Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Appeal in Anti-Muslim Conviction Set for Tomorrow in New Orleans

We urge all supporters of justice to come tomorrow at 9:30am to the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to support the defendants in the "Holy Land Five" case.

Oral arguments for the defendants' appeal in the Holy Land Five case are tomorrow morning. The largest Muslim charitable organization in the US in 2001, the Holy Land Foundation became a poster child for the Bush administration's campaign against organizations that "aid and abet" entities on the US' list of terrorist organizations.

This case sent a chilling message to charitable givers, and particularly Muslim charitable givers, in the earliest days of the "war on terror" that continues to drastically affect organizing and fundraising work in Muslim, Arab, immigrant, and solidarity communities. If you can, please come out for tomorrow's arguments--show the Fifth Circuit that New Orleans supports a justice system that serves all of our people.

Oral Arguments in the Holy Land Foundation Appeal
Tomorrow, Thursday, 9:30am
Fifth District Court of Appeals
600 Camp St, New Orleans
(Must Bring Photo ID to be Admitted)

Friends and Family of Henry Glover Announce News Conference

From Reverend Raymond Brown:
Friends and family of shooting victim Henry Glover will hold a news conference on the site where Mr. Henry Glover was killed 6 years ago by two New Orleans Police Officers. Ms. Rebecca Glover and Mr. William Tanner will be guest speakers at the news conference. Mr. Tanner will speak about his experience on that day of September 2, 2005. Ms. Rebecca Glover will speak about the lost skull of Henry Glover.

Date: Friday September 2nd
Time: 4:30 pm
Place: 3701 General DeGaulle ( The site where Henry Glover was shot), Behind Chuck E. Cheese
For more information call 504-235-5472

MARK OUR WORDS: Taking Heed of Hurricane Katrina’s Lessons as We Rebuild Devastated Communities in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

By Tracie L. Washington, Esq.
Director/Counsel, Louisiana Justice Institute

There was an odd sense of relief in New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast as we approached this sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We had survived another year without a major storm. But that joy is always saddened by our memories of those loved ones lost and those remaining who still struggle to return to their communities, some of which are not yet rebuilt. Further, we sat fixated by scenes of the onset of Hurricane Irene, knowing as few others in our nation, what our fellow Americans will face in the coming months and years as they work tirelessly to rebuild their communities.

Hurricane Katrina exposed is that we are a nation vulnerable to disasters, both natural and man-made. And many of the inadequacies in our social/public infrastructure – exacerbated by persistent and generational racial and economic disparities – make these disasters even more devastating. Notwithstanding the wrangling and hyperbole of our current national political troupe, what we know certainly is that this nation needs a social safety net, because when our infrastructures fail, communities cannot rebuild on their own.
Lessons of Hurricane Katrina begin with understanding that as a nation we must revise and then codify a standard of care for rebuilding communities after disaster and displacement of people. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, the federal law that is implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), places almost all disaster response, including emergency medical assistance and the reduction of life-threatening risks, at the discretion of the President of the United States, and explicitly denies an individual harmed by a natural disaster the legal right to claim assistance or compensation for loss. “The numerous governmental barriers to recovery – from the demolition of affordable housing, lack of employment, inadequate home repair grants, closing of schools and hospitals to racial inequalities in flood protection – are allowed under this flawed statute.”

Our new standard of care must establish the duties of the federal government and the rights of those individuals harmed and displaced by disaster, to ensure recovery of people and communities. These rights must include and range from voluntarily choosing to return home to all forms of humanitarian assistance, such as housing, food, health care, education, and other social services.

To our fellow Americans all along the East Coast, many of whom find themselves displaced and struggling to simply survive, when faced with seemingly insurmountable barriers– Take Heed of our Hurricane Katrina Lessons. You must demand there be changes made to the Stafford Act to guarantee your right to full recovery and our federal government’s duty to assist you in this effort. And we, your fellow Americans – Hurricane Katrina survivors – will continue to share our lessons learned.

Tracie L. Washington, Esq. is a member of Katrina Citizens Leadership Corps. Along with Monique Harden, Esq., Director, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Tracie co-authored the report “What it Takes to Rebuild a Village After a Disaster: Stories from Internally Displaced Children and Families of Hurricane Katrina and Their Lessons for Our Nation,” which was commissioned by the Children’s Defense Fund’s Southern Regional and Louisiana Offices.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Landlord of "Whites Only" Cop Bar Also Owns "Whites Only" Apartment Buildings

Today, the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division reached a settlement in a case brought by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center against a Midcity landlord who was caught on tape making racially discriminatory comments. The landlord, Betty Bouchon, owns a 16-unit building at 4905 and 4919 Canal Street.

This is not the first time that 4905 Canal Street has been in the news. That address is also the site of the Beach Corner Bar and Grill, an NOPD bar that was a site of a violent brawl during Mardi Gras in 2008. According to witnesses, a group of Black transit workers entered the bar on February 5, 2008, and were subjected to racial slurs, then beaten by NOPD officers. According to the NOPD's own investigation, Officers also illegally entered the car of one of the Black workers, planted a gun, and had him arrested.

The bar was apparently popular with the family of politically powerful individuals. Among those at the bar that night were Laura Cannizzaro, an Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney, and daughter of the current DA Leon Cannizzaro.

Officer Travis Ward was also there that night. Ward was the live-in boyfriend of Mandy Serpas, daughter of NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas. In eight years in the NOPD, Ward was investigated six other times for improper or unethical behavior, including a drunk driving incident where he crashed an NOPD vehicle.

According to a cop attorney quoted in the Times-Picayune, "NOPD botched its own internal investigation, creating a report filled with inaccuracies and outright lies that was damaging to its own personnel."

One of the officers who was fired from the NOPD for his involvement in the fight, David Lapene, was later hired by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. Lapene later resigned after local media reported his involvement in the brawl.

The news that the apartment complex also had a whites only policy gives further evidence that the incident at the bar was not an isolated incident, or a case of "bad apples." According to the report from Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (who also recorded the conversations with the landlord):
Ms. Bouchon refused to allow any black mystery shoppers the opportunity to rent units, and made numerous racially discriminatory comments. At one point, Ms. Bouchon informed a white mystery shopper that she saw a black girl who she thought was interested in seeing the apartment so she left the premises so that she would not have to show the unit to the black girl. She later informed a white mystery shopper that the rental unit is located in "a safe neighborhood, one of the only safe ones left because we don't have any blacks here" (listen). In the same meeting she advised the mystery shopper that a lot of blacks were calling her about the apartment so she simply did not answer the phone (listen).
According to a press release from the Department of Justice:
The Justice Department announced today that New Orleans landlords Betty Bouchon, the Bouchon Limited Family Partnership and Sapphire Corp., have agreed to pay $70,000 in damages and civil penalties to settle a lawsuit alleging they unlawfully denied housing to African-American prospective renters at a 16-unit apartment building located in New Orleans. The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana...

Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay $50,000 to GNOFHAC and a total of $20,000 in civil penalties to the United States. The settlement also requires the defendants to adopt non-discriminatory policies and procedures, keep detailed records of inquiries from prospective tenants and of rental transactions, and submit periodic reports over the four year term of the settlement. GNOFHAC filed a separate lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
We hope the Justice Department continues to look at the incident at the Beach Corner Bar and Grill, and all of those involved. Once again, it appears that corruption goes all the way to the top of our local system.

We Have Not Forgotten: Solidarity Statement on Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

From our friends at the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance:
August 29, 2011

Solidarity Statement on Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Today the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) honors the people who passed away during the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. We also honor and stand in solidarity with the over 1 million people, mostly African Americans, who were displaced by the storm and by the negligence of government agencies. We appreciate the many organizations and activists of the Gulf Coast who continue to work to rebuild homes and communities, restore the cultural vibrancy and diversity of the Gulf Coast and attain justice for the displaced and current residents of the region. We support the right of return for the many thousands of people who continue to live in other communities in hopes of returning to their home.

GGJ is an alliance of US-based grassroots organizing groups who seek to play a role in transforming global policies. GGJ connects groups across sector, issue, region and constituency to develop a broad-based US movement that can participate in the international grassroots movement for peace, democracy and global well-being.

The experience of Hurricane Katrina was not just a natural disaster, but a disaster wrought by a legacy of racism, government abandonment, and opportunism by developers and wealthy elites.

Nearly 2,000 people were killed during or in the aftermath of the hurricane. Hundreds of thousands of people from the Gulf Coast region remain displaced from their communities while developers have descended upon New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities to execute a vision of the region that caters to wealthy elites. As Katrina survivor Viola Francois-Washington noted about New Orleans: “We still have two cities. One is getting help, the other is not”.

On August, 2007 the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Committee convened an International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The tribunal found: “that the federal, state and local governments are guilty of violating the human rights to life, dignity and recognition of personhood; the right to be free from racial discrimination-- especially as it pertains to the actions of law enforcement personnel and vigilantes; the right to return, resettlement and reintegration of internally displaced persons; the right to be free from degrading treatment and punishment; the right to freedom of movement; the right to adequate housing and education; the right to vote and participate in governance and the right to a fair trial, the right to liberty and security of person and the right to equal protection under the law. Both actions and failure to act by the governments had disproportionate devastating impact with respect to race and gender.”

Four years after the findings of the Tribunal and six years after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, justice is yet to be realized for the people of the region. The coast was struck by yet another disaster, the BP oil spill and again people were subjected to government failure to respond decisively and to hold the polluter accountable. The taxpayers, the people continue to bear the burden.

The survivors of Katrina are among a number of peoples that are the victims of severe weather and natural disasters in recent years, including the deadly floods in the Philippines (2009), Pakistan (2010) and Brazil (2011), the severe drought in northern China (2011), and the devastating earthquakes in Haiti (2010) and Japan (2011). This year the U.S. experienced the deadliest tornado year in nearly a century with communities being affected from Massachusetts to Alabama. It is clear that the heating of the planet is disrupting its ecological balance. This will continue to have devastating social impacts on all our communities. In a moment when we need to turn to clean and sustainable energy sources, governments and corporations continue to drill in deeper and deeper waters for thicker crude oil, ravage the land for tar sands and coal, and develop unsafe forms of energy like nuclear power. It is clear that peoples' movements for the rights of people and the planet are all that will stand in the way of the irresponsibility of our political and economic leaders.

On this day we call on GGJ members, allies and friends to do at least one of the following:

-Conduct an activity in commemoration of Katrina
-Reach out to colleagues, friends and loved ones in the Gulf Coast or those of the Katrina diaspora
-Organize an act of solidarity, and
-Continue to prioritize the Gulf Coast as part of our national movement building agenda.

Louisiana Prison Bans Final Call Newspaper

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:
Hearing on Tuesday Over First Amendment Rights in Louisiana Prison

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments tomorrow, August 30th, in the case of an inmate's right to receive a religious publication, “The Final Call,” which has been denied to him.

Henry Leonard, a prisoner held at the David Wade Correctional Center, is a member of the Nation of Islam, the religious order which publishes “The Final Call.” The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections denied Mr. Leonard “The Final Call” because prison officials found the content offensive. On March 31, 2010, Judge Donald Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled that denying the publication to Mr. Leonard violates his First Amendment rights and ordered the State of Louisiana to allow him to resume receiving it.

The State of Louisiana appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit, which hears oral arguments on Tuesday. The ACLU continues to maintain that the First Amendment protects Mr. Leonard's exercise of religion, even in prison.

Arguing for Henry Leonard is Justin Harrison, ACLU Foundation of Louisiana Staff Attorney.

The suit is styled “Henry Leonard v. State of Louisiana et al.” The ACLU of Louisiana's brief on Mr. Leonard's behalf may be found at this link.

The David Wade Correctional Center is in Homer Louisiana, near the Arkansas border.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Education Advocates to Rally for Real Reform on Katrina Anniversary

From the TribuneTalk website:
Pointing to the fate of John McDonogh Senior High as just one example of the failed policies and broken promises of the Recovery School District, several organizations and education advocates have organized a rally and are encouraging others concerned about the right of every New Orleans public school student to have “real recovery, real reform, real improvement and real choice in their schools” to join them.

Members of the John McDonogh Alumni Association, Parents Across America NOLA, the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, and the Esplanade Ridge/Treme Civic Association will join students, teachers, parents and community members at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29 in front of John McDonogh High School, 2426 Esplanade Ave. to commemorate the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and to review the state of public education in New Orleans.

“We will be asking hard questions about the ways charter schools have negatively affected our children and about the scandals and failures of charter schools and RSD-run schools,” organizers say. “Together we will assert our right to a democratic voice in how schools are rebuilt, what schools are rebuilt, and who runs the schools in our communities. We will look at the betrayal of public trust in the past six years as the RSD has held community meetings, promised public engagement and then disregarded the wishes of parents and stake-holders again and again.”

John McDonogh High School serves as one example of the contention between those concerned about the direction of the current reform movement in local public education and Recovery School District which continues to push that movement under new leader John White.

At John McDonogh, many alumni, parents and community members have expressed disappointment and outrage at the RSD decision to place an alternative charter school on the John McDonogh campus. Despite vehement objections to the plan, the Renew Charter Management Organization was given the OK to open a program for over-aged students this school year on the first floor of the school.

