Thursday, December 22, 2011

ACLU of Louisiana Sues NOPD Over Use of Tasers

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:
Combat veteran was hit with Taser while seeking emotional support; ACLU seeks remedy in federal court

Today the ACLU of Louisiana assumed representation of Geoffrey Clayton, a resident of the state of Washington and a combat veteran of the Iraq war. During a May 2009 visit to New Orleans, Mr. Clayton suffered an episode brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that has plagued him since his military service. While in the French Quarter talking on the phone with his former Army Sergeant, Mr. Clayton flagged down a passing police car to ask for help. In return, he was Tasered by Officer David Zullo, who had asked him to put his phone down. As a result of the Tasering, Mr. Clayton fell to the ground and suffered serious and lasting head injuries that left him unable to perform his military duties and forced him to resign from service.

“This is the second lawsuit brought by the ACLU over NOPD Taser practices since 2007,” said Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. “Last year, the City of New Orleans paid monetary damages to Steven Elloie, who in 2006 was Tasered by police officers while tending to his family-owned business in Central City. While that case was pending, the officer in this case misused a dangerous weapon against an innocent combat veteran who did nothing more than ask the police for help. It’s clear that the New Orleans Police Department hadn’t changed its practices, and the reward to Mr. Clayton for seeking help was grave personal injury instead of the assistance that he sought and needed.”

The lawsuit, Clayton v. City of New Orleans, was filed last year. Today the ACLU of Louisiana assumed representation of Mr. Clayton to ensure that his rights are fully protected. “Tasers are dangerous weapons that can inflict serious, even fatal injury,” Esman continued. “Tasers should not be used on someone who poses no threat. Using one on a combat veteran in distress, who simply needed assistance from a police officer, shows flagrant disregard for the rights of the public and of the intended use of this dangerous device. It's past time for the New Orleans Police Department to ensure the safety of the public it is sworn to serve, and to stop using dangerous weapons on people who pose no threat.”

The case is pending in the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Did Closing the Large Housing Projects in New Orleans Create a Spike in Crime and Violence? By Dr. Lance Hill

One of the post-Katrina policies touted as a way of reducing poverty and crime was to demolish most of the large housing projects and disperse the poor throughout the city (and the nation). Apparently the planners were not paying attention to what happened in Memphis when this policy was implemented.

In New Orleans, dispersing the poor also meant dispersing some of those who deal drugs, which would inevitably lead to a new war over drug markets. Combine that with a generation of untreated Katrina-traumatized poor youth, expelling them or driving them out of the new profit-driven charter schools, and skyrocketing Black unemployment and poverty rates because Blacks have been locked out of the billions in recovery money, and one can see the futility of proposals to “arrest and imprison” our way out of this problem or blame fragmented and dispersed families and local communities for problems that were imposed on them by social planners who wanted a whiter and more affluent New Orleans.

Now there are cries to bring out the National Guard to meet the problem of traumatized youth who could care less about the criminal justice consequences of their actions because they expect to be quickly executed in retaliatory actions for their crimes. The National Guard tactic was tried in Puerto Rico several years ago but only showed some success because crime and violence was concentrated in a few public housing neighborhoods, which we no longer have for the most part. The National Guard assisted local police in New Orleans after Katrina, but that was in a city largely depopulated. Now that we have forcibly dispersed the poor internally in a 180 square mile area, the chance of anticipating and preventing violence through policing seems very unlikely.

But we do have proven solutions that overcome geography and trauma. They begin with remedying the injustices of the Katrina recovery. Opening tens of thousands of jobs to local residents would reduce, not increase violence. It would not end it, but it would improve on the 37% Black poverty rate we have now—a rate higher than before Katrina. We had $20 billion to spend on hiring local workers and we did not; we now have another $20 billion in recovery dollars and there is no plan to change the policy of relying on cheap, itinerant, outside labor. People who self-medicate their emotional pain with street drugs can be removed from the deadly drug market by providing comprehensive mental health programs and prescription drugs for the indigent. And we can ban the practice of expelling special needs students and low-performing students from our schools and also stop driving them into dead-end “prison prep” dumping schools just so that privatized charter schools can inflate their test scores and make a profit.

What does the future hold? We now have 65% of Black children under the age of five living in poverty in New Orleans, facing a bleak future. The Census Bureau says that as of 2010, there is not a single white male between the ages of 13 to 15 living in poverty in the city of New Orleans. Is there a correlation to the relative low crime and violence rate among young white males and the fact that, although they too experienced the trauma of Katrina, they came back to private mental health care, free anti-depressants and counseling, and their parents' homes were not demolished nor were their jobs stolen? They face a bright, secure, future.

The model for solving the problem of New Orleans Black youth crime and violence is right in front of us: it’s just across St. Charles Avenue.

Dr. Lance Hill is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, a tolerance education and race relations research center based at Tulane University in New Orleans. He is the author of The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and The Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

On Heels of Shooting, B.W. Cooper Residents Deliver Petition to Mayor for Job Training

From our friends at Stand with Dignity:
Community members of B.W. Cooper were joined today by members of Stand with Dignity from the Iberville Community to deliver to Mayor Landrieu a 295-signature petition for job training in the Iberville redevelopment. Residents were disappointed at the Mayor’s lack of urgency on the issue of job training in low income communities.

After the tragic death of a baby girl this weekend in B.W. Cooper, community members from B.W. Cooper and Iberville join together to demand an end to the violence through job training and access to jobs. The petitioners today were asking for training in Iberville so that when the redevelopment starts, there will be an opportunity for low income residents to start a new career in a city that is under construction and will be for years to come. The Mayor has said he is trying to Save Our Sons, but to do that he will have to make sure that there are jobs for our sons, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers.

Mark Harris, member of Stand with Dignity explained to the mayor, “15 months ago you came to Iberville to ask the residents what they wanted to see happen to Iberville, how they wanted to see it rebuilt, and would they be interested in the training that would be coming. We are here today to give you those answers as experts on our own community.”

“Yesterday, at the vigil in B.W. Cooper, the mayor asked us how we could end the violence in our community. I told him, these guys need jobs.” said Latoya Lewis, “I was disappointed that he was so naive to say that we just need to teach them how to stop killing each other- what kind of a plan is that? Do we just stand out in the street and tell guys with guns—No no, don’t do that?”

“It is a shame that I am living in a city with so much work to be done and this Christmas, for the second year in a row I cannot provide even simple gifts for my kids.” Said Keith Sims, “Mr. Mayor we need jobs and training with pay in our community- this is a crisis and we can’t wait any longer.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Migrants’ Rights are Human Rights! Take Police Out of Immigration Enforcement

By Sunita Patel, Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and Bill Quigley, Associate Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights
Nations and organizations around the globe observed yesterday as International Migrants Day. Twenty-two years ago, on December 18, 1990 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, affirming the fundamental principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Unfortunately, this year the United States’ treatment of migrants has been dismal— record numbers of deportations without adequate due process, increased fear and isolation of migrant communities and a slew of anti-immigrant and xenophobic measures passed by state legislatures.

