Thursday, June 30, 2011
“We women demand!…” sang out a hundred plus voices “…Justice for Marie!” Marie, a 25 year old pregnant mother, was injured by government agents when they slammed a wooden door into her stomach during an early morning invasion of an earthquake displacement camp in Port au Prince. The government is using force to try to force thousands to leave camps without providing any place for people to go. The people are fighting back.
The people calling for justice are residents of a make shift tent camp called Camp Django in the Delmas 17 neighborhood of Port au Prince. They are up in arms over injuries to Marie, one of their young mothers, and repeated government threats to demolish their homes. Despite the 100 degree heat, over a hundred residents, mostly mothers, trekked across town to demand the government protect their human right to housing.
At their invitation, we followed them back to the place they have made lived since the January 12, 2010 earthquake that left hundreds of thousands homeless. In a sloping lot smaller than a football field, two hundred fifty families live in handmade shelters made out of grey and blue plastic tarps/tents, scraps of wood and mismatched pieces of tin. The tarps under which they live are faded from a year and a half of sun but still show brands of USAID, World Vision, Rotary International, UNICEF, UNFAM, Republic of China and others. Outside the camp, big green trees with flame orange flowers provide color and shade.
Inside, babies and little children peek out of tent openings that reveal mats on the ground and beds and boxes. Families live inches from their neighbors. They buy water outside and carry it back to their tents. Four topless wooden boxes with blue plastic UN tarps are the showers where people can wash themselves if they bring their own water and soap. Hole in the dirt toilets are few, full and pungent in the 100 degree heat. They are surrounded by razzing flies. When it rains, rainwater flows into tents and the mess from the toilets spreads all over.
A teenage boy clad only in his underwear soap washes himself in between tents. A middle age woman sits under a banana tree nursing a dollar bill size patch of open wound on her foot, a quake injury that demands a skin graft she cannot afford. A family has an aluminum pan filled with grey water and skinned bananas. Camp leaders tell us their community contains over 375 little children including 20 children whose parents died in the earthquake.
“We are earthquake victims,” the women and men of the camp tell us as they show us around. “We have a human right to live somewhere. We do not want to fight for the right to stay in these camps. It is very hot here and we cannot stay in the tents in the middle of the day. But we all search and search and there is no other place to go. Until we get housing, these homes are everything we have.”
There are nearly a thousand such camps of people across Port au Prince. Some house thousands, many like Camp Django, housed hundreds.
A government myth says people gather in the camps only to receive food and water and medical services. The truth is that many, many camps, including Camp Django, get no water, food or medical services. They are there, they tell us, because they have no other place to go.
We visited Marie (not her real name for her protection) in her boxlike tent. She lies on a bed writhing in pain. She has been vomiting and bleeding and was surrounded by other residents of the camp. They were taking turns propping her up and drying her forehead. They explained to us that she had been assaulted by men who entered their camp at the order of the Mayor of the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas.
Last Saturday, a group of five men, some armed with guns, stormed into the camp and threatened the residents. Four of the men were wearing green t-shirts that read “Mairie de Delmas” (The Office of the Mayor of Delmas).
The Mayor’s men told the people that they would soon destroy their tents. They bragged they would mistreat people in a manner worse than “what happened at Carrefour Aero port,” referring to the violent unlawful eviction of a displacement camp at that location by the same mayor and police less than a month ago.
The Mayor’s men pushed their way through the camp, collecting the names and identification numbers of heads of household and marking tents with red spray painted numbers.
When the men pounded on the wooden door of the tarp covered shelter where 25-year-old pregnant Marie lived with her husband, she tried to stop them from entering. Marie tried to explain that her husband was not home. But the leader of the group, JL, violently slammed open the wooden door of her tent into her stomach, causing her to fall hard against the floor on her back.
Three days later, Marie remained in severe pain and bed ridden, worried sick about her baby.
When one of Marie’s neighbors protested JL’s brutality, JL became enraged and threatened to kill him. Onlookers in the camp feared his words, particularly when they noticed a pistol tucked into his belt.
When the government pushed their way into the camp, residents called human rights advocates from Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and asked them to come at once.
Jeena Shah, a BAI attorney, arrived at Camp Django while government agents were still there. Jeena asked JL who had sent his group to Camp Django and why they had marked the tents with numbers. JL was evasive, repeating over and over that “the government” had sent him. Finally he stated that “the National Palace,” a reference to current President Michel Martelly, had sent him. As of the writing of this article, the President had neither confirmed nor denied authorization or participation in the threatened eviction.
Camp Django residents rightfully feared that their camp faced the same fate that so many displaced persons had since the earthquake more than 18 months ago—violent eviction, exacerbation of their already vulnerable situations and homelessness.
Camp Django is but a small example of what is going on in Haiti. The International Organization on Migration estimated that as of April 201, 166,000 homeless earthquake survivors were facing imminent threats of eviction, one fourth of the displaced population. The evictions have been carried out by the government or with the government’s tacit approval despite rulings by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ directing to the Haitian government to place a moratorium on evictions and create adequate measures to protect the displaced population from unlawful forced evictions.
It is still unclear whether the Mayor of Delmas encouraged or condoned these specific acts of violence against the residents of Camp Django, but the Mayor’s stand on forced evictions is well known. After leading a rampage of violent unlawful evictions last month, he recently stated on Haitian television that he will continue forcing displaced communities out of their tent camps, even though they still have nowhere else to go.
President Martelly, who has refused to publicly condemn the violent forced evictions perpetrated by the Mayor of Delmas, is responsible for any threats and harm that befall the community of Camp Django and Haiti’s thousand other displacement camps.