Meanwhile, parents and alumni are concerned about the uncertain fate of the school—one of the few traditional, direct-run schools in the RSD. Some supporters of the campus believe it has been neglected on purpose both academically and with regard to facility upgrades to make it easier to turn the school over to a charter operator or to ultimately close it altogether.

And while the John McDonogh campus is gathering site for the assembly, the Monday rally is designed to bring attention to a wide range of local education issues, organizers say.

“We will examine the false choices that the school district has offered parents and children and the way school choice has divided schools from their communities and from parental oversight and involvement. We will condemn the political influence, waste and lack of foresight that has characterized the rebuilding and renovations of schools thus far and demand a fair, equitable and transparent process going forward. We will expose RSD’s deliberate and systematic neglect of certain schools to justify takeover and closure. We will stand up to save John McDonogh and all our schools from autocratic decisions made by unelected, out-of-touch and out-of-town administrators.”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Common Ground Co-Founder Who Became FBI Informant Rises in Conservative Movement

Mother Jones Magazine published an article today focusing on Brandon Darby, who is known to many New Orleanians for his controversial leadership of the post-Katrina relief organization Common Ground. Many volunteers who came to help rebuild the city were disillusioned by their experience with Common Ground under Darby. "In his short-lived tenure as Common Ground's interim director, Darby drove out 30 volunteer coordinators and replaced them with a small band of loyalists," according to the article.

The article also touches on Darby's connection to Riad Hamad, a Lebanese activist and school teacher who was found tied up with duct tape, at the bottom of the lake, after Darby turned him in to the FBI. The death was classified as a suicide.

The Mother Jones investigation also mentions Darby's close relationship Tulane University graduate Andrew Breitbart, who is best known as the mastermind behind attacks on ACORN and Shirley Sherrod. "Darby now socializes with Breitbart at his Los Angeles home and is among his staunchest defenders," reports Mother Jones.

Although not mentioned in the article, Darby apparently has also worked in support of the notorious Koch Brothers, attending an anti-Koch Brothers protest with Breitbart. As one activist describes the scene:
There was a small group of right-wing instigators trolling the crowd of the Quarantine the Kochs rally. They were carrying a small video camera and trying to incite the crowd, start arguments, and were trying to start misleading chants and confrontations. They were presumably trying to do this to create some deceptive videos that would be heavily edited and taken out of context to dishonestly portray the voices that were in the streets.

Who were these people? Well, one was Andrew Breitbart - a well-known right-wing blogger and media manipulator. He's credited with masterminding the ACORN scandal, is a long-time crony of Glenn Beck, and has shown little respect for objective journalism or truth.

The other was Brandon Darby. He was a long-time social justice activist - who worked with Common Ground in New Orleans that did tremendous work post-Katrina. He also admitted to working for the FBI and spying on activists for years, before recently coming under the wing of Breitbart.

Were these two employed by the Kochs - and paid to instigate the crowd last weekend? Paid to disrupt legitimate social movements, try to incite confrontations and potential violence? Quite possibly - since Breitbart has close ties to Americans for Prosperity (a Koch-funded organization), and is a regular speaker at their events.
The Mother Jones article says that Darby, who once loudly advocated for armed revolution, is "now an enthusiastic small-government conservative. He loves Sarah Palin. He opposes welfare and national health care...Climate change is 'a bandwagon' and the EPA should be 'strongly limited.'"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wave of Illegal, Senseless and Violent Evictions Swells in Port au Prince

By Bill Quigley
Mathias O is 34 years old. He is one of about 600,000 people still homeless from the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He lives with his wife and her 2 year old under a homemade shelter made out of several tarps. They sleep on the rocky ground inside. The side tarp walls are reinforced by pieces of cardboard boxes taped together. Candles provide the only inside light at night. There is no running water. No electricity. They live near a canal and suffer from lots of mosquitoes. There are hundreds of families living in tents beside him. This is the third tent community he has lived in since the earthquake.

The earthquake made Mathias homeless when it crushed his apartment and killed his cousin and younger brother. He and his wife first stayed in a park next to St. Anne’s Catholic Church. Then the family moved to what they thought was a safer place, Sylvio Cator stadium. They put up a tent on the lawn inside the stadium and stayed there for several months. The authorities then moved them just outside of the stadium so the soccer team could practice. They lived in a tent outside the stadium with 514 other families for over a year until they were ordered to leave in July 2011. Each family was told they had to leave and were given 10,000 Goudes (about $250 in US dollars) to assist in their relocation. Where did the 514 families go? No one knows for sure. About 150 families stayed together and live under tarps beside Mathias. Some used the money to build new tarp shelters elsewhere and some used it for food. The rest? No one knows. No one is keeping track.

When I asked what Mathias would like to say to the human rights community, he said, “The life of the people living in the tents is not a human life. Our human rights are not respected. No institutions are taking care of us, we are the forgotten. We want people to remember us and help us to have the human life we should have. It's not our choice to live this way. The situation of life bring us here. We hope to have a normal life. But the hope is very far from us.”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported August 19, 2011 that there are about 594,800 people living in about 1000 displacement camps in Haiti. Most want to leave but have nowhere to go. Nearly 8000 people have been evicted in the last three months. Their report concludes by saying “With nearly 600,000 internally displaced persons still in camps, the scale of Haiti’s homeless problem remains daunting.”

Complicating the problem is the increasing wave of forced evictions happening in Haiti. These are evictions without any legal process, often by police, frequently accompanied by violence.

Landowners use armed police and private security to carry out evictions and scare people away. They rarely go to court because they usually cannot prove they own the land. So they resort to brute force to overwhelm the families. Police and private security use guns, machetes, batons and bulldozers to push people out.

The administration of President Michel Martelly has apparently given a green light to widespread violent demolition of camps without any legal process. Though the administration announced plans to relocate families from six camps, nothing has happened.

The Haitian human rights law firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) reports that before June they were receiving several threats of forced evictions per month. Since June, the threats increased to several per week. Now they are receiving several reports of forced evictions every day.

Dozens of human rights activists called on the United Nations to condemn these illegal evictions and to make Haiti impose a moratorium on illegal evictions until there are realistic plans to house the families being uprooted.

These evictions are in defiance of a ruling by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights which issued precautionary measures asking Haiti to cease illegal evictions. On November 18, 2010, the IACHR expressed concern over forced evictions of the displaced and sexual violence against women and girls. Specifically, the IACHR wrote Haiti asking the government to “offer those who have been illegally expelled from the camps a transfer to places that have minimum health and security conditions, and then transfer them if they so agree; guarantee that internally displaced persons have access to effective recourse before a court and before other competent authorities; implement effective security measures to safeguard the physical integrity of the inhabitants of the camps, guaranteeing especially the protection of women and children; train the security forces in the rights of displaced persons, especially their right not to be forcibly expelled from the camps; and ensure that international cooperation agencies have access to the camps.”