Last week the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (DOJ), to its credit, made public the findings of its investigation, initiated in March 2009, into civil rights violations in Arizona by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MSCO) headed by the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The investigation uncovered what many local advocates have suspected for years: that Sheriff Arpaio and his subordinates engaged in a pattern and practice of racial profiling against Latinos and also unlawful retaliation against individuals critical of the Sheriff’s policies. Shortly after the DOJ’s findings became public, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ended its agreement allowing certain Maricopa County deputies to act as immigration agents on behalf of the federal government— a step community leaders have demanded for years. In ending this 287(g) agreement with Maricopa, DHS acknowledges that abuse of authority will occur when law enforcement agencies, especially those like Arpaio’s, get in the immigration business.

While DOJ’s investigation and DHS’ suspension of the 287(g) agreement with Maricopa are steps forward, a hugely problematic situation remains. DHS continues to have a relationship with MCSO through Secure Communities, the federal deportation dragnet program which will continue its legacy of mass deportations and destruction of communities.

Through Secure Communities, local law enforcement agencies automatically provide immigration authorities fingerprint information for every person arrested. After comparing the fingerprint information with its own databases, ICE can either try to deport the person or store the information in a massive database for future use. Secure Communities is already used in 1882 jurisdictions and 44 states, even in places where local officials and organizers have asked not to have any part in the program and in jurisdictions with human rights records as horrific as Maricopa County.

Think about the consequences of such a widespread program. With Secure Communities, immigration agencies automatically learn the identity of any non-citizen in the custody of local police and can initiate deportation. This is the case even if the arrest was illegal and even if the charges are dropped or never prosecuted.

Secure Communities Through a Human Rights Lens:

First, a central norm in human rights is proportionality: the punishment must fit the crime. With Secure Communities, we have witnessed record deportations and detentions – nearly 400,000 in the past year – often for minor offenses where the criminal courts don’t even seek jail time.

Second, even though human rights standards require freedom from all forms of discrimination, Secure Communities is plagued with racial and ethnic profiling. Anti-immigrant jurisdictions use it to hide illegal and race-based arrests, and the federal government allows places like Maricopa County, Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans with histories of racial profiling and abusive cops to use Secure Communities without meaningful oversight.

Third, human rights principles require full and fair hearings and urge release from detention over incarceration, but in localities with Secure Communities, immigration holds prevent release of thousands of non-citizens at the expense of local jailers and with the consequence of coercing criminal pleas and deportation.

Fourth, human rights treaties provide special protections to women, children and victims of violence, but Secure Communities is criticized for placing trafficking and domestic violence survivors at risk of removal.

Fifth, a common thread in human rights is the idea of engagement. A government should listen and engage with the people it represents and allow us to have a real voice in setting policy. But Secure Communities, despite heavy resistance and requests by states and localities to end the program, has been forced on us. Even though the people and officials of places like San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Arlington, and entire states such as New York, Illinois and Massachusetts have said they don’t want anything to do with Secure Communities, it’s being implemented anyway.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has the honor and privilege of representing one of the national leaders in the movement towards immigrant justice – the National Day Laborer Organizing Network – in a lawsuit against federal agencies for information about Secure Communities. Through this lawsuit we have uncovered literally thousands of pages of internal documents that expose a record of the federal government’s deceit and misrepresentation. These documents have been used in a national campaign to uncover the truth behind police and ICE collaborations. Advocates around the country have questioned the government’s policy, educated local police and state officials and created a groundswell of resistance against merging the criminal and immigration systems.

Secure Communities is now a symbol of government dishonesty and deception. The Obama administration was not transparent with Congress about Secure Communities’ true purpose when it asked for over $2 billion for the program; it tricked state and local officials into believing they could limit or opt out of the program; and worst of all the government sold untruths to the public to get this program launched at any cost.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-general of the United Nations, once said: “Human rights are what reason requires and conscience demands. They are us and we are them. Human rights are rights that any person has as a human being. We are all human beings; we are all deserving of human rights. One cannot be true without the other.”

The United States has failed to recognize the universality of human rights— rights we are all entitled to just because we are human. As we begin a new year, let’s take a step forward toward recognizing the fundamental human rights of all people. The United States must change course. DHS should recognize the complete failure of programs like Secure Communities that put local police at the center of immigration enforcement and terminate them immediately especially in cities with open DOJ investigations or historic records of police misconduct.

Image above by Favianna Rodriguez.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mayor Landrieu (Hardly) Responds to one of New Orleans' Most Urgent Issues, By Rosana Cruz

From our friends at Bridge the Gulf:
On November 29th, a coalition of over 30 local organizations delivered a petition with more than 2,200 signatures to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, calling for reform of Orleans Parish Prison. Specifically, the petition demanded that the Mayor formally commit to capping the size of the new facility being built by the Sheriff’s Office at 1,438 beds, and that the City Council end the “per diem” budget system for the jail. Under the “per diem” system, the Sheriff’s budget is set per person per day they’re held in the jail, creating an incentive to keep people in jail for longer.

The petition delivery happened just days before the City Council was set to vote on the Mayor’s budget, which included the Sheriff’s budget for the jail.

Two days later, rather than providing leadership and making clear his position on the jail size issue, the Mayor’s office sent the following reply to Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC):
December 1, 2011

Dear Concerned Citizens:

Thank you for your passion and energy regarding this extremely important issue. I am committed to transforming New Orleans’ criminal justice system and a right-sized jail is an important piece of the puzzle. Throughout the last year my administration has initiated a transparent public process regarding the prison facility. This open dialogue has been constructive and is still ongoing. I look forward to continuing this work together.



Mitchell J. Landrieu
Mayor, City of New Orleans
This condescending response is completely devoid of any mention of the 1,438 cap or the per diem system. We at OPPRC fear that the Mayor’s non-committal stance is an indication that back-room deals are still being cut, in order for the Sheriff to build a larger facility.

The fight over the jail size has been going on for more than a year. One year ago, in response to mounting pressure from a diverse range of community groups and individuals, Mayor Landrieu convened the Criminal Justice Working Group, to determine the size of the new jail facility. The Working Group recommended the City cap the number of beds at 1,438, and the New Orleans City Council included this number in the ordinance that approved zoning for the construction of the new jail facility. But Mayor Landrieu has made no formal commitment to adhere to this recommendation.

The time for a formal commitment from the Mayor has come.
“You can’t bring a group together to answer a vital question and then just abandon the answer that they offered when it becomes politically inconvenient,” said Norris Henderson, Executive Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender), a member organization of OPPRC (and the organization I work for). “The fact is that OPP needs to be reformed and it needs to be smaller. We believe the Mayor should listen to the thousands of individuals who signed this petition and commit to the cap. New Orleans doesn’t need more than 1,438 jail beds.”

The proposed cap would still leave New Orleans at 43.8% more jail beds per capita than the national average, even if the city reaches a population of 400,000.

The City Council responded to the petitions by committing to end the per diem system within the year. At least they appear to be taking the issue more seriously then the Mayor. But the time for action to stop New Orleans’ over-incarceration is past due.

New Orleans is at a crossroads. The Mayor can listen to the thousands of people, locals, criminal justice experts, crime victims who are asking for a brighter, smarter way forward, or he can choose to keep New Orleans in the dark ages, home of America’s largest jail. Let’s invest in real justice, Mr. Mayor. Save the city’s resources and invest in things that prevent crime, not this jail that has only made our crime problem worse.