The women sing out for justice. “The rich,” they tell us, “use force against the poor in Haiti.” They demand justice for Marie. And they insist their human right to housing be protected. They are organizing. Their voices are strong. Their passion is pure. Their cause is just. They inspire us to join them.
Bill teaches at Loyola University New Orleans and is Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Jocelyn is an Ella Baker associate at CCR working at Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port au Prince. If you want to join the campaign check out www.ijdh.org You can reach Bill at Quigley77@gmail.com and Jocelyn at Jocy@ijdh.org.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Project Transparency was launched by LJI in October of 2008. We did this because access to information, especially about our government and its activities, is a crucial part of citizenship, and it is a human right. Members of the public demand access to unclassified documents their tax dollars have been used to produce.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Previously, police officers and prosecutors in Louisiana had a choice between charging accused sex workers under the prostitution law, which was a misdemeanor, or under Louisiana's 200-plus year-old "Crime Against Nature" law, a felony. That law was interpreted to apply specifically to solicitation for oral or anal sex, but in practice it meant police had ultimate discretion on who to charge with the greater offense.
The majority sentenced under the law were indigent women of color and transgender women of color. Once convicted, they were also forced to register as sex offenders, which brought a long list of restrictions and requirements, including having the words "sex offender" printed in large letters on their driver's license, and the obligation to send a post card to all of their neighbors informing everyone of their conviction.
The new law does not eliminate the "Crime Against Nature" category entirely, but it makes the penalties equal to the misdemeanor-level prostitution charge.
While police continue to harass sex workers across the state, and many women are still imprisoned under these regressive laws (even as US Senator David Vitter faced no penalty for his admitted liaisons with prostitutes), this is a step forward. And much credit should go to the NO Justice Project, convened by Women With A Vision, which worked to raise awareness about this unjust law and fought on multiple fronts to bring it to an end.
In a statement from the NO Justice Project released after the law was signed, Davida Finger, Assistant Clinical Professor at Loyola said, “We welcome this change in the law, which finally brings Louisiana in line with every other state in the country. But the injustice still persists. Almost 40 percent of registered sex offenders in New Orleans are on the registry because of a Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature (SCAN) conviction. They too should receive the benefit of this change in the law and be removed from the sex offender registry.”
Women With A Vision Executive Director Deon Haywood added, "We will continue to fight for justice for all those still living under the penalties of the past. There is still serious work to be done.”
“The grassroots and national leadership of Women with a Vision in tirelessly raising this issue for the past three years is nothing short of heroic,” said Andrea Ritchie, co-counsel in Doe v. Jindal, police misconduct attorney and expert on U.S. policing of women and LGBT people. “This victory is a product of collaboration between community groups, legal advocacy organizations and legislators seeking justice on behalf of the women and LGBT youth suffering from the discriminatory effects of SCAN – it is clear that community organizing can make real change.”
Women With A Vision urges those who have SCAN charges on their record and currently are on the registry to contact them at 504.301.0428.
Photo Above: Women With A Vision Executive Director Deon Haywood.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
The US state of Louisiana must immediately remove two inmates from the solitary confinement they were placed in almost 40 years ago, Amnesty International said today.
Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, were placed in "Closed Cell Restriction (CCR)" in Louisiana State Penitentiary - known as Angola Prison - since they were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. Apart from very brief periods, they have been held in isolation ever since.
"The treatment to which Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been subjected for the past four decades is cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US's obligations under international law," said Guadalupe Marengo, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
"We are not aware of any other case in the USA where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time."
Over the course of decades there has been no meaningful review of the men's designation to CCR. The only reason given for maintaining the men under these conditions has been due to the "nature of the original reason for lockdown."
Both men were originally arrested for armed robbery.
The men are confined to their cells, which measure 2 x 3 metres, for 23 hours a day. When the weather permits, they are allowed outside three times a week for an hour of solitary recreation in a small outdoor cage.
For four hours a week, they are allowed to leave their cells to shower or walk, alone, along the cell unit corridor.
They have restricted access to books, newspapers and television. For the past four decades they have never been allowed to work or to have access to education. Social interaction has been restricted to occasional visits from friends and family and limited telephone calls.
They have also been denied any meaningful review of the reasons for their isolation.
The men's lawyers have told Amnesty International that both are suffering from serious health problems caused or exacerbated by their years of solitary confinement.
Amnesty International has also raised questions about the legal aspects of the case against the two men.
No physical evidence linking the men to the guard's murder has ever been found; potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost; and the convictions were based on questionable inmate testimony.
Over the years of litigation on the cases, documents have emerged suggesting that the main eyewitness was bribed by prison officials into giving statements against the men and that the state withheld evidence about the perjured testimony of another inmate witness. A further witness later retracted his testimony.
Apart from ongoing legal challenges to their murder convictions, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace are suing the Louisiana authorities claiming that their prolonged isolation is "cruel and unusual punishment" and so violates the US Constitution.
"The treatment of these men by the state of Louisiana is a clear breach of US commitment to human rights," said Guadalupe Marengo.
"Their cases should be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and while that takes place authorities must ensure that their treatment complies with international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners."
To sign the petition from Amnesty, go to this link.
The Times-Picayune reported today on two large busts of sex workers under Louisiana's archaic "Crime Against Nature" law. These arrests come just as the Louisiana legislature has passed a bill that would do away with the law, which the US Justice Department has said unfairly targets LGBT individuals, as well as indigent women.