Residents recently surveyed by BAI and the University of San Francisco said money given them upon eviction was insufficient to relocate or pay rent anywhere. Small grants worth about $250 are not enough to build even the most basic 12x10 shack with plywood walls, a corrugated metal roof and concrete floor – leaving many of those evicted without any shelter except to go put up a tarp in another displacement camp. No wonder that 35 percent of them reported being the victims of physical harm or threats of physical harm.

The following are recent examples of illegal forced evictions, all have occurred since Martelly became President.

On May 27, 2011, at 6am, Haitian National Police wielding machetes and knives stormed a camp in the Delmas 3 neighborhood destroying about 200 makeshift tents, and forcing people to flee, according to Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald. There was no court order of eviction.

In early June, Haitian National Police showed up and began destroying tarps and tents of hundreds of families camped at the intersection of Delmas and Airport Roads. The police fired shots and swung batons as people protested in front of their camp. This was done without legal authority.

Later in June, at another camp in Delmas 3, truckloads of agents armed with machetes descended on another camp and dismantled it. After the tents were destroyed a bulldozer showed up and leveled what was left. This too was without any legal process.

In a midnight raid on July 3, 2011, police and private security forces completely destroyed tents of about 30 families in Camp Eric Jean-Baptiste in the Port au Prince suburb of Carrefour.

On July 18, 2011, Haitian National Police entered the displacement camp in the parking lot of Sylvio Cator sports stadium and destroyed the tents and belongings of 514 families. There was no lawful process. People were given about $250 to pay for new shelters. Many told human rights monitors that they did not want the money, they wanted to stay but accepted the money as they had no other options. These illegal evictions were condemned by the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On July 27, 2011, members of the Haitian National Police arrested, assaulted and ransacked tents of internally displaced people protesting against the illegal eviction of dozens of families at Camp Django. Camp residents were given about $125 for their destroyed shelters.

So, what should be happening?

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by former US President Bill Clinton, just pledged $78 million to fund a housing plan for 16 districts in Haiti. But, as Haiti Grassroots Watch reports, even if all the planned repairs and construction of 68,025 units takes place, that is only 22 percent of what is needed since there are over 300,000 families and 600,000 people living in camps.

It is time for the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the UN, The US and the international community to stand up for the human rights of the hundreds of thousands of people like Mathias. Housing is a human right. Using force to evict homeless survivors of Haiti’s earthquake from one spot to make them homeless in another place is illegal, senseless and violent. Mathias and his family deserve much more.

Bill is a law professor and human rights advocate at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill is a long time Haiti advocate in his work with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Vladimir Laguerre helped with this article. You can reach Bill at

Photo by Wadner Pierre.

Free Agents Brass Band and Sunni Patterson Headline Benefit for New Orleans Grassroots Youth Organization

From our friends at Project Future for the Youth:
Project Future for the Youth is a grassroots organization that utilizes the arts as a vehicle to broaden the horizon of youth to effect positive social change in our communities. To spread the word and raise much-needed funds for their work, they will be hosting a very special fundraiser on September 8 at the McKenna Museum.

Among the highlights of the event are special performances by Free Agents Brass Band and Sunni Patterson. the event will also feature beautiful art work provided by Uptown's Illest, Charlie V.

Project Future for the Youth
Thursday, Sept. 8th,
McKenna Museum
Doors 8:30pm, show starts at 9pm
$10 advance tickets, $12 door
Food, spirits, good time, great cause
Tickets available at

Proceeds benefit Project Future's "WE ARE ONE" Summit of Youth in Service, a youth-led summit where New Orleans youth facilitate interactive, engaging workshops for their peers regarding issues that plague our communities both locally and globally. They in turn collectively develop resolutions with the end result being the application of those resolutions. The summit takes place every 6 months in New Orleans. Visit for more info on your organization or to volunteer. We appreciate your continued support.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Six Years Since the Storm and Six Years of War Against the Black and Poor in New Orleans, By Endesha Juakali

From our friends at Survivors Village:
Once again, the Katrina Commemoration Committee will sponsor its annual march from the base of the Industrial Canal in the 9th ward to Hunters Field on the 29th of August 2011.

The March will begin with a healing ceremony at 10 AM the levee breach at Jourdan & Galvez in the 9th ward. The Katrina Commemoration march/secondline begins immediately following the healing ceremony. The march/secondline is a combination of traditional New Orleans secondlining, African drummers, New Orleans brass bands, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, various community organizations and the community-at-large. It travels through the streets of New Orleans down North Claiborne Avenue for about 3 miles to St. Bernard Avenue. The march/secondline ends at Hunter’s Field, located on the corner of North Claiborne Avenue and St. Bernard Avenue.

Last year the prevailing thought was that the 5th year event was going to be the last chance to really make a statement because after that the media and others around the country/world would definitely move on to other events and disasters. That is probably true from a media/marketing perspective, but for those of us that lived and are still living the disaster, moving on is not an option.

The storm that brushed by New Orleans on August 29, 2005 was never the cause of the disaster. The shoddy work of the US Government that led to the levee failures and flooded the city was only the beginning of our troubles. The real disaster began immediately after the storm when the city’s white supremacist economic elite and its “colored” collaborators decided to remake the city in their image, which strongly resembles a 21st century plantation. These collaborators which included the mayor, city council, head of HUD, and almost every black elected official, thought that the plan would only affect the poor, who they never represented anyway. They were not only unprincipled, but misguided in not realizing that the majority of people in New Orleans were working poor and anything that affected them would change all the power relationships in the city.

It started almost immediately with the governor labeling blacks in New Orleans looters and giving the police department and National Guard the power to shoot to kill. This was parroted by the then-mayor. We now can see how that worked out. Then the state took control of the public school system, firing all the experienced teachers and breaking the union. This was done for the expressed purpose of privatizing the industry, so now profit is the goal, not serving the children. Than it was decided that certain areas in the city should not be repopulated; all of these areas such as New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth ward, and all of the traditional public housing developments were areas that were almost exclusively black and working class. Then the decision was made to not open the public hospital that was a critical life line for the black working poor community.

Then the political attacks began, and are still going on!! Though the city is only 30% white, the white supremacist economic elite has used the weakened state of the black community— as well as the failure of blacks, other people of color, and progressive whites to forge any kind of united front–to take away any semblance of power by blacks and people of color in the city. All of the major power bases in the city that were majority black are now majority white. This includes the mayor, city council, district attorney, police chief, school superintendent, and judges elected since the storm; in fact any position of power that has been filled since the storm has most likely been filled by a white person or a non New Orleans native. This has been accompanied by a sustained war against the poor, the homeless and all other lower working class persons in the city. Since New Orleans was declared a blank slate, we are the social experimental lab of the world. Anyone with money and a new idea…come to New Orleans…"they will accept anything.”