Rosana Cruz is Associate Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender). Previously Rosana worked with Safe Streets/Strong Communities and the National Immigration Law Center. Prior to joining NILC, she worked with SEIU1991 in Miami, after having been displaced from New Orleans by Katrina. Before the storm, Rosana worked for a diverse range of community organizations, including the Latin American Library, Hispanic Apostolate, the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans, and People's Youth Freedom School. Rosana came to New Orleans through her work with the Southern Regional Office of Amnesty International in Atlanta.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Community Profile: Peggy Rayas Matthews of VOTE-NOLA

From our friends at VOTE-NOLA:
Though Peggy Rayas Matthews has been with VOTE for less than a year, her accomplishments have established her defining presence and commitment to the mission of the group. “I came out to a meeting this January for the first time and I was impressed with what VOTE was about,” she says. “It seemed everyone was on the same page and I joined that night.”

Matthews heard about VOTE from her co-worker, member Betty Allen who sparked her interest by advertising the paralegal class that was about to begin. Since then, she has expanded her involvement to include legislative research and outreach, participation in the Greater New Orleans Organizer’s Roundtable, and fundraising efforts for November’s leadership conferences, which she also attended.

Matthews’ passion for the issues VOTE endorses comes from both personal and professional experiences. “I have a 29 year-old son who has been involved in the criminal justice system on and off,” she says. Matthews has been a social worker for about 30 years, in which she has worked with the formerly incarcerated, the homeless, mentally ill, and the physically disabled. “The target population that seemed the most handicapped to me was the ex-felons,” she explains. “Formerly incarcerated people were getting the short end of the stick, which is why I choose to focus on that group.”

The community opportunities that VOTE provides are central to Matthews' experience, from the Undoing Racism training she participated in with the People’s Institute, to the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement conference, to VOTE meetings themselves. “I feel we accomplish something coming together,” explains Matthews. “And the platform that the FIP movement presented was the epitome to me, that was something concrete in the end that we can go forth with.”

Matthews sees registering FIPS and pre-conviction detainees to vote as one avenue of concrete change. “When we have that 5,000 people behind us building that strong voting block, I think the sky is the limit,” she says. In the short-term, she sees VOTE’s economic improvement campaigns as urgent antidotes to present societal problems she encounters everyday on the job. In her future with VOTE, Matthews would like to help implement more classes and resources to aid FIPS immediately after their reentry. “Everything in this country boils down to economics,” says Matthews. “In this country it’s supposed to be we the people, so let’s let it be we the people.”

Photo above: Ms. Peggy works on legal research with other members of VOTE’s paralegal class.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Library of New Orleans Youth Prison to Feature LGBTQ-Centered Books as Part of Model Policy

From our friends at BreakOUT!:
BreakOUT! member and formerly-detained youth, B., delivered a box of LGBTQ books to the Youth Study Center, New Orleans’ juvenile detention facility, on Friday.

The books, which came through generous donations from community members during a book drive held in September, were collected in appreciation for the facility’s adoption of a model LGBTQ policy. Among other best practices for the treatment of transgender youth and a requirement for staff training, the policy requires that “Books about being LGBT and LGBT-inclusive magazines will be made available to youth.”

Donated books, which will be placed in the facility’s new library, included both young adult fiction and non-fiction and ranged from books about gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin to coming-of-age novels. The facility Director, Glenn Holt, and BreakOUT! thanks everyone who donated books for youth in custody. More information about the facility's policy can be found on the BreakOUT! blog.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sojourner Truth Academy Suspends 20% of its Senior Class for Singing

From our friends at Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana:
On Friday, November 18th, ten honor-roll seniors at Sojourner Truth Academy were suspended for singing in the school cafeteria during lunchtime. The suspensions occurred without notice or warning, and in violation of the school code of conduct's commitment that prior to a suspension, "a principal or designee must conduct a student conference and school level investigation." The suspension of ten students in a graduating class of forty-five represents one fifth of the senior student body and has threatened the students' access to scholarships, and for some students, their ability to graduate this academic year.

Currently, rates of suspension and expulsion in Louisiana schools are several times the national average. According to "Pushed Out: Harsh Discipline in Louisiana Schools Denies the Right to Education," Louisiana's expulsion rate is five times the national rate. In at least ten schools in New Orleans, the out of schools suspension rate during the 2009-2010 school year exceeded 30%, including Sojourner Truth Academy at 60%, by far the highest rate. Moreover, the overuse of harsh discipline disproportionately affects some Louisiana school children over others. African American students make up 44% of the statewide public school population, but 68% of suspensions and 72.5% of expulsions.

"While punitive discipline policies are a critical issue statewide, the suspension of ten students at Sojourner Truth for singing in one week is one of the most egregious examples of the inappropriate use of school discipline," states Carol Kolinchak, Legal Director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, whose office is helping the students to file appeals on their suspension through a project called Stand Up for Each Other! "These girls were denied all of their due process rights before they were given the suspension, and this will have serious consequences for their educational future. It is shameful that a school administration should act in complete disregard of their mandate to educate the students that attend and inhibit graduation and college."

The inappropriate use of discipline is just one of many ongoing problems that have been identified at Sojourner Truth Academy, by parents, students, and teachers. Members of the school community report problems at the school including, inadequate resources for special education services, improper suspensions and expulsions, staff reassignments and inappropriate terminations, inadequate staffing and funding for programs, a lack of transparency in financial reporting, and threats and intimidation to faculty and staff. According to staff member Marika Barto, "our foremost concern is for the benefit of students at Sojourner Truth, particularly the graduating class of 2012. Our students deserve the same quality of education, the same level of respect, and the same opportunity for success as every other public school student in the state of Louisiana."

The ten girls have appealed their suspension and written a letter to the administration of the school, dubbing themselves the "Sojourner Ten;" they plan to testify at the next Sojourner Truth Board meeting regarding their suspension for singing, as well as broader problems at the school that have impeded the students from learning. "All we want is to complete our school year and graduate and for others to have these same opportunities," said Damonika Stokes, a member of the Sojourner Ten. "Nobody ever warned us that singing was against the code of conduct, or that it would result in punishment. We are hopeful that we can continue our education and move forward in our lives towards graduation."

Members of the Sojourner Ten; parents, including Anna Burns, who says she "is concerned that such a harsh decision on the part of school administration will hurt my child's chances of getting into college;" teachers; and other concerned citizens plan to testify regarding their concerns at the Sojourner Truth Board Meeting at 5:45 pm on Tuesday, November 29th in the cafeteria of the school located at 2437 Jena Street in New Orleans.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Occupy NOLA Activists Prevent Sheriff's Sale of Home and Community Center, and Also Win Injunction Against Eviction

Note: In addition to the successful action described below, Occupy NOLA also won a victory in court today. A judge ruled that the city should not have evicted Occupy Nola, and that protesters have the right to move back into Duncan Plaza. According to a Times Picayune report:
Bill Quigley, a lawyer for the Occupy protesters, said he believes it is the first case to date in which a judge has allowed an Occupy protest to take up residence again after an eviction by the city. Davida Finger, another Occupy lawyer, said that the decision proved that "No one is above the law, even the city of New Orleans."
The report below comes from our friends at Survivors Village:

Hours after being evicted from encampment, Occupy NOLA joins forces with Survivors Village to disrupt Sheriff's sale of blighted homes

Survivors Village, a community group of former St. Bernard public housing residents and their allies, joined forces today with recently evicted Occupy NOLA protesters to successfully disrupt a Sheriff’s sale of foreclosed properties. Delaying the sale for two hours, the protesters announced:
“This auction is illegal and immoral. It is a way to steal homes, redistribute wealth and prevent the right to return. The sale of blighted property is the city's attempt to remove poor homeowners who have already suffered tremendously from economic and natural disaster. Blight has become an excuse to gentrify. Charging poor homeowners outrageous fees in order to steal their homes is an underhanded way to keep people displaced. Stop capitalizing off of crisis! This process is corrupt! You are stealing homes! STOP NOW!”
The sale was scheduled to begin at noon. At approximately 1:45 pm, after several potential buyers had already left, the police arrived and threatened the nonviolent protesters with arrest. Before declaring that the remainder of their protest would be silent, the protesters announced their intention to physically defend any properties sold: “We will be in court. We will be in the streets. We will be in the houses--defending them, boarding them up, and occupying them.”