According to the Picayune:
New Orleans' narcotics and vice police units conducted a prostitution sting in Mid-City this month, and arrested nine people over two separate occasions . The New Orleans Police Department arrested four people (although "officers encountered seven individuals") at the Rose Motel, in the 3500 block of Tulane Avenue, June 15 for soliciting an undercover officer for crimes against nature. They also arrested five people (after "encountering" five) June 21 for the same crime at the same motel, said NOPD 1st District spokeswoman Melody Young.These arrests come less than three weeks after another series of mass arrests of sex workers, in which a total of 51 people were arrested on prostitution or drug-related charges (and another similarly-timed mass arrest that saw 43 arrests in one 8th ward bar).
Is the NOPD trying to get in some last arrests under the Crime Against Nature law before it is struck down? Or trying to clean up their image with mass harassment of poor people (especially women) of color?
Update: On June 26, Jarvis DeBerry wrote a great opinion piece in the Times-Picayune in support of efforts to overturn the law.
Photo Above: Deon Haywood, of Women With A Vision, which has led the fight against the Crime Against Nature Law.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Haiti experienced a major earthquake January 12, 2010. Tens of thousands died, estimates range from 65,000 to 230,000 people killed. About 2 million more people were displaced. Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a per capita income of about $2 a day. Seventeen months later, Haiti remains deeply wounded. The numbers below give an indication of some of the challenges that remain for the Haitian people.
570,000 people in Haiti have moved back into 84,000 buildings which are heavily damaged and marked by engineers as “yellow” because they may collapse in foul weather or in the event of another tremor (USAID Draft Report 2011). “I see little children sleeping next to the heavily cracked walls every day,” said one of the experts quoted in the USAID report.
465,000 people have moved back into 73,000 buildings that are so terribly damaged they are designated for demolition and are categorized as “red” because they may fall at any moment (USAID Draft Report 2011)
250,000 to 800,000 people in and around Port au Prince Haiti are still living under flimsy tents or tarps where water and electricity are scarce, security is poor and people are exposed to diseases. UN Report – January 2011 and USAID Draft Report 2011.
166,000 people living in tents have been threatened with evictions, nearly one in four of the people living under tarps and tents (International Organization for Migration, April 2011).
1000 people were illegally evicted at gunpoint from three tent camps in the Delmas suburb of Port au Prince during one week in May 2011. They are part of a series of illegal evictions of over 50,000 homeless people in Haiti in the last several months (June 16, 2011 human rights complaint filed with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights by IJDH, CCR, BAI and Trans Africa).
320,000 cases of cholera have been reported in the epidemic in Haiti since the earthquake (Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) Haiti Reconstruction Watch).
170,000 people with cholera have been seen at hospitals (CEPR).
5335 people have died from cholera since the epidemic started (CEPR).
172 temporary toilets serve the approximately 30,000 people living in tents in downtown Port au Prince around the National Palace. That is one toilet for every 174 people (Haiti Grassroots Watch June 9 2011 report).
Zero is the number of people who died of cholera in Haiti before the earthquake. The epidemic originated with UN troops brought into Haiti whose waste was inadequately treated and discharged by UN subcontractors into rivers used by people for washing, cooking and bathing.
US Funds for Reconstruction of Haiti
$918 million is the amount allocated by Congress for US reconstruction development in Haiti in July 2010 (May 2011 GAO Report on Haiti Reconstruction).
$184 million was actually obligated as of March 2011 (May 2011 GAO Report on Haiti Reconstruction).
Another $63 million was allocated to emergency services. Another $1 billion was allocated for relief funds to reimburse US emergency and humanitarian activities. (May 2011 GAO Report on Haiti Reconstruction).
In 1998, the United Nation Commission on Human Rights received the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which guarantee human dignity and human rights to many groups of people including all people displaced by natural disasters. On a visit to Haiti, the UN expert on internal displacement said, “Haiti is living through a profound humanitarian crisis that affects the human rights of those displaced by the disaster.”
The people of Haiti are our sisters and brothers. The systematic violation of their human rights is a violation that must push us to greater solidarity and action. Do what you can.
Bill teaches at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and is Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). He volunteers with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the Bureau de Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port au Prince. You can reach Bill at email@example.com.
Photo of supporters of Aristide by Wadner Pierre.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Community leaders from throughout Orleans Parish came together to develop a community plan that reflects the changing demographics in the city and the shift in population. We believe that New Orleans Parish City Council Districts would provide greater opportunities for voters to elect candidates of choice if the districts are seven single-member districts, with no at-large districts, rather than the current five single-member and two at-large districts. This change reduces the ideal population in each district to 49,118 and creates greater equity for all communities in Orleans Parish.
The Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans was adopted in 1954 and has been amended many times but never to address the fact that the majority of the current population, which is 67% people of color, could not vote and certainly did not give input to the number of districts written in the Home Rule Charter. "In 1954 think about what was going on in this country, particularly in the South, the heat of the civil rights movement was underway, "separate but equal" in public education was ruled unconstitutional, and New Orleans City Council was still 22 years away from electing its first African American to the city council. It is concerning that we have not addressed this issue with the Home Rule Charter to truly give voice to all citizens within the Parish and fall in line with cities of similar size and demographics," said Katherine Prevost, President of the Upper Ninth Ward Bunny Friend Neighborhood Association.
This rearranging of political boundaries to accommodate the shifts in growing populations will impact elections and the resulting governmental policy outcomes for the next ten years. Community leaders researched other cities with population sizes and demographics comparable to New Orleans including Atlanta, Cleveland, Newark, St. Louis and Cincinnati revealing that numbers of citizens represented in each district averages from a low of 11,403 (St. Louis) to a high of 32,993 (Cincinnati). Orleans Parish has less districts than the other cities indentified, ranging from a low of nine (Newark and Cincinnati) to a high of 28 (St. Louis). These numbers show that having only seven council members in Orleans Parish results in less representation than citizens in comparable cities.