This is just meant to be a sample of what has happened to the city since the storm, as a native New Orleanian and a Black person, I could go on and on with examples of how sad it feels to be politically and economically powerless in my own city. Suffice it to say calling this a 21st century plantation is not meant to be a joke.

All people that believe in social justice should make it a point to march on August 29th, we cannot afford to move on because the disaster is not over, its an on going living event that seems to get worse each year since 2005.

Therefore we must march each year in order to remind ourselves that we are in a fight and cannot rest!! We have lost many battles, but the war is ongoing and we must not quit!

I hope to see you at the levee breech on the 29th!

AND after the march and program at Hunters field, everyone is invited to join the residents and former residents of the St. Bernard community in their annual Unity in the Community Celebration of Life at 3820 Alfred St (the 3800 block of St. Bernard Ave.) from 4:00pm-until.

Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force Announces 2011-2012 Parade Season

From our friends at the New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force:
New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force announces the 2011-2012 second-line parade season with a press conference and Ambassador Awards ceremony on Friday, August 26. Please join us as we release the 2011/12 parading schedule and theme: Parading for Peace. We also will thank our ambassador, community leaders who are advocating for the traditions of the second-line, while serving as positive role models for our young people through their own personal and professional successes in New Orleans.

The 2011/12 Second-Line Ambassador is New Orleans native actor Wendell Pierce, star of the hit HBO series “Treme.” All social aid and pleasure club members as participants, as well as members of the media and the public with an interest in our city’s unique culture, are invited to attend this event.

Friday, August 26, 3pm
Congo Square, Armstrong Park

The New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force is a collective of clubs that adhere to the traditions of local African-American benevolent societies, with roots dating to the 19th century. As the Task Force, we advocate for the protection and perpetuation of these traditions within the context of a contemporary New Orleans.

Member clubs and the Task Force endeavor to strike a balance between the celebration of our culture, through annual second-line parades, and engagement in the social challenges facing our city today. We sponsor youth programs, community resource events, and targeted projects to assist our community members in need. In addition, we partner with local campaign for peace SilenceIsViolence to counter the culture of violence that grips our city. This year’s theme, Parading for Peace, is an outgrowth of that partnership. Watch for events throughout the year designed to engage the community in making our city safer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Effort Launches to Rename Danziger Bridge

From the TribuneTalk Website:

The African American Leadership Project (AALP) will observe the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina at the foot of the Danziger Bridge at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29—six years to the day after Hurricane Katrina. At the commemoration, organizers will also announce the official kickoff effort to rename the Danziger Bridge in honor of Ronald Madison and James Brissette, the two people who were shot and killed by police officers on the bridge just days after the storm.

“The Madison/Brissette Bridge would be a constant reminder to us all of how important it is to pursue justice until justice is done” says AALP Project Manager Ernest Jones. “In the blink of an eye, lives were changed forever. These families suffered and continue to try and rebuild their lives,” Jones added.

Madison, Brissette and four other civilians were shot by police officers that day as they tried to cross the bridge to safety. The Commemoration will take place at the base of the bridge on the downtown side of the structure. Members of the families are expected to speak. The Mayor’s office and other officials and dignitaries have been invited.

In 2006, the AALP organization began commemorating the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with “Hands Around the Dome,” a march around the Louisiana Superdome, that iconic structure and temporary home to thousands immediately after Hurricane Katrina. The event was a way to commemorate the human suffering after Katrina and celebrate the hopes of returning New Orleanians. It attracted more than 400 people that year and received national media attention. The group has continued to hold the march each year since.

As the sixth anniversary of Katrina approaches, the organization is revising the “Hands Around the Dome,” theme to “Hands Around Our Own.” AALP Chairperson Gail Glapion, says the change in wording reflects the desire to embrace the families who have suffered over the past six years as they fought for justice for their loved ones.

“Katrina changed our city forever. While we will never forget the suffering, family disruption and broken promises in the aftermath of the great flood, we believe it is past time to demand that these changes be molded into a fairer, more equitable city. Hands Around Our Own, is a way to lift up those who are forcing our city to become better.”

Glapion says that the commemoration at the bridge rightly honors those who died and were injured there, but that it is also intended to remember people like Henry Glover, “and all those whose civil rights and dignity were violated and denied after the storm.”

Aware of the difficulties in trying to rename a public facility, Jones said his first job was to contact the families of the victims to get their reaction and support. “We must have the support of the families that were on the bridge that day,” said Jones. Jones says he has spoken with both the Madison and Brisette families, and that both are in full support of the effort.

Glapion said AALP also plans to reach out to relatives of the late Alfred Danzinger, a Louisiana politician in the 1930s after whom the bridge is named. Glapion is hoping the Danziger family will support the effort.

“From all I’ve learned, Mr. Danziger was a good and decent man; a lover of the arts; and a supporter of civil rights. It is our responsibility to show his family due consideration and respect as we set about this course.” Glapion said. Glapion said she’s not sure how the family will respond, but through no fault of their own, the events on the Danziger Bridge “will always live in infamy, and will always be associated with the bridge that bares their family name.”

The African American Leadership Project, founded in 2002, is a nonpartisan network of community activists and organizations, religious and business leaders, academics and concerned citizens that focus on dialogue and agenda building, policy advocacy, community planning and neighborhood development.

To that end, AALP will also host a forum on the “State of Black New Orleans” on Sept. 3. The location and time will be announced.

Katrina Pain Index 2011: Race, Gender, Poverty

By Bill Quigley and Davida Finger
Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast. The impact of Katrina and government bungling continue to inflict major pain on the people left behind. It is impossible to understand what happened and what still remains without considering race, gender, and poverty. The following offer some hints of what remains.

$62 million. Amount of money HUD and the State of Louisiana agreed to pay thousands of homeowners because of racial discrimination in Louisiana’s program to disburse federal rebuilding funds following Katrina and Rita. African American homeowners were more likely than whites to have their rebuilding grants based on much lower pre-storm value of their homes rather than the higher estimated cost to rebuild them. Source: Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

343,829. The current population of the city of New Orleans, about 110,000 less than when Katrina hit. New Orleans is now whiter, more male and more prosperous. Source: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

154,000. FEMA is now reviewing the grants it gave to 154,000 people following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. It is now demanding that some return the long ago spent funds! FEMA admits that many of the cases under review stem from mistakes made by its own agency employees. FEMA’s error rate following Katrina was 14.5 per cent. Source: Michael Kunzelman and Ryan Foley, Associated Press.