Protesters specifically identified two properties and successfully urged buyers not to purchase them. The Fight Back Center, a long-time community center in the St. Bernard neighborhood in New Orleans’ 7th ward was slated to be auctioned at today’s sale despite city personnel having acknowledged that there were numerous legal problems with the process. “This is community space and we will fight to keep it that way,” protesters declared.

The Fight Back Center is currently being redeveloped and rebuilt by Survivors Village, which began in 2006 as a tent city of public housing residents who were locked out of their homes after Hurricane Katrina.

Protesters also urged buyers not to purchase the home of an individual who had approached them to express thanks for what they were doing. The individual’s home had been completely renovated, but the city refused his offer to pay the $575 fine that had been assessed, refusing to waive the thousands of dollars in fines that accrued daily since the home was declared blighted. He was financially unable to pay these fees and thus faced loss of his home. Following the protesters’ declared intention to defend these properties, neither received a minimum bid and thus remained unsold.

Protesters also distributed flyers educating the crowd about the realities of the auction. The flyers declared:
This is an auction of stolen properties. When a property in New Orleans is declared ‘blighted’ it is because homeowners are unable to complete the necessary work on their properties to comply with the city’s codes. The city gives the homeowner a fine of $575 and orders the homeowner to finish renovation or demolition of the property within thirty days and pay the fine or face additional fees of up to $500 per day. When poor homeowners are charged thousands of dollars each week—money they would put into their homes if they had it—the city leaves them no choice but to go bankrupt or hand over their properties. This is state sanctioned theft under the guise of 'recovery.'
The protesters’ disruption at the Sheriff’s sale occurred less than eight hours after Occupy NOLA was itself evicted from their encampment at Duncan Plaza. Around 4 pm, Occupy NOLA was issued a temporary restraining order by US District Judge Jay Zainey who said he was "not happy" that the city opted to clear the camp while a motion for a TRO was pending.

Today’s protest was also carried out in solidarity with a call from Occupy Wall Street, who declared December 6 a day of action on the foreclosure crisis.

View a video of today’s protest at this link.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Junebug Productions Premieres Homecoming Project, an Exciting New Place-Based Storytelling Performance Series

From our friends at Junebug Productions:
Junebug Presents...
Saturday, December 3rd
12pm - 5pm

THIS SATURDAY AFTERNOON! Junebug Productions is proud to present the inaugural installment of our new place-based storytelling performance series, HOMECOMING PROJECT, where YOU are the stars!

Be a part of the process, be a part of the show - bring the whole family, bring the whole neighborhood - as we lift up our unique cultural heritage and take it to the streets so that we may preserve and continue our traditions that make New Orleans HOME.

HOMECOMING PROJECT will feature performances from the Hot 8 Brass Band, Kumbuka African Drum & Dance Collective, Michaela Harrison, Roscoe Reddix Jr, Keisha "Peaches" Caldwell, VOIC'D (Voices Organized in Creative Dissent), and more surprises along the way!

Street art installations created by the Xavier University art students, under the direction of renowned New Orleans visual artist, Ron Bechet, will be unveiled along our Second Line route, and Institute for Womens & Ethnic Studies (IWES) will host a FREE Community Health and Resource Fair at the finale of the Second Line at the New Orleans African American Museum.

Additionally, documentarian, Royce Osborn of All On A Mardi Gras Day will be filming HOMECOMING PROJECT - be a part of history - be there! Tell us what HOME means to YOU.

For more information, or if you are interested in participating in or supporting HOMECOMING PROJECT, please contact us!


12:00pm: Welcome & Libations @ Congo Square - 800 N. Rampart St.
w/ Performances by Kumbuka African Drum & Dance Collective
+ Michaela Harrison

12:30pm: Second Line begins northeast on N. Rampart St.
w/ Hot 8 Brass Band

3:00pm: Second Line dis-bands @ 1418 Governor Nicholls St.
w/ Community Health & Resource Fair hosted by IWES
@ New Orleans African American Museum


And after Homecoming Project, the party begins...
Junebug Productions & The Dynamite Dave Soul present...
A Junebug Official RENT PARTY Holiday Fundraiser
10pm - until?
Featuring the sounds of The Dynamite DJ Dave Soul + MC Charlie V!
Join the cast and crew of Junebug and Homecoming Project in celebrating home with Dave Soul on his 33rd birthday.
$10 Admission | Proceeds Benefit Junebug's Community Programming
@ The GOLDEN FEATHER Mardi Gras Indian Restaurant & Gallery
704 N. Rampart St. | Across from Congo Square | 504.266.2339
[ 2nd Floor Loft ]
+ Visit Golden Feather for delicious traditional African and Creole foods for dinner from 6pm - 9pm downstairs!

Join us after the inaugural Homecoming Project 2011, happening from 12pm - 5pm in Treme on Saturday, December 3rd, in supporting New Orleans' historical community theatre organization, John "Junebug Jabbo Jones" O'Neal's Junebug Productions, at our seasonal fund-raiser and dance party!

This year, Junebug has joined forces with Dave Soul and Pont:Productions for our holiday fundraiser to help sustain one of New Orleans' cultural gems with another cultural gem - DJ Dave Soul - on the 1s and 2s for his 33rd Bornday Party!

Why not support our own legacy and cultural preservation this holiday season AND have a good time doing so? We can't think of a better way.

So bring your friends, your good spirits, and your dancin' shoes...

HOMECOMING PROJECT 2011 is made possible with the generous contributions of grants from: the Arts Council of New Orleans, Louisiana Division of the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, The City of New Orleans, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Creative Capital MAP Fund, Theatre Communications Group, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Greater New Orleans Foundation, Gulf Coast Fund, Open Society Foundations, and Alternate ROOTS.

Junebug Productions & Homecoming Project would also like to extend very special thanks to our community partners; Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Contemporary Arts Center, The New Orleans African American Museum, Institute for Womens & Ethnic Studies (IWES), The Black Men of Labor Social Aid & Pleasure Club (BMOL), Golden Feather Mardi Gras Indian Restaurant & Gallery, The Center for Public Service (CPS) and Students Organizing Against Racism (SOAR) at Tulane University, the Xavier University Art Department and Art Village, Mondo Bizarro, ArtSpot Productions, Kids ReThink Our Schools Program, Safe Streets, People's Institute for Survival & Beyond (PISAB), People United for Armstrong Park (PUfAP).