"It is important to think about how these large districts affect the ability of citizens to elect a candidate of choice. It also impedes the ability of candidates with small campaign coffers to compete effectively with districts larger than some House and Senate Districts within the state of Louisiana," said Norris Henderson, President of V.O.T.E
"We encourage our community and most important our city council members to think outside the status quo to shift paradigms to a council where members represent smaller communities, better," said Tracie Washington of Louisiana Justice Institute.
Vincent Sylvain of the Louisiana Unity Coalition explained, "Additionally, these smaller districts would likely expand the pool of potential candidates since the cost of getting ones message out will also decrease because of the smaller geographic coverage area. This plan has something for everyone; for the incumbents these would technically be new seats, not subjecting them to the current term limits; for challengers the new lines would offer greater chances of victory; for the people, it would bring their representation closer to home."
Though not an exhaustive list of community leaders involved in the development of this plan, the following organizations worked collaboratively to develop this plan: Advancement Project, Greater New Orleans Organizers Roundtable, Kwanza Abdul-Khaliq, Louisiana Justice Institute, Louisiana Unity Coalition - National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, One Voice Louisiana, Rosedale Neighborhood Association, Upper Ninth Ward Bunny Friend Neighborhood Association and V.O.TE. These groups have been working together through a series of community meetings with local and national expertise to develop an equitable map representative of their constituents.
On Tuesday, June 21, members of the committee met with NOLA Beez, an ethnic news hub project of New America Media's Digital Divide Initiative to express their concerns in regards to the lack of attention from mainstream media to the affect redistricting could have on minority communities in Louisiana. The aim of NAM's Initiative is to assist ethnic media in improving coverage of their communities and other ethnic groups through citizen journalism and online multimedia development.
"Issues such as those raised around redistricting are the type of unifying efforts which could open up new lines of communication among and between ethnic and immigrant communities" said Sandy Close, NAM's executive director. "It is our intent to help such causes reach a broader audience."
Rosanna Cruz, representing Puentis added, "The redistricting process in Baton Rouge was flawed . . . it resulted in maintaining power base when it should have been expanding the power base of minority communities."
Local media partners participating in the NAM workshop included representatives of El Tiempo New Orleans, Jambalaya News, Louisiana Weekly, Louisiana Data News Weekly, New Orleans Agenda, Ngoc Lan Thoi Bao, NOLA.Tv, Xavier University, and local attorney Nicole Shepherd.
The citizen group will present their alternative plan to the New Orleans City Council during the public hearing on final Council District Redistricting Maps at the 5:00 PM meeting in Council Chambers at City Hall on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
A link to the alternative map may be found at this link.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The collaboration that would become the Organizers Roundtable began in late 2006, when a group of New Orleans activists began planning for participation in the 2007 US Social Forum. The group was convened by Dr. Kimberley Richards of the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond and Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. They worked in coordination with a national organizing body that was bringing together the first US Social Forum.
The Social Forum began in 2001 with the first World Social Forum (WSF) in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil. It is not just a gathering, but a process in which a global movement of movements comes together to build popular power. The Social Forum was initiated in response to the World Economic Forum, in which the world's most wealthy and powerful people come together in Davos, Switzerland to set the policies that govern the world. The WSF is a response to that elite gathering. At the World Social Forum, all are welcome, and the gathering is aimed at countering the unaccountable influence wielded by the powerful people who gather in Davos. In addition to the annual World Social Forum, there have been smaller regional forums around the world, to make it easier for poor people from all countries to attend.
In 2007, for the first time, there was a US Social Forum (USSF). In keeping with the example set by the World Social Forum, the USSF was convened by grassroots, mostly people-of-color-led, organizations. The New Orleans coalition worked to make sure everyone from New Orleans who wanted to go could, regardless of ability to pay. In addition they worked to coordinate their participation, so that New Orleans activists could convey to activists from across the US the lessons learned from post-Katrina organizing. More than 300 New Orleanians went to Atlanta for the 2007 USSF, including poets such as Sunni Patterson, day laborers from the Workers Center for Racial Justice, former political prisoners like Mwalimu Johnson, and many more. New Orleans activists coordinated several workshops at the USSF, and collectively planned a plenary in which thousands of people from around the US heard from a range of New Orleans social justice fighters.
In the aftermath of the 2007 US Social Forum in Atlanta, the New Orleans organizations who had collaborated on USSF participation decided to continue meeting monthly to combine efforts. The group decided at this point to take on the name Greater New Orleans Organizers Roundtable, in tribute to a long-running pre-Katrina gathering organized by the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond. These monthly gatherings, usually held on the second Saturday of each month, became an important spot for collaborations and community building.
Since its inception, The Greater New Orleans Organizers Roundtable has become a crucial resource for New Orleans’ social justice community. Through an intentional process of trust and community building, The monthly meetings of the Roundtable have become a support and information network for a broad spectrum of organizations working on a variety of social justice issues in Greater New Orleans and throughout the Gulf South, ensuring that member organizations are informed about members’ campaigns and initiatives so that participants can share skills, information, and resources and support one another in their struggles. The Organizers Roundtable actively contributes to creating a vibrant local and regional movement that prioritizes the voices of oppressed people and nurtures alliances across race, class, age, nationality, and gender.
In 2010, the Roundtable worked to plan New Orleans participation in the second US Social Forum, which was held in Detroit. Although travel to Detroit is much more expensive than Atlanta, hundreds of New Orleanians were still able to travel to Detroit and continue their participation in this process, along with more than 10,000 activists from around the US.
