Department, and will be followed by a panel discussion. Please come and give your feedback!
For information about the documentary, visit the film's website: http://racethedocumentary.com.

October 14 Public Hearing on Future of RSD Schools

By Titus Lin

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will be holding a public hearing at 5:30pm Thursday, October 14, 2010 in the auditorium of McDonogh #35 High School, at 1331 Kerlerec Street. The meeting will be to discuss the future governance of the sixty eight New Orleans schools currently operating under the Recovery School District (RSD).

This public hearing comes following the release of recommendations by State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek in mid-September regarding potential plans to return RSD-New Orleans schools back to Orleans Parish control, and will be followed by a meeting on December 7 where the Board will take a formal vote on the matter. Students, parents, educators, groups and all citizens of New Orleans are encouraged to attend the public hearing to offer feedback and input.

The RSD is a special statewide school district created in 2003 and administered by the Louisiana Department of Education whose purpose is to take in and reform the state’s seriously underperforming schools. Although only five New Orleans Schools were transferred to the RSD between 2003 and 2005, the number increased dramatically after Katrina. Under state law, schools transferred to the RSD are to remain under RSD control for an initial period of five years, after which they can be returned to local control if student performance is raised to an acceptable level. This initial period will expire at the end of the 2010-2011 school year for Orleans Parish public schools transferred to the RSD in 2004 and 2005.

The RSD has been subject to significant controversy. Following Katrina, as part of a unprecedented experiment in privatized school management, RSD transformed approximately half of its schools into charter schools. While reports in the news and from educators around the city claim that the RSD’s charter school system has been a success, many problems exist with the RSD charter schools, as well as with the RSD as a whole. Studies have shown significant inequalities in academic progress between individuals schools as well as between charter schools and direct-run schools rising in part from a lack of centralization or centralized control.

In addition, the RSD is currently the subject of a class action lawsuit for failing to maintain proper special education programs for students with disabilities. Many concerned parents have also expressed frustrations over the lack of transparency and accountability in RSD charter schools. Perhaps the most concerning fact, however, is that at the end of five years, it appears that a large majority of New Orleans public schools being managed by RSD are still failing, have not improved significantly during their time with the RSD, and would not meet the criteria to be released back to local control.

In response to overwhelming requests from concerned parents and community leaders, LJI has helped to coordinate several initiatives to address issues within the RSD and OPSB, including the New Orleans Public Schools Monitoring Line, which advised parents, students, and school employees of their rights and resources. LJI has coordinated numerous workshops on school discipline practices and charter school education.

LJI continues its assistance to individual parents and students on education issues. We do this because we understand in this area of advocacy, needs are often far too pressing and have reached a crisis point.

Again, the details for the public hearing are:

Event: Public Hearing on Future Governance of Recovery School District Schools
Date: Thursday, October 14, 2010
Time: 5:30pm
Location: Auditorium of McDonogh #35 High School
Address: 1331 Kerlerec St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Please come and express your opinions.

Titus Lin is a Holmes Public Service Fellow at the Louisiana Justice Institute. He received his Juris Doctor of Law from Harvard Law School. At Harvard, Titus served as External Training Director for the Harvard Mediation Program and Fundraising Co-Chair for the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association. In addition to coursework in International Law and clinical work with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, Titus interned at Timap For Justice - a nonprofit, paralegal justice services organization - in Sierra Leone in the summer of 2008. He also interned briefly with the New York Immigration Coalition.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Exposing Unconstitutional Police Practices From New York to New Orleans

By Alison McCrary
As violent crime continues to surge and dozens of New Orleans police offers are under indictment, investigation, or have already pled guilty to serious crimes, the New Orleans Police Department has expanded policies that effectively undermine the already-challenged public confidence in the NOPD.

The Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU) have received numerous complaints from law abiding citizens who have been stopped and interrogated by NOPD officers in apparent violation of the U.S. Constitution. A similar policy of the New York Police Department was challenged in court as unconstitional and racially discriminatory. As a result, the NYPD made substantive changes to the policy and its implementation.

What will it take for the New Orleans Police Department to learn from the costly lessons taught to New York Police Department by civil rights litigation?

Police officers may stop individuals but only in compliance with a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Terry v. Ohio, which held an officer may stop an individual and conduct a field interview or carefully limited search only if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is about to occur. Such constitutional stops are referred to as “Terry stops.”

While limited Terry stops are needed to investigate “reasonably suspicious” criminal activity on our streets, under the leadership of the newly appointed Superintendent Ronal Serpas, numerous law abiding citizens have reported an increase in unconstitutional stops not warranted by the reasonable suspicion requirement. Such “Serpas stops” violate the law and the constitutional protections guaranteed to citizens.

NYPD is facing a federal civil rights class action lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, which among other policing issues was the topic of a New York Times article earlier this year.

Through Floyd v. City of New York, which stems from Center for Constitutional Right's landmark racial profiling case, Daniels v. City of New York that led to the disbanding of the notorious NYPD Street Crime Unit, the organization collected over ten years worth of the NYPD’s own data on officer stop-and-frisk activity.

The data collected by the Center for Constitutional rights revealed that in New York City:

· Over 80 percent of NYPD initiated stops are of Blacks and Latinos while Whites comprised only 20 percent;
· Nearly 90 percent of all stops uncovered no weapons, contraband or evidence of criminal activity;
· Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be frisked after a NYPD-initiated stop than Whites, and,
· Blacks and Latinos are more likely to have physical force used against them during a NYPD-initiated stop than Whites.

In New Orleans, the ACLU of Louisiana last week raised the question of whether all the stops being conducted by NOPD officers were proper. The ACLU received numerous reports from New Orleanians who said they were stopped for no apparent reason and were required to provide identification. New Orleans police officers are collecting personal information on residents.

However, NOPD could not answers questions raised relating to exactly how many stops the New Orleans police officers are making and whether there has been an increase since NOPD leaders have begun scrutinizing the stops at the Comstat meetings. NOPD said that long-term data is not readily available because officers have been slowly shifting to entering the information into a centralized database instead of the district ones. However, such information is legally required to remain on file at NOPD according to case precendent.

What will it take for NOPD to recognize and respect the rights of citizens who are protected by the Constitution of the United States? Respect for the legal rights of the citizens they serve is essential to the NOPD restoring public trust and being successful in making New Orleans a safer place for everyone to live and work.

If you believe you have been improperly stopped, please share your story with the Louisiana Justice Institute by calling 504-872-9134 and/or file a complaint through the ACLU’s website.

Alison McCrary is an attorney and Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow at the Louisiana Justice Institute. She received her Juris Doctor of Law from Loyola University College of Law where she served as a member of Moot Court and president of the Public Interest Law Group. Alison is a member of the National Lawyers Guild.