...and YOU!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

NOPD Officer Barrios Sentenced in Danziger Cover-Up

From a US Department of Justice Press Release:
A former New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officer was sentenced today to serve five years in prison for his role in covering up a police-involved shooting that occurred on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

Robert Barrios was one of several officers who rode in a large Budget rental truck to the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, where officers engaged in a shooting incident that left two civilians dead and four others seriously injured.

In April 2010, Barrios admitted that he agreed with other officers to obstruct justice during the investigations that followed the shooting. Barrios also admitted that, prior to giving a formal, audio-taped statement to NOPD investigators, he and other officers participated in a meeting with two sergeants assigned to investigate the shooting, during which the officers were instructed to get their stories straight before giving their formal statements. Barrios further admitted that he lied, in a formal NOPD statement, in order to help cover for his fellow officers, and that the purpose of the conspiracy he joined was to provide false and misleading information in order to ensure that the shootings on the bridge would appear to be legally justified and that the involved officers would therefore be shielded from liability.

Barrios is the fifth cooperating police officer to be sentenced in this case. Former Lieutenant Michael Lohman, former Detective Jeffrey Lehrmann, and former Officers Michael Hunter and Ignatius Hills are all serving federal prison sentences. The five officers who were convicted at trial – Sergeants Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, and Arthur “Archie” Kaufman; Officer Anthony Villavaso; and former Officer Robert Faulcon – are scheduled to be sentenced by U. S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt on Feb. 14, 2012.

This case was investigated by the New Orleans Field Office of the FBI, and was prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Forrest Christian of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Carter for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Fault Lines of US Policy

Recently, Louisiana Justice Institute staffer Jordan Flaherty has been working with Al Jazeera English as one of the producers on their flagship documentary program Fault Lines. For several years, Fault Lines has offered in-depth explorations of the issues ignored by much of the media. Below is an announcement detailing the new season, which premieres tonight, airing at 5:30pm EST. You can watch Al Jazeera on your TV in several cities - including via Time Warner Cable in New York City and Comcast in Washington, DC - and wherever you live, you can watch it online.

After they air, episodes of Fault Lines are posted on YouTube and on the Al Jazeera website. You can also watch all of Al Jazeera's programming via their live stream, at
New Season of Fault Lines Premieres Tonight, Explores Drought in Horn of Africa, Unions' Declining Influence, Student Uprisings in Chile, and More

Al Jazeera’s latest season of Fault Lines premieres Monday November 28th, taking viewers beyond the daily headlines and holding the powerful to account, as the show examines the US role both at home and abroad. The new season launches as the 2012 Presidential election looms, and the fault lines in the US have never seemed deeper.

The award-winning Fault Lines will examine crises from the drought in the Horn of Africa to issues surrounding the upcoming US Presidential election. Subsequent episodes will examine America’s new approach to warfare, the decline of labor unions and the Chilean student uprising.

“The entire world is on edge and no one gets you closer to how the biggest crises are shaping up and what’s next than Fault Lines,” said Amjad Atallah, Al Jazeera English bureau chief of the Americas. “America’s role in how conflicts play out has never been greater and our correspondents take you inside the globe’s biggest movements. We’re very excited for the new season.”

Episodes include:

Crisis in the Horn of Africa: Warnings from the Drought Zone.- November 28th and December 5th
In a two-part series, Fault Lines asks how US policies intersect with drought, food insecurity and famine in the Horn of Africa. In part one, Fault Lines travels to Mogadishu to see the impact of Somalia’s famine, and asks if US policies have contributed to the disaster. In the second film, Fault Lines travels to Kenya to find out how US policies intersect with drought and hunger.

The Republican Race, the Religious Right, and the Tea Party- December 12th
Over 2 weeks, Fault lines followed Republican Presidential hopefuls as they campaigned in Iowa - to understand how the far-right Christian conservative movement is reshaping the American political debate.

The Decline of Unions in America- Dec 19th
America’s once powerful unions are locked in a battle for survival. Fault Lines examines the fight against organized labor, the fight back from the workers themselves, how it ties into the Occupy Wall Street movement and what it means for White House hopefuls in 2012.

Robot Wars- Dec 26th
The US Military has embraced robot technology to help it fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now pouring billions into developing potentially autonomous robots that will be able to kill without human approval. Fault Lines investigates this growing industry of killing machines, and asks the questions: How can this be ethical? Who is benefiting? And what will the battlefields of the future look like?

Chile Rising- Jan 2nd
And as Occupy protests grow across America, Fault Lines travels to Chile, where students have been taking to the streets for months. The country has been gripped by massive demonstrations calling for a more fair distribution of income – in the wealthiest, but also most unequal country in Latin America.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Houma Nation Fight for Recognition, By Adam Crepelle

The Bridge The Gulf Blog recently posted a powerful report from a citizen of the United Houma Nation, about the tribe’s history and its ongoing struggle to be officially recognized by the US government. Below are excerpts from the posting.
I am a citizen of the United Houma Nation (UHN), Louisiana’s largest Indian tribe with over 17,000 citizens. Residing along the Gulf Coast, Louisiana's wetlands are an integral part of the Houma's culture. Coastal erosion has plagued the UHN for decades, but the BP spill has placed the Houma's traditional way of life against the ropes.

The Houma Indians were originally located near present day Baton Rouge when famed French explorer Robert de La Salle first encountered the tribe in the 1680s; accordingly, the French named Baton Rouge for the red stick used to mark the Houma's border with a rival tribe. As Europeans continued to move into Louisiana, the Houma migrated south. Naturally, the city of Houma is named for the Houma Indian village located there. To this day, most Houma remain in the Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish area, and many continue to practice the tribe’s traditional way of life.

The modern Houma speak a variant of French long thought to be derived from the Cajuns; however, tribal leaders say linguists have recently proven the Houma language is a distinct language. Houma-Francais consists predominately of the version of French spoken in France circa-1700 blended with pieces of the original Houma language, a Muskegon dialect.

Consequently, the Houma learned French from the French explorers who initially encountered the tribe and not the Cajuns. This means the Houma were speaking French before the Cajuns ever set foot in Louisiana. Unsurprisingly, Louisiana and France recognize the present day UHN as the progeny of the Houma tribe of old.

Recognizing the UHN as a tribe makes sense to me. After all, what other logical explanation is there for a contemporary Indian tribe located where the historic Houma tribe was last located, and speaking the language the historic Houma tribe would have spoken, than the contemporary tribe is the descendant of the historic Houma tribe? Plus many Houma continue to use the tribe’s traditional healing practices and remain dependent on wetlands for harvesting their meals.

Inferences like this led renowned anthropologist Frank Speck to state, “I should rate the Houma as a people possessing Indian blood and cultural characters to a degree about equal to that of the Creek, Choctaw, Catawbe, and Seminoles.” The aforementioned tribes are recognized by the federal government as the ancestors of the existing tribes. However, the federal government has been unable to connect the dots between the Houma encountered by de La Salle and today’s UHN; in other words, the US does not consider the UHN a tribe.