The Second Annual Masquerade Ball and Fundraiser presented by the Greater New Orleans Organizers Roundtable will be this Saturday, June 25, at 1733 Constantinople St, from 7:00pm - 11:00pm. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. The party features food and cold drinks, a cash bar, silent auction, musical performances, and a DJ. Masks are available for purchase at the door. The funds raised from the sale of admission tickets will be used to support community organizing and advocacy. You can purchase admission tickets at the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond ( 601 North Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City) or by emailing Derek Rankins Jr. at D.Rankins@gmail.com.
Monday, June 20, 2011
This month Ameca Reali and Adrienne Wheeler of the New Orleans-based Cooperative Advocacy for the People were named as 2011 Echoing Green Fellows. Out of 2,854 applicants from over 100 countries, only twenty-two individuals, representing a total of fifteen organizations, were selected as social change visionaries in the fields of human rights, health, and the environment.
“Louisiana incarcerates more people than any state in the country in a nation that jails more people than anywhere else in the world,” said Ameca Reali, co-founder of Cooperative Advocacy for the People. “This astounding fact has pushed us to rethink the way our criminal justice system operates and to provide avenues toward accountability that lifts instead of incarcerates our communities. Through this fellowship, Echoing Green has provided an opportunity for those affected by the criminal justice system to have a place to work toward collective solution building.”
For 25 years, Echoing Green has helped inspire and seed some of the world’s most powerful institutions—From Teach For America to City Year to SKS Microfinance. Since it was founded by growth equity firm General Atlantic in 1987, it has invested nearly $32 million in over 500 social entrepreneurs.
The 2011 Echoing Green Fellows are launching a total of fifteen new nonprofit, for-profit and hybrid organizations to solve intractable social problems. Chosen based on a rigorous selection process, each venture will receive seed funding of up to $90,000 over two years, health insurance, strategic planning support, legal assistance, and financial modeling, as well as mentoring from Echoing Green’s network of alumni and other leading social change professionals.
In announcing the 2011 Echoing Green Fellows, Dr. Cheryl L. Dorsey, President of Echoing Green, said, “Echoing Green’s 2011 Fellows are an inspiring group of pragmatic visionaries who, rather than accept the world as it is, see what it can be. It takes a village to raise a social entrepreneur. Help them bring their ideas to life, and further unleash their talent.”
Dave Hodgson, Managing Director of General Atlantic, LLC and Chairman of the Echoing Green Board of Directors, said, “Name the need—hunger, housing, fighting disease, connecting citizens who care, doing greater good with technologies—and you will find Echoing Green Fellows at work on creating solutions all over the world. We look forward to welcoming this new class of innovators into our robust network.”
Full descriptions and high definition videos of the 2011 Echoing Green Fellows can be accessed at this link.
About Cooperative Advocacy for the People:
Cooperative Advocacy for the People will be a non-profit criminal justice advocacy organization based in New Orleans, Louisiana that will provide incarcerated individuals with the possibility of freedom, access to justice, and the opportunity to make radical changes in a system with glaring deficiencies. A part of the organization’s mission includes offering non-capital post-conviction and expungment assistance. The organization will also create a collaborative space where attorneys, legal workers, and advocates can participate collectively in planning and implementing strategies for accountability and reform.
Ameca Reali was born and raised in a small town in Upstate, NY. She is one of three children raised by a single parent in public housing. From an early age her mother taught her the principles of service to others and the community and advocacy through her work in the community. Ameca graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University at Buffalo in 2006 and a Juris Doctor from Loyola University College of Law, New Orleans in 2011.
Adrienne Wheeler is from Savannah, Georgia and is a member of a military family (retired). She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 2001, a Master of Arts degree from New York University in 2008, and a Juris Doctor from Loyola University College of Law, New Orleans in 2011.
About Echoing Green:
Echoing Green is a nonprofit social venture fund that identifies, invests in, and supports some of the world’s best emerging social entrepreneurs—society’s change agents. Green invests deeply in these next generation change agents as well as works to create an ecosystem around them that supports and celebrates social innovation as a high-impact strategy for social change.
The American Civil Liberties Union today hailed the passage of a bill in the Louisiana legislature making it easier for elderly prisoners to get a parole hearing as an important step towards reducing the state’s shockingly high prison population.
The bill, H.B. 138, passed today by the Louisiana Senate after it was passed two weeks ago by the state’s House of Representatives, will enable some prisoners to go before a parole board upon turning 60 years of age. The board can then decide to grant parole to those individuals who would pose no danger to the community upon release.
“Louisiana should not be using taxpayer dollars to lock up elderly individuals when they pose no danger to our communities,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “The state’s legislature deserves credit for tackling the state’s problem of overincarceration by passing bills like this one.”
Louisiana has the largest incarcerated population of any state in the nation, and half of those behind bars in Louisiana are there for non-violent offenses. The state has 1,224 people over the age of 60 locked up – three percent of the state’s total prison population.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections estimates that while it costs $19,888 to house a state prisoner for a year, it costs $80,000 to house an ailing inmate.
Research also shows that the likelihood of recidivism drops significantly with age. According to state corrections statistics, only 0.3% of those released at age 55 or older recidivate and end up reincarcerated.
With the passage of today’s bill, Louisiana tackled what is a national problem of needlessly incarcerating elderly prisoners. Across the nation, more than 35,000 people over the age of 60 are in prison, or 2.3 percent of the nation’s total prison population.