65,423. In the New Orleans metropolitan area, there are now 65,423 fewer African American women and girls than when Katrina hit. Overall, the number of women and girls decreased since Katrina by 108,116. Source: Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

47,738. Number of vacant houses in New Orleans as of 2010. Source: GNOCDC.

3000. Over three thousand public housing apartments occupied before Katrina plus another thousand under renovation were bulldozed after Katrina. Less than ten percent, 238 families, have made it back into the apartments built on the renovated sites. Only half of the 3000+ families have even made it back to New Orleans at all. All were African American. Source: Katy Reckdahl, Times-Picayune.

75. Nearly seventy five percent of the public schools in New Orleans have become charters since Katrina. Over fifty percent of public school students in New Orleans attend public charter schools. There are now more than thirty different charter school operators in New Orleans alone. The reorganization of the public schools has created a separate but unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including virtually all of the city’s white students, into a set of selective, higher-performing schools and most of the city’s students of color into a set of lower-performing schools. Sources: Andrew Vanacore, Times-Picayune; Valerie Strauss, Washington Post; Institute on Race & Poverty of University of Minnesota Law School.

70. Seventy percent more people are homeless in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. People living with HIV are estimated to be homeless at 10 times the rate of the general population, a condition amplified after Hurricane Katrina. Source: Unity for the Homeless and Times-Picayune.

59. Less than 60 percent of Louisiana’s public school students graduate from high school with their class. Among public school children with disabilities in New Orleans, the high school graduation rate is 6.8%. Source: Education Week and Southern Poverty Law Center.

34. Thirty four percent of the children in New Orleans live in poverty; the national average is 20%. Source: Annie Casey Foundation Kids Count 2011.

12. Twelve New Orleans police officers convicted or plead guilty to federal crimes involving shootings of civilians during Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Source: Times-Picayune and Louisiana Justice Institute.

10. At least ten people were killed by police under questionable circumstances during days after Katrina. Source: Louisiana Justice Institute and Times-Picayune.

3. A three-fold increase in heart attacks was documented in the two years after Katrina. Source: Tulane University Health Study.

Number unknown. The true impact of the BP oil spill in terms of adverse health effects is vast but unknown. Delays by the federal government in studying the spill’s physical and mental health effects hinder any ability to understand these issues with accuracy. A year after the spill, more people are reporting medical and mental health problems. Source: Campell Robertson, New York Times and National Geographic.

Bill Quigley and Davida Finger are professors at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Bill is also Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. You can reach Bill at and Davida at

Greater New Orleans Community Data Center to Host Forum on Lessons From Katrina

From our Friends at Greater New Orleans Community Data Center:
The 2005 storms that devastated the Gulf region will long be studied by policy analysts, historians, and social commentators for their size and impact. Since 2005, the world has witnessed new devastation with earthquakes in Haiti and China, floods in Pakistan, and the tsunami that wiped out huge portions of Japan and its landscape, with an overwhelming loss of life. Closer to home, tornados obliterated much of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri. Leaders worldwide continue to turn to the Gulf Coast in search of lessons learned.

A new book, Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita, from Brookings Institution Press, featuring many New Orleans researchers, documents the unprecedented civic revival that has breathed energy and accountability into reforms and has the potential to make the region more resilient to future catastrophes. It also assesses the state of current reforms in education and land use planning, as well as lesser publicized reforms such as in evacuation planning and criminal justice.

On August 29th, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and University of New Orleans will host a forum to introduce this edited volume from the Brookings Institution Press and discuss its implications.

This forum will recognize those achievements perhaps overlooked, examine where we are today according to the numbers with a briefing on the New Orleans Index at Six, and honestly assess the business undone and what New Orleanians, its leaders, and many partners must do to make greater New Orleans a model of growth and resilience.

Copies of the book will be available on site for purchase at a discount.

Resilience and Opportunity:
Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita

Monday, August 29, 2011, 1:00 pm - 5:30 pm
University of New Orleans
Homer L. Hitt Alumni Center – Geoghegan Grand Ballroom
New Orleans, LA
Attendance is free and open to the public. However, space is limited and pre-registration is required. Please RSVP at this link.

Susan Krantz
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
University of New Orleans

Amy Liu
Senior Fellow and Co- Director of Metropolitan Policy Program
The Brookings Institution

New Orleans Index at Six
Allison Plyer
Deputy Director
Greater New Orleans Community Data Center

Panel Discussion: State and Future of Policy Reforms
Moderator: Andre Perry
Loyola University

John Renne
University of New Orleans

Karen DeSalvo
Tulane University
City of New Orleans

Luceia LeDoux
Baptist Community Ministries

Mark Davis
Tulane University

Panel Discussion: State and Future of Civil Society and Community Engagement
Moderator: Roland Anglin
Rutgers University

Richard Mizelle
Florida State University

Linetta Gilbert
Ford Foundation
The Declaration Initiative

Silas Lee
Xavier University

Reilly Morse
Mississippi Center for Justice

Rich McCline
Southern University at Baton Rouge

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cops Knocking on your Door: New NOPD Initiative May Make the Department Look Even Worse

A few weeks back, New Orleans City Business reported that NOPD officers had begun randomly checking car doors, locking unlocked cars, and leaving notes behind, either saying they had locked the door, or congratulating citizens on locking their own doors.

Clearly, this new policy was an attempt by the nation's most violent and corrupt police department to improve their image. But for many residents, the reaction was not positive. “Not only is it a violation of your basic right to privacy, and not only do they not have the right to open your car without probable cause or permission, but what if they lock you out of your own car? How do they know you didn’t leave your car unlocked for a very good reason?” commented ACLU of Louisiana director Marjorie Esman to reporter Richard Webster.

“What if I run inside and leave my keys in my car and somebody walks by and locks it? Is NOPD going to pay for Pop-A-Lock to come open it up?” asked Irish Channel resident Molly Oehmichen. “Yeah, we have a lot of car burglaries and it’s important that they monitor that activity but personally going car to car to check if they’re locked seems like a waste of time. I’d rather they were out there gathering and processing evidence so they can actually prosecute people who are committing these crimes.”

Despite the concerns voiced by the ACLU and others, it appears the NOPD is continuing in this direction. A press release from the NOPD, released today, declares that the NOPD has started something called Operation Force, where they are knocking on doors across the city. We'll see if this new initiative makes the NOPD seem like friendly neighbors, or like stalkers. Given the department's recent history, we believe it will take major changes for the department to change its reputation, and we suspect stunts like this will only continue to alienate residents.

Excerpts from NOPD press release:

NOPD's Operation Force In Full Swing
Police Officers Make More Than 10,000 House Calls In New Orleans Area

(August 16, 2011) - As of this week, NOPD police officers have knocked on more than 10,000 front doors in New Orleans neighborhoods and spoken with residents about how they can better protect their cars, their homes and most importantly, themselves.