When it came to discriminating against the Houma, their "Indianness" was never questioned. Houma Indian children were forced to attend a segregated Indian school until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nonetheless, the US government has yet to determine the UHN's status as a tribe despite receiving the UHN’s petition for federal recognition in 1985.

The UHN was bitterly reminded of its lack of federal recognition in the wake of the BP spill. Like the entire state, the UHN has been devastated by the spill, so the Houma filed a damages claim with BP. BP denied the UHN's claim because the tribe is not federally recognized.

Oil companies have long been the UHN's major nemesis. Oil was initially discovered on Houma Indian land in the early 1900s. As the Houma did not speak English, oilmen were able swindle the Houma out of their lands. A common tactic employed by oilers was to communicate the transaction was a land lease; however, the contract was actually a quit-claim. Resultantly, the Houma lost ownership rights to the lands that had fostered their culture.

Environmental damage soon came to the land the Houma no longer owned but still were dependent upon for their survival. Oil companies dug canals through the wetlands to facilitate the transport of oil field equipment. Unquestionably, moving massive drilling paraphernalia through water is easier than carting it across marsh, but most easy roads in life have high long term costs. In this case, the road's toll is accelerated wetland loss. A byproduct of digging is piles of whatever you may be digging, in this case marsh. These "mounds of marsh" were simply tossed aside blocking the natural water flow.

The manmade canals also enable saltwater from the Gulf to creep into the marsh. If you have taken a biology course, you will probably conjecture saltwater colliding with life forms accustomed to less salty water equals problems for that life, and you would be right. The freshwater vegetation dies from exposure to saltwater meaning the root systems holding the land together are gone; thus, coastal erosion occurs. Coastal erosion has already washed away much of the Houma’s traditional land. Like most, if not all, Native American tribes, the Houma cherish the graves of their ancestors. Sadly, many of the Houma gravesites have been swallowed by the ever encroaching sea.

If the UHN had been federally recognized when oil was first discovered on their land, many of these ecological and cultural tragedies could have been averted. Groups such as the NAACP have stated oil lobbies do not want the Houma recognized because the land would be protected under the federal designation.

Federal recognition gives a tribe status as a sovereign nation. If federally recognized, the UHN would have a strong damages claim against BP; furthermore, the tribe would be eligible for educational opportunities, healthcare, and a myriad of other benefits--including disaster relief. Disaster relief would be extremely valuable to the UHN, as the tribe has been pummeled by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and the BP spill all since 2005. Additionally, federal funds would likely be available to protect the tribe's land from coastal erosion.

I think justice demands the UHN be recognized as a tribe by the federal government. If the federal government allows a group of people to be oppressed because they are Native American, I think it is reasonable for the government to acknowledge the people as Native American. Accordingly, I think it is only fair for the federal government to recognize the people who were discriminated against because they were descended from the Houma tribe of old as the progeny of the Houma tribe.

The UHN currently has a petition before the U.S. government for federal recognition. More information can be found at this link. You can also get more information at UHN's Facebook page.

Adam Crepelle is a citizen of the United Houma Nation. He serves on the tribe’s Tribal Security and Community Services Committee and the tribe’s Diabetes’s Coalition. Adam received his degree in exercise science from the University of Louisiana Lafayette in 2009. He is currently in his second year at Southern University Law Center.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ethics Issues Raised Regarding Chas Roemer and Kira Orange-Jones

A recent blog post from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers highlights some of the issues that have recently been raised around candidates for the upcoming Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) election. Below are excerpts from the blog:
Two candidates strongly supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal, big business and even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are facing ethics issues in the waning days of the 2011 election season.

Kira Orange-Jones, candidate for the District 2 seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, is the subject of a cease-and-desist order signed by a New Orleans judge.

According to the online publication New Orleans Agenda, "Orange Jones had claimed in her campaign advertising that she had voted for President Obama in November, 2008, but the plaintiffs provided the court with a sworn statement signed by Orange Jones on August 17, 2011, that she had never before been registered to vote in Louisiana or any other place."

The order says that Orange-Jones must "cease and desist from misrepresenting her voting record or her registration in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1463." It is illegal for candidates to make statements that they know to be false or misleading, according to the article.

Chas Roemer, in a runoff for re-election to his District 6 BESE seat, has run afoul of the Louisiana ethics code and must return some $10,000 worth of contributions, according to this article by Mikhail Zinshteyn in The American Independent.

It seems that when the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry pumped $20,000 into Roemer's campaign, the cash infusion lifted him way over the legal limit for PAC contributions.

Gov. Jindal recently sent a fund-raising letter on Roemer's behalf, and his campaign fund for the District 6 seat - which pays no salary - now holds over $220,000. His opponent, former Ascension Parish Superintendent of School Donald Songy, has raised less than $14,000.

Songy's campaign chest is about par for BESE elections. The really curious question is why all the big money is pouring into Roemer's campaign. It is an unprecedented expenditure for the state school board.

But that's not the only ethics question dogging Roemer. His sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. Because of her relationship with Chas, she is prohibited from speaking at BESE meetings, and does not do so.

As this article by Louisiana Voice reporter Tom Aswell points out, ethics laws also prohibit elected officials from voting "on any matter in which a member or his immediate family has a substantial economic interest."

The ethics board has never made a specific ruling in his case, but it would seem that Chas Roemer should abstain from any vote involving one of his sister's schools.

Instead, Aswell writes, "In December of 2010 alone, he made motions to approve charter school contracts of $50,000 and under, made motions to approve Crescent City School, the NET Charter High School, the Collegiate Academy Charter School, the Sarah T. Reed Charter Middle School, the ReNEW K-8 Charter School, The ReNEW Alternative High School, and in one case, made the motion to deny an application to commence operation of Joseph A. Craig Charter School in New Orleans."

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Orleans Is No Education 'Miracle' By Linda Tran

An article recently posted on the Education Week website offers an important perspective on New Orleans' schools:
As a recent graduate of a New Orleans public high school, I find it very troubling that the national conversation about post-Katrina education amounts to little more than talking points about charter schools and test scores. The most telling indication of how we’re doing in the classroom actually comes from a youth-led research project showing the hard realities students continue to face every day. As New Orleans moves to become the first all-charter district in the country, students here must be heard.

The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, or VAYLA, surveyed a cross section of 450 students from six different public high schools among the schools overseen by the Orleans Parish school board and those in the state’s Recovery School District, or RSD, asking students for their opinions on everything from counselor availability and teacher effectiveness to school lunches and safety. Published this September, the surveys and testimony that VAYLA gathered contain more than 25,000 student observations. These student voices echo the feelings of many of us yearning to be heard by policymakers.

Louisiana education officials promised to build a world-class public school system after Katrina. But the survey shows that the historic inequalities faced by students of color and those from low-income communities were not washed away by the floodwaters.

An Orleans Parish charter school with a significant white population received high marks across the board, while the remaining five schools averaged what amounts to a C or D in areas like safety, academic rigor, counselor accessibility, classroom management, physical environment, and affordability. I can personally attest to how much these challenges impact a student’s ability to learn, grow, and earn the right to walk across that stage on graduation day.