“Today, more Americans than ever before are unnecessarily and unfairly deprived of their liberty with no benefit to public safety and at great expense to taxpayers,” said Inimai Chettiar, policy counsel with the national ACLU. “Louisiana is to be commended for looking for ways to reduce its bloated prison population, and other states around the country should follow Louisiana’s lead.”
More information about the ACLU’s national initiative to combat mass incarceration is available online at this link.
In the dim light of a projector, rapt faces took in the solemn image of a bus in flames. On screen, a multiracial group of youth crawled in the grass, coughing and choking from the smoke of the blaze behind them. This was just the first in a series of attacks that the Freedom Riders of 1961 faced as they made their way through the South. Fifty years later, at the RAE house in New Orleans, the lessons and struggles of these youth came alive to a multi-generational, multi-racial audience carrying on the current-day fight for justice.
“Back then they would sick dogs on you and you couldn’t ride on those buses but today we have the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Briana O’Neal after the viewing of Freedom Riders, a new Firelight Media documentary directed by Stanley Nelson. The viewing was co-hosted by Voice Of The Ex-offender (VOTE, where I am Associate Director) and Fyre Youth Squad. VOTE and FYS invited a multigenerational audience to share their reflections after the viewing the powerful documentary. This dialogue was critical for us because we wanted to go beyond remembering history, and explore how lessons from the Freedom Rides inform our work today.
What were the Freedom Rides really?
The Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement is a story that has survived over the decades, but the details have faded with time. Many viewers, even those alive at the time of the original Freedom Rides, said that they did not know the true depth and scope and the extreme terror brought against these brave young Riders.
The film describes the Freedom Rides as “six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.”
The documentary details the planning and execution of the trips (which were initially designed to last two weeks) and the ensuing campaign of terror that white supremacists like the KuKluxKlan and others, including government officials, waged against the swelling movement of riders. The original group was comprised of a few dozen youth from around the country. The more violence the Freedom Riders faced, thwarting the buses progress, the more young people put themselves in the line of fire. These youth took on a strong leadership role and, by continuing on with the dangerous rides, challenged the Kennedy brothers and even Rev. Dr. King himself, who urged a more moderate strategy. It is a story filled with inspiring moments as well as brilliant strategy.
“I’d heard the Freedom Rider story but never heard the story told this way,” shared Fyre Youth Squad member Debbie Carey. “I appreciate this documentary because I felt like I was told the truth about the movement, about young people’s contributions to the movement. I even experienced for the first time Dr. King being presented as human as the rest of us. Everyone I know made MLK seem like he was a supernatural hero, but in this documentary it revealed his fear and young people’s courage.”
And what now?
Perhaps what resonated most for audience members, young and old alike, was the sense that, especially in current day New Orleans, the need to stand up for justice is still so urgent. “Back at the time of the Civil Rights struggle, we did a lot of stuff in New Orleans. We walked on Canal Street. We boycotted. We went into the white stores. Our teachers, our elders, they encouraged us to see ourselves, even though we were young black men at the time, just high school students, they taught us to see ourselves as full citizens,” remembers Mr. Erroll Lewis a member of VOTE. “Young people are still facing the challenge of discrimination. We have a responsibility to make sure that message to stand up, to demand our rights, is alive today.”
The Freedom Riders event was originally conceived to bring different age groups of activists and community members together to commemorate and discuss the historic rides. But “on a deeper level, we wanted to ask each other, would you have gotten on that bus?” said Norris Henderson, director of VOTE. “We didn’t know where the conversation was going to take us. “
Briana O’Neal responded, “I was asked at the end of the movie, ‘would I have got back on the bus after all that had happened?’ I would have to say that I would have to have been there going through what they did to answer that, but in today’s world, in my city, I can say I’m on the bus and I’m not getting off until we all are free and our children to come are also free.”
Freedom Riders will be rescreened twice this summer, once at the Treme Community Center and once at the Youth Empowerment Village. Watch www.vote-nola.org for the exact date and time. Discussion and refreshments will be included as part of each screening event.
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.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A Secondline parade this Friday in New Orleans will epitomize the funeral for Nixon’s War on Drugs and provide a launching point for future community action and dialogue concerning this issue.
June 17 will mark forty years since President Nixon, citing drug abuse as “public enemy No. 1,” officially declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, the war on drugs has inflicted brutal harm in communities across the US.
Drug policy reform advocates all across the country will mark this auspicious date with a day of action to raise awareness about the failure of drug prohibition and call for an exit strategy to the failed war on drugs.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary, drug policy reform organizations will hold a national day of action. Events will be held in 15 states, and in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans. The day of action will be highlighted with a large-scale event with elected officials in Washington, DC.
“The past 40 years of the war on drugs have had a profound effect on families in African American communities nationwide, significantly affecting Louisiana as we have the highest incarceration rate in the country. Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging than the drug itself. We need policies that move away from the current criminal justice system by attending to drug overdose and addiction, through harm reduction and health promotion," said Women With A Vision director Deon Haywood.
The New Orleans secondline, with the theme “No More War on Drugs," will begin this Friday, June 17, at 3pm at the Three-Star Barber Shop at the intersection of Felicity and Clara. The parade will end at Harmony Oaks Community Center where a “War on Drugs” forum will take place.
“Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Forty years after President Nixon declared his war on drugs, we're seizing upon this anniversary to prompt both reflection and action. And we're asking everyone who harbors reservations about the war on drugs to join us in this enterprise."