Operation Force kicked off in the latter part of June. It involves officers in every district working some overtime hours in the evening, educating residents about how to make their neighborhoods safer.

Here are some of the numbers so far:

Citizen Visits by Officers: 10,420

Crimestoppers Literature Distributed: 13,554

Vehicle Report Cards Issued: 5,246

Hours Officers Have Spent Walking: 2,019

Superintendent Serpas said, “Besides Operation Force being a way for officers to get valuable information to residents, it’s also an icebreaker to get our officers meeting and talking with residents. Forming a trusting relationship with the people of New Orleans is one of this department’s top goals, and we want to thank residents for being so welcoming and receptive to our officers when they knock at the front door. “

The New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation has given $77,000 to the “Operation Force” effort. The New Orleans Crime Coalition and the Business Council of New Orleans and River Region also helped to make this program possible. The NOPD matched that amount- also dedicating $77,000 to the program, so that it can be sustained for 14 weeks during the summer. The money is primarily paying for officers working some overtime hours, 3 days a week to make this campaign effective throughout the city.

Photo by Abdul Aziz.

FREE Mortgage Relief Fair Set for the Westbank of New Orleans

A group of local nonprofits and community development partners have joined together to help address the needs of homeowners in the greater New Orleans area, with a focus on those who have been affected by the oil spill and may be behind on their mortgage payments or are facing foreclosure.

The Greater New Orleans Homeownership Preservation Coalition is hosting a Homeownership Preservation Fair on Saturday, August 27, 2011 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. While the event is targeted to homeowners on the Westbank, any Louisiana resident can attend and the event is FREE. The event will be held at Delgado Community College, Westbank Campus, Building 1, Room 130, 2600 General Meyer Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana.

"There's a lot of confusion out in the public about what to do if you're looking at getting behind on your mortgage because of a loss of income. Many people may not know that there is a great deal of free help out there for people who live in oil spill impacted areas," said Lauren Bartlett, staff attorney at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a nonprofit organization providing legal assistance to low-income residents and a coalition partner.

"People are scared of losing their biggest investment - the roof over their head - and don't know where to turn for help or advice," Bartlett said. "Maybe they've had bad experiences with their lender or servicer and are feeling hopeless about a resolution. We want people who are facing mortgage delinquency or foreclosure to know there's a whole team of experienced counselors and attorneys that are ready, willing and able to provide assistance and help you through the maze of options that are available."

The Homeownership Preservation Fair on August 27th will include a general-information session that will discuss foreclosure-prevention resources, as well as financial and legal options available to help homeowners prevent foreclosure. These include details on loan modifications and other options available for those people that are impacted by the oil spill. The workshop will also include information on foreclosure-prevention rescue scams and fair housing laws, as well as budget and credit counseling for those who might need these services.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved agencies specially qualified to offer one-on-one individual counseling will provide assistance at no cost to the homeowner, organizers said.

"We've seen a rise in mortgage-rescue and BP claims-related scams in our communities," said Nancy Montoya, community affairs manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and a coalition partner.

"It's important that residents know that there are many organizations that don't charge up-front fees and have experience and training in resolving complicated foreclosure and consumer credit problems," Montoya said. "That's why we're involved with the coalition to help coordinate events like this that can help save somebody's home and help them manage their resources during difficult times."

Agencies conducting the Homeownership Preservation Fair include Fannie Mae, LSU AgCenter, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Reserve Board of Atlanta, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Money Management International, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, and Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans.

For more information or to find a non-profit counselor in your area please call (504) 529-1000 Ext. 280.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Noose Hanging Outside High School in Northern Louisiana Town

From a US Department of Justice press release:
The Justice Department today announced that three men were charged for their role in intentionally attempting to intimidate and interfere with African-American students who were attending Beekman Junior High School in Beekman, Morehouse Parish, La.

According to the bill of information filed in the District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, on or about Nov. 6, 2007, Brian Wallis, James Lee Wallis Jr. and Tony L. Johnson, acting together, tied a noose around a dead raccoon’s neck and hung it from the flagpole located in front of Beekman Junior High School. The bill of information further alleges that the three men hung the raccoon in the noose to intimidate and interfere with the African-American students because of their race and color and because they were attending Beekman Junior High School, which is a public school.

Johnson, Brian Wallis and James Lee Wallis Jr. face a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

On Sept. 24, 2010, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Christopher Shane Montgomery, who initially claimed responsibility for the act, in connection with this incident. Based upon additional information developed during the course of this investigation, the charges against Montgomery have been dismissed.

This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Mark Blumberg and Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary J. Mudrick of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Office.

A bill of information is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Groups Ask Court to Remove Individuals Convicted of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation from Sex Offender Registry

From our friends at Center for Constitutional Rights:
Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, Law Clinic, and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP argued in federal court for a remedy for individuals who must continue to register as sex offenders for periods of 15 years to life because of a conviction of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) despite recent legislation that removes the registration requirement for individuals convicted of CANS after August 15, 2011.

Plaintiffs in Doe v. Jindal have been forced to register as sex offenders simply because they were charged, prosecuted, and convicted of offering oral or anal sex for compensation under a more recent provision of Louisiana’s 205-year-old Crime Against Nature statute rather than under its prostitution statute, which does not require sex offender registration. Plaintiffs argued that the harsher punishment, which has traditionally been meted out to those convicted of CANS rather than prostitution, results solely from moral disapproval of sex acts historically associated with homosexuality, and is thus unconstitutional.

The Louisiana legislature recently equalized the penalties between CANS and prostitution, and will no longer require sex offender registration for those convicted of CANS in future cases.

Attorneys argued before Judge Martin Feldman that nine individuals convicted of CANS prior to the legislature’s removal of the offense from the list of those requiring registration as a sex offender earlier this summer should no longer be mandated to register as sex offenders.

“We welcome this change in the law, which means that these unconstitutional and unfair conditions will no longer be imposed on people who are convicted of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation in the future,” said Alexis Agathocleous, staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “But the injustice still persists for those with old CANS convictions. Our clients – along with hundreds of others – remain registered as sex offenders. We are here today because they, too, should receive the benefit of this change in the law, and be removed from the sex offender registry.”

Said Andrea Ritchie, co-counsel in Doe v. Jindal, “The roughly 400 people who remain on the sex offender registry solely as a result of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation charge are largely poor Black women, including transgender women, and gay men who have themselves experienced violence and discrimination their whole lives, and they deserve a second chance.”

Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women with a Vision, said, “The women and transgender women of our NO Justice Project live with the scarlet letter of ‘sex offender’ on their driver’s license, some of them for over 20 years. Our clients are mothers, daughters, veterans, and more. Yet, they live on the fringes of the community, disconnected from many support systems, putting them at risk for violence, reincarceration and other harms. It is time for them to experience walking their kids to school and gainful employment, and to have access to safe housing without judgment. Simply put, it’s time for the State of Louisiana to give them justice.”