Even though math and reading scores have improved in New Orleans, the challenge that traps so many people my age is the lack of a high school diploma or at least one that truly represents the education necessary to succeed in life. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, one of every six New Orleans high schools fails to graduate at least 40 percent of its students. By 2018, about 3 million US jobs will be available without enough college educated workers to apply, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Our economic future demands more from our education system and so should we. A majority of the high school students who responded to the VAYLA survey said they did not feel their school was preparing them for college; over 60 percent of students said they complete less than one hour of homework each night; and 20 percent of students also said they have never visited an academic counselor. Schools must find a way to support students with after-school study halls, Advanced Placement course offerings, accessible counselors, and other services that prepare them for college and careers.

As a student-advocacy organization, VAYLA recognizes that teachers and administrators cannot do it all on their own. Parents need to be engaged in the education process. One of the major barriers is language, with 50 percent of limited-English-proficient parents having never even met their kids’ teachers. Bilingual school staff and translation services would enable limited-English families to get involved and stay involved. Furthermore, an online parent portal would give working parents the chance to monitor their children’s progress.

Like many others, the schools VAYLA studied are in desperate need of new models that support English-language learners. The results indicate that nearly 70 percent of Asian and Latino students responding reported having been placed in an English-as-a-second-language class that did not fit their needs. Each of these students has a different level of proficiency, requiring tailored instruction. We must do more to ensure that every ESL class has a teacher who is certified in this field.

Hopefully, we can also agree to do something about the one in four students who report that they feel “unsafe” at school. We would know so much more about the dangers that exist if schools reported incidents of harassment and bullying. Without spending a penny, students and security-staff members could create a safety commission at each school to develop better solutions that do not rely on punishments and harsh discipline. Providing more counseling options would give students with emotional or social challenges the support they need to prevent dangerous behavior.

Other issues continue to hold students back, but no one looking at New Orleans’ schools seems to see what is actually happening on the ground: Sixty percent of students surveyed don’t use the restrooms at their schools; 70 percent of students say their classes do not have enough textbooks for every student; and half of students do not eat lunch every day. These are basic problems that still exist.

Six years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ public high schools are still plagued by severe inequities. Just talk to the students.

Linda Tran was the Abramson Science and Technology Charter School's class of 2011 salutatorian. She was also a youth lead organizer and researcher for the VAYLA survey. She is now a freshman at the University of New Orleans.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

“There’s Too Much Misinformation About Us Out Here" An Interview With Norris Henderson by Parnell Herbert

Parnell Herbert sat with Norris Henderson, Co-Director of V.O.T.E. NOLA to discuss the fact and fiction about Black-on-Black crime in New Orleans.

While sitting with Norris Henderson upstairs at the RAE House, I couldn’t help but marvel at his calm, composed demeanor. Here is a man who served many years of his life at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola, a place that was once known as the Bloodiest and Most Brutal Penitentiary in the United States. And here he was talking to me about what we can do to try to stop our young African American males from killing each other. Norris is a selfless man and a giving individual who wants nothing more than to find ways to help others and to make the world a better place for us all.

Parnell Herbert: Norris, tell us a little about yourself and your organization.

Norris Henderson: I am a native New Orleanian and Director of VOTE “Voice Of The Ex-offender.” We work with the base population of people reentering society. Originally our focus was to organize Formerly Incarcerated People (FIP) around their right to vote. In this state FIPs do have a right to vote, and VOTE made that our rallying call. When people are civically engaged, they believe they are a part of something. They feel more involved.

PH: Sure, you mean you have something to say about what goes on in your life.

Norris Henderson: Yes. We have learned throughout this nine year process that there are collateral consequences that come with being formerly incarcerated, such as limited employment opportunities, lack of decent affordable housing, inadequate health care… For the past ten years Louisiana has led the nation in per-capita incarceration and New Orleans leads the state. Question is “Do we have bad boys or do we have a bad system?” Socio-economically the largest numbers of people of color to come out of that system are worse off than they were when they went in. We have created a vicious cycle. People can’t find a way to get off of it or out of it. Retaliation is Perpetuation applies not only to young Black males killing each other it, also applies to the system.

PH: You mean a perpetual cycle of poverty?

Norris Henderson: Exactly! Louisiana is first where we want to be last and last where we want to be first. We are on a parallel track with our crime rate and our incarceration rate. We should be first or last in one or the other. If incarceration is high then crime should be low. High incarceration could explain low crime. We could be high in one or the other. Not both. Prison is a growth industry and these young brothers are becoming the commodity.

PH: We know that prison perpetuates itself. While it does nothing to prepare inmates for their release, prisons remain prepared for their anticipated return. Our Governor Piyush Jindal is trying to sell a couple of prisons. We know that prisons are more than brick and mortar and bars. It is also people. When you sell a prison you sell the inmates, you sell human beings and that is called slavery.

Norris Henderson: In theory they say “You have paid your debt to society.” In this state “Revised Statue 37” addresses professions and occupations. It prohibits FIPs from getting 70 types of licenses. You could have been the best barber in the pen but when you come home you can’t get a license. They have complicated the process of expungement and made it cost prohibitive.

PH: You mentioned registering FIPs, but don’t you also register people while they are incarcerated?

Norris Henderson: Yes. That is one of the best kept secrets. A pre-trial detainee remains eligible to vote. As long as you are not under conviction, probation or parole you maintain your voting rights.

PH: Let’s talk about the census. Inmates are counted where they are incarcerated, not where they are from. In the military you are counted under your home address, not where you are stationed.

Norris Henderson: Large inmate populations are counted as residents of that community. West Feliciana Parish has a population of 10,000. Angola’s population of 5,000 is added to that so it appears that West Feliciana has 15,000 residents. And funds are allocated thusly.

PH: That also explains the hospice program in Angola. When asked why they don’t release these harmless, dying old men to go home and die with their families, it is because the prison and their parish continue to benefit from that inmates physical presence.

Norris Henderson: The program itself is a good one. It was needed because people were not getting out. They were dying in there and the quality of care was deplorable. We have some of the harshest laws and sentences in this country. When they increased the sentencing in Louisiana, crime increased. Because sentences were so harsh people did everything they could to avoid capture, which includes killing people to avoid conviction.

PH: I have read that over 85% of Angola’s inmates will die there, so there is little rehabilitation.

Norris Henderson: There is rehabilitation but its self- rehabilitation. Guys are rehabilitating themselves.

PH: Wow, I love that term “Self- rehabilitation.” Will you explain to us what that means?

Norris Henderson: Well it’s like “Each One Reach One. Each One Teach One.” Academically challenged individuals are encouraged by older inmates to get their GED and use this time to advance themselves in preparation for release.

PH: One of the things we want to discuss is how the system is set up for young Black males to do something dumb in the streets so they can take you off of the streets and benefit from your presence while incarcerated. Many of these young men depend on their weapons and their boys in the streets. What happens when the boys are not around and weapons are no longer available behind those prison doors?

Norris Henderson: Attitudes change immediately because you realize, this is a different playing field. No AK, no Uzi, no Mac… You are now in an environment where no one is afraid of you because they have done what you have done and worse. They realize very quickly I have given up so much for so little in return. If they have no kids there is no legacy. The world will never even know you were here. Your girlfriend drops off, your boys drop off there is no one to call no one answers your letters. You are alone and will someday just cease to exist. Retaliation is Perpetuation is so true. It’s like you kill my dog, I kill your cat. At the end of the day no one has a pet.

PH: Why do you think these young brothers are killing each other and what do you think we can do about it?