Other Day of Action events around the US include:
• Chicago – Hundreds of Chicagoans will gather at the State of Illinois James R Thompson Center to rally against drug policies that have led to injustices such as extreme racial disparity in Illinois’s prisons and jails
• Los Angeles – Grass root organizations and students, including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Pico Youth and Family Center, Mother United to End the War on Drugs, All of Us or None, Homies Unidos and other criminal justice organizations, will stage a Day of Action to call for Community Solutions to end the 40 year war on drugs and mass incarceration. Also, the William C. Velasquez Institute will host a forum in Los Angeles with top Latino leaders to discuss the impact of the drug war on Latino communities.
• New York - Advocates, community leaders and elected officials will attend a forum and silent vigil at the Harlem State Office Building to highlight the impacts of the drug war on NY communities. The event will be organized by Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH)
• Washington, DC- Law enforcement officials, leaders from the African American Community and religious leaders will hold a forum at the National Press Club to denounce current drug war policies. Leaders will call for a new direction and open conversation on the issue of drug prohibition.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Just two years ago, we launched the NO Justice Project to challenge the use of Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature statute for prosecuting women engaged in sex work.
Today, the Louisiana Senate voted UNANIMOUSLY in support of our bill to remove Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature (SCAN) from the sex offender registry and make the penalties the same as prostitution.
Next stop is the governor’s office! We will be leaning on all of our local and national allies to ensure that Governor Jindal follows the House and Senate’s lead in signing this important step towards healing and justice for the women of Louisiana into law.
For more information on the bill, please see this article in the Times-Picayune.
For more information on SCAN, please check out our policy brief at this link.
Stay tuned for information on how you can lend your support. For now, please help us spread the word - share this with your friend, re-post to your profile. This is an incredible day for the women of Louisiana and all who are joined in our collective struggles for reproductive and transformative justice!
Photo: Women With A Vision Director Deon Haywood at 2011 Press Conference convened by NO Justice Project at New Orleans Federal Building.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
On March 31, a 12-person jury with one Black member convicted Wallace of three counts of distribution of a controlled substance. At her June 1 sentencing, Wallace received 5 years for each count, to be served consecutively. Even in Louisiana, the incarceration capitol of the US, fifteen years for a first offense is somewhat exceptional. However, vast discrepancies exist across parishes. For example, an Orleans Parish man recently received probation for selling pot. Then, when arrested for the same offense a few miles away in St. Tammany Parish, he was sentenced to life in prison.
"Unfortunately, I'm not shocked by the sentence," commented Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We used to use prisons for the people who really caused problems, and made us concerned about public safety. Now we use them for the people we're mad at."
Photo: Catrina Wallace, right, with Caseptla Bailey.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
When a Muslim woman was incarcerated in the Lafayette Parish Jail last year, she was forced by the Sheriff to remove her religiously mandated head covering, known as a hijab, because jail policies do not provide for head coverings of any kind. Today the ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter to Lafayette Sheriff Michael W. Neustrom seeking a change of policy to allow jail inmates to wear head coverings mandated by their religious beliefs.
“For a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, being denied it is akin to being stripped naked,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “This woman asked nothing more than to wear religiously mandated garb, and she was denied that fundamental right. Louisiana law and the US Constitution, require governments to accommodate religious beliefs unless there is a compelling interest, which simply does not exist in this case.”
The woman in question, arrested for traffic violations, asked Sheriff agents to allow her to wear her hijab in public and when men were present, to protect her modesty as her religion requires. Even that request was denied. “Even in prison, religion must be respected,” said Esman. “There can be no reason to deny someone the basic right to wear religious garb. Governments, including Lafayette Parish, must do what they can to accommodate sincere religious beliefs, if religion is to thrive.”
The ACLU has asked Sheriff Neustrom to amend his policies within fourteen days to accommodate religiously mandated head coverings.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter is available online at this link.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Cracking, Stovepipes and Gerrymandering: Redistricting in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina, By Trupania Bonner
The magnitude of the region's population loss in the wake of Katrina became clear with results from the 2010 Census. The enumeration recorded a population of roughly 344,000 for New Orleans, down almost 30 percent from its pre-storm level. New Orleans lost roughly 140,000 residents overall, 118,000 were African American. With political representation constitutionally tied to population shifts among and within states, the loss cost Louisiana a seat in the U.S. Congress and threatened The Big Easy's political influence in Baton Rouge, and alas, this Redistricting process is the nail in the coffin to a fair and just recovery for New Orleans post-Katrina.
With off-year elections forcing the legislature to follow a tight timetable for redistricting based on the new census data, the Senate moved quickly and, perhaps not surprisingly, stealthily to consider a plan put forth by chamber President Joel T. Chaisson II (D-Destrehan) that would reduce the number of majority-minority Senate districts in New Orleans from five to three. The Senate did little to inform Louisianans of their right to submit alternative plans for consideration and ignored testimony gathered from residents around the state about the cultural and economic characteristics that bind them together, a key factor for consideration in drawing district boundaries. Instead, Sen. Chaisson bemoaned the alleged lack of options when he pushed his plan through the chamber by a vote of 27-12 in late March.
It is just this sort of disregard for the rights of minority citizens that has subjected Louisiana to heightened scrutiny of its redistricting plans (both federal and state) under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice are examining both the process and results of Senate Bill 1, to determine if lawmakers followed rules that promote meaningful community involvement and protect minority voters from plans that unnecessarily weaken their ability to elect candidates who best represent their interests.