The mission of Women with a Vision is to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being. WWAV accomplishes this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research.

Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why I Was Willing to be Arrested on the Gulf Coast, By Cherri Foytlin

The day before yesterday, on August 4, 2011, one year after the President of our United States stood on national television and said that 75% of the oil that had spewed into our Gulf was gone, I was booked into the New Orleans Parish Police lock-up with the charge of criminal trespassing.

The day before, I had been called by the Louisiana State Police Department to come to a meeting with them to discuss the Non-violent Direct Action Protest that myself and a united group consisting of environmentalists, community organizers, fishermen and clean-up workers, had organized in front of the British Petroleum offices, which are on the 13th and 14th floor of 1250 Poydras in NOLA.

At that meeting, I was told that we were allowed on the sidewalk only. That there would be plain clothed officers among us, and that if we crossed a certain line, which runs from the building to the parking lot, we would be arrested. The detectives, very nicely, drew us a map to explain the exact whereabouts of that line.

When we got to the event, which at the beginning had nearly 100 in attendance, I made the announcement that I was going to cross that line. And that I was doing this in protest of the so many lines that BP has crossed, in my mind, concerning the cleaning up of their mess, the spraying of toxic chemicals in our water, the murder of 11 of our energy providers, the disrespect and economical damage to our fishermen and residents, and the denial of and lack of response to health issues and claims since April 20 of last year.

So, I intentionally crossed that invisible line and took their tar balls back to them - a box full that had been picked up our beaches that day, (with no clean-up workers in sight, I might add). At least 15 other people chose to go with me, to complete this task.

As we approached the front door, we were met immediately by a representative of the company, the building and a security guard. Together they refused us any access to the building, citing that all BP workers had been dismissed for the day - a fact I knew to be untrue, because the state police had told me at our previous meeting that although most would be sent home at 4:30 that day, some would be available until 5:30, (at the time that they had told us this, they were trying to facilitate a meeting between us and BP - to which we had said was only an option it Feinberg and Zimmer was in attendance, and to which BP had refused to consider).

Being unable to enter the building, we dropped the tar balls on the sidewalk (in plastic), and sat down directly in front of the doors, where others came to join us.

And that was where we stayed.

In the mean time, kind people from within our group brought us waters and other refreshments in order to make our stay more comfortable. So, naturally, it was not very long before I personally had to urinate.

A very respectful gentleman from the state police had come forward to negotiate, just as he had the day before at the meeting in the SBI offices. I asked him, jokingly, if he thought they would just let me in to pee. He said no and that “They were freaking out in there.”, but pointed out that there were portable toilets just beyond the fence in a nearby hotel construction site.

After a few minutes, I felt it calm enough at that moment - since all BP representatives, building security and police personnel were discussing the issue inside, (excluding the one member of the state police that, at that time, was sitting with us), I could go use the restroom quickly, and come back.

So, I did. I jumped the fence and used the facilities. Upon my return jump, I realized that the BP reps in the building had seen me go and went running to find me, perhaps thinking I had looked for an alternative route into the building.

And that they had taped me jumping the fence and notified the nearby construction site mangers of my trespassing. We believe that they had hoped that the other owners would have had me arrested for trespassing and kept the BP name out of the incident. You see, arresting and charging people for bringing to light their negligence and lack of response sort of blows that whole “making it right” image.

But, the people next door had no interest in arresting me, or anyone else. We have more allies than they, or even we, know - you see?

I then joined the others in sitting, which we continued for over all around 3 hours until a little after 8:00 pm, which is when - after negotiating tirelessly, and being very respectful with us all day, the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police gave us one more chance to end the protest and go home before arrests were made.

At that final refusal, NOLA PD, quietly came forth and arrested the 3 of us, who had remained seated.

Truth is, I knew that I personally was going to get arrested if I stayed sitting there, I knew that. And this was a decision that had not been made lightly on my part.

Over the last year and nearly a half I have studied past movements that have worked on different levels. And thanks to those who have come before us, we have a general formula for affecting change.

According to Dr. King, mainly from his letters while he, himself, was sitting in an Alabama jail, he said that the progression includes the following:

- To find out if an injustice exists - without doubt we, the people of the Gulf, have been dealt with very unjustly with regards to this corporation and our governments handling of this event, as well as others across the Gulf.

- To negotiate - we, the residents, fishermen, clean-up workers, tourism industry workers, oil workers, community organizers, ect, have negotiated on the local, state and federal levels with the HHS, the CDC, the NOAA, the EPA, the GCERT, the CEQ, the DEQ, the Oil Spill Commission, the Administration, and BP itself for nearly 16 months - to little or no avail.

- Dr. King’s next step was to “self-purify” - each person must take this step alone. Personally, I had first interpreted this step as the ending of bad habits, such as social drinking. But on the walk I realized that he was talking about preparing your mind against egotistical illusions, self-doubt and self-pity.

- The last step is action. And in the successful civil rights movement, as well as the Eastern Indian movement for independence, that meant non-violent action and civil disobedience taken against the oppressors in order to advance the cause of, and bring to light the call for, justice and liberty.

Our being arrested, was just the first step of that last phase.

Now, while I was sitting there I had a good friend of mine, who is very sick from the toxins still in his system and our environment, say to me, “Cherri, it is not worth getting arrested.”. He was begging me not to take that final step. He did that, because he love me, and he did not wish to see me suffer, I understand that - and it warms my heart. But my response to him was, “My friend, you are so worth getting arrested for”.

You see that is what we all must understand. You, my friend, are worth it. Our ecosystem is worth it, our kids are worth it, our future is worth it.. We must understand the value of what we have and be determined in protection of that. We must take up responsibility to, and for, each other now, in these times. Because, we are all worth it.

As we sat there, we repeatedly looked across the crowd and saw testament to that notion; such as, the poster my 9-year-old had made of her depiction of Earth with pollution dotting it, and the eyes of the people who were sick from chemical poisoning and yet had still come out to take a stand, calloused hands of a fishermen, community organizers who we have all seen at events from Texas, to Florida, to D.C. - demanding, begging sometimes, to be heard on behalf of the communities and ecosystem that they love. And we saw grandmothers and grandfathers, daddies and mommies, and sisters and brothers, all united in the simple humanitarian right of clean air and water.

One person in particular, Kimberly Wolf, a warrior woman who I have had the honor of getting to know early on in this fight, and who also has terminal cancer, yet got out of her bed and joined us for as long as she could - strengthened our souls. She is the picture of strength and love in all of this - and in seeing her, I have never been so moved by an example of commitment and perseverance