Norris Henderson: We have to create opportunities. Crime is about economics. Murder is the most serious. We have to get them to stop trying to come up on each other. In the game the hunter becomes the hunted. When you are out there hustling you have nothing. But the minute you come up you become the hunted. I know this personally because I lost a son to it. The people directly impacted will have to step up. When my son died his boys said “The streets are going to run red.” Standing in front of my sons casket dressed in prison garb and shackles I said “No. It stops here.” His friends had to respect that. God is the best planner. Everything happens for a reason. Someone directly impacted has to make that statement “It stops here” and others have to respect that.

PH: We discussed the use of the word “Madness” and I agree with you. Our kids are not mad. They are not insane or crazy but they do some dumb stuff. The most dangerous man alive is the one without hope. He feels he has nothing to lose and basically nothing to live for. We have to show them there is hope. Norris you and I came from the same place many of them are from and we are still here living proud and productive lives. We need young people to get that feeling of hopelessness out of their minds. As long as you are alive there is hope. “Don’t give up - you are not hopeless and this is not a hopeless world in which we live."

Norris Henderson: Seeing something better about you is hope. Hope is a good thing. You’ve got to have hope. If you don’t have hope you are just giving up on yourself. You have to be hopeful that you can achieve your objective in life.

Parnell Herbert is a recently returned New Orleanian who was previously displaced to Houston by Hurricane Katrina. He is active on many social justice causes, including the right of return for New Orleanians, and freedom for the Angola Three. His new play, Angola Three, has been performed in New Orleans and other cities.

Confederate Flag in Caddo Parish to Come Down

From The Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty:
After more than sixty years since it was raised, the Confederate Flag outside the Caddo Parish Courthouse will come down.

The decision comes after two hearings at the Caddo Parish Commission (2002 and 2011), one hearing in the Louisiana Supreme Court, a visit from Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute on Race and Justice, and national and international attention in the media. In a 11‐1 vote, the Caddo Parish Commission authorized the flag’s removal from the grounds of the Caddo Parish Courthouse, where it has been raised each day for 61 years.

“Taking down the Confederate Flag from our Courthouse removes a significant barrier to full participation," said NAACP President Lloyd Thompson during the Commission meeting, "It gives our communities confidence to work together for the benefit of Caddo Parish as whole."

“It is the first step in the right direction,” said Reverend Mary Richard of The Church of the Holy Cross at the meeting. “The cost of the flag has been mistrust in the fair and equal meting out of justice in the Courthouse; this decision means we can finally begin to move forward and work to restore that trust.”

The Confederate Flag was erected in 1951 during a time of deep civil unrest and resistance to the advancement of African‐American citizens in Caddo Parish. The Shreveport Journal reported: “Caddo Parish police jurors voted unanimously in their meeting Wednesday to erect a Confederate flag on the statute of the courthouse building. The approved motion… brought the remark: ‘Harry Truman isn’t going to like this.’”

In a submission to the Caddo Parish Commission in 2002, social and architectural historian Eric Brock explained: “During this time, many southern cities and towns hoisted Confederate banners in reaction to federal legislation dealing… with civil rights, integration, and African‐American voting rights.“ Brock noted that the Flag was the symbol of “Shreveport’s own role in resistance” to civil rights and equality under the law.

Since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976, fourteen African‐American men have been sentenced to death in proceedings that took place under the Confederate Flag. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently recognized in State versus Felton Dorsey that the Flag was a symbol of endemic racism but declined to address the issue based upon the defense lawyer’s failure to object. Carl Staples, an African‐American juror, was removed from service in the Dorsey case when he asserted that real justice could not be administered under the Confederate Flag.

The vote to remove the Flag signals an endorsement of Mr. Staples’ observation, and movement in favor of full and equal participation of African‐Americans in the democratic process.

A recording of the commission meeting is online at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NOPD Lieutenant Who Testified in Danziger Trial Sentenced to Four Years

Michael Lohman, the NOPD Lieutenant who conspired with other officers to cover-up the police killings on Danziger Bridge, and later became a key early witness against his fellow officers, was sentenced today. From the US Department of Justice press release:

A former lieutenant with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), was sentenced today for his role in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and for misprision of a felony (for concealing a known crime), in connection with a federal investigation of two police-involved shootings that left two civilians dead and four others seriously wounded in the area of the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Lohman, 41, of Terrytown, La., was sentenced in federal court to serve four years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. During the first year of supervised release, Mr. Lohman is to perform 300 hours of community service. Additionally, he has been ordered to meet with NOPD recruit classes to serve as a warning to officers tempted to disobey the law. The court also imposed a $2500 fine. On Feb. 24, 2010, Lohman pleaded guilty in federal court in New Orleans before U. S. District Court Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle.

Mr. Lohman admitted to helping with the Sept. 4, 2005, cover up and also admitted – first during his guilty plea and later when he testified at the trial of five fellow officers -- that he knew that the shootings on the bridge were unjustified, and that he helped other officers cover up what had happened on the bridge.

Lohman arrived on the scene shortly after the shootings, he noticed that there were no guns on or near the dead and wounded civilians. After determining that the involved officers could not come up with any evidence to justify the shooting, he concluded that they had been involved in a “bad shoot.” Rather than reporting the shooting as a bad shoot, Lohman, a well-respected lieutenant with NOPD, participated in a conspiracy that involved, among other things, writing false reports about the incident, planting a gun and making up false witness statements.

Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein, a prosecutor on the case, said in court that Lohman’s crimes were reprehensible, and that he needed to be punished with prison time. However, she also asked the judge to sentence Mr. Lohman to less than the five years called for by sentencing guidelines, in recognition of the fact that he provided cooperation that was critical to the prosecution of others. Ms. Bernstein noted that the victims of the Danziger Bridge shooting have been “an inspiration” for the prosecution, and that every recommendation the government has made for sentencing – including any requests the government has made for leniency for cooperating police officers – has been with the blessing of those victims.

“I’m pleased with today’s sentence,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Mr. Lohman owes a serious debt to society for betraying the badge he had been trusted to wear. But he also deserves some leniency for the critical role he played in allowing other offenders to be brought to justice. The government is outraged by Mr. Lohman’s crimes, but grateful for his cooperation in this case.”

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten stated: “The sentencing of former New Orleans Police Officer Michael Lohman today was the product of his important admission of guilt, his essential and truthful testimony at trial, and the government’s request to the court for leniency by appropriately recognizing his substantial and even critical assistance. Such tremendously important cases and the just results they produce can often only be brought with such cooperation. Moreover, our request that Mr. Lohman’s sentence require his conducting outreach to future NOPD officers was not only appropriate but essential in ensuring that such violations of public trust are not repeated. As United States Attorney and as a citizen, I—along with the prosecution team—believe that our resolution of this case and our request for consideration in sentencing Mr. Lohman is the right course to take.”

David Welker, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI New Orleans field office stated, “The law must be respected by those that are entrusted to enforce it. If the law is to be honored, it must first be respected by those who enforce it. Unfortunately, Lt. Lohman failed to remain faithful to the oath he took as a police officer and as a result tarnished the badge that many wear so proudly.”

This case was investigated by the New Orleans Field Office of the FBI, and was prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Cindy Chung of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Carter of the Eastern District of Louisiana.