There's a reason that no member of the state's Legislative Black Caucus supported the bill: By abolishing the current District 2 (Eastern New Orleans, Lower 9th Ward), and spreading its population among three districts covering as many parishes (Orleans, Jefferson, St Bernard), the new map clearly diminishes and dilutes the votes of minority residents and all but eradicates their opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
Supporting an alternative solution offered by her constituency and advisors, Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis (D-Orleans) proposed an alternative redistricting map as evidence that the Senate could comply with requirements of the Voting Rights Act and save a majority-minority Senate seat in Louisiana. Dubbed "The People's Plan", Senate Bill 33 would preserve four out of five majority-minority districts in New Orleans. Notably, the Willard-Lewis proposal would keep the current 2nd District — which the census showed is growing faster than surrounding areas — intact, avoiding the obvious "cracking" of communities of interest in the Chaisson plan; the latter's treatment of eastern New Orleans' would so blatantly marginalize minority voters that Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, for whom the infamous practice of political "gerrymandering" was named, would have been proud to call this “octopus-shaped” district his own.
Lawmakers who supported Senate Bill 1 have chosen to draw districts that best protect their political futures instead of creating a map that maximizes the ability of all communities, especially those that have been marginalized historically, to elect representatives of their choice. Fair-minded residents of Greater New Orleans and all Louisiana communities should let their elected officials know that a full and just recovery from the 2005 catastrophe depends substantially on redistricting plans that put people — not politicians — first.
Trupania Bonner is Executive Director of Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Inc., a community-based, advocacy organization with a mission to build stronger communities of Color with sustained civic engagement around the protection of human rights.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Now that more than a dozen NOPD officers have been charged in the killings in the aftermath of Katrina, and the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating other incidents - including the shooting death of Adolph Grimes III on January 1, 2009 - observers wonder how far federal investigators are willing to go. The DOJ has looked into charges against Orleans Parish Prison – will they look at other actors in this systemic problem?
One person involved in Danziger so far has remained above the law, but this is an opportunity to change that. Will Judge Raymond Bigelow finally face investigations over his actions and blatant conflict of interest?
A little background: Bigelow began his career as a prosecutor in 1983 under DA Harry Connick and eventually became his first assistant. Bigelow campaigned for a judgeship as an advocate for “victim’s rights,” and once elected, in 1993, he earned a reputation as a judge who always sided with the police. But it was during the Danziger Bridge case, when Bigelow refused to recuse himself despite numerous blatant conflicts of interest, that the judge may have finally overreached, and shown himself to be definitively unreliable as a neutral mediator. Bigelow subsequently used a technicality to dismiss the state charges against the Danziger cops, who now face federal charges.
To many observers, it seemed from the beginning that the fix was in on the Danziger case. "I didn't expect (Bigelow) to give a fair ruling today," Dr. Rommell Madison said at the time of Bigelow’s ruling. Dr. Madison is brother of Ronald Madison, one of those who was gunned down on Danziger Bridge by NOPD officers as he was trying to flee the floodwaters of Katrina on September 4, 2005. "I didn't expect him to have any forethought to say 'this is why, this is what's happening.' It was already predecided,” added Dr. Madison.
Bigelow never seemed to show compassion for defendants in his courtroom – unless those defendants were officers, or the bouncers at Razzoo’s nightclub who killed Georgia college student Levon Jones on Bourbon Street New Years Eve 2004. Columnist Clifford Bryan has noted that during the Danziger trial, as well as during the Razzoos trial, Bigelow “seemed more like a defense attorney (for the police) than an unbiased judge.”
Among the questionable connections noted at the time of the Danziger trial: Police Association of New Orleans legal representative Frank Desalvo, who also represents Danziger defendant Kenneth Bowen, is the father of one of Judge Raymond Bigelow’s minute clerks. Another of Bigelow’s clerks is Claire Livaccari, the wife of Sgt. Donovan Livaccari, employee representative and spokesperson for the Crescent City Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. Bigelow also sat on a criminal justice act panel with Dylan Utley, lawyer for Danziger defendant Michael Lohman, as well as Desalvo. Finally, among the Judge’s other compromised affiliations is the fact that he is a member of the St Pius X Church men’s club with DA Leon Cannizzaro.
“This is a perfect example of a double standard that breaks down along race lines,” notes Rosana Cruz, the associate director of VOTE, an organization that seeks to build power and civic engagement for formerly incarcerated people. “There are so many cases where Black elected officials’ relationships with other public figures are scrutinized, but Bigelow has gotten off entirely free.”
The city’s Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) praised Bigelow for moving his docket quickly. MCC president Rafael Goyeneche said at the time of his retirement that Bigelow was one of the most effective jurists on the court. However, they didn’t seem to be interested in the substance of his judgments, and the clear bias he showed. Pam Metzger, associate professor of law at Tulane University Law School, has noted, "The US Constitution says process matters more than speed, so I think it would be a very serious error in a state that has so many wrongful convictions for us to simply evaluate these judges based on their case processing speed." Metzger added that we should evaluate judges “based on their compassion, legal insight and reputation for fairness, honor and integrity."
Cruz also notes that her former organization, Safe Streets Strong Communities, sued to get access to Bigelow’s records on how he used his judicial expense fund. Judges have wide discretion on how they spend from the fund, which comes from fines and fees paid by defendants. Safe Streets won in court, but Bigelow never released the records, despite a court order. “I think that he's just a textbook example of the kind of behind-the-scenes public corruption that people aren't willing to put a spotlight on,” says Cruz. Safe Streets also was the organization that led the fight to reform the city’s notoriously corrupt and ineffective pre-Katrina public defender system. The leadership of the former indigent-defense board were close associates of Bigelow.
After fifteen years as a judge, Bigelow quietly retired at the end of 2008 – not long after he dismissed the charges against the cops involved in the Danziger Bridge incident. Although his career as a judge has ended, the aftermath of his biased work as a judge continues to affect the lives of those he may have unfairly sent to prison, as well as the police he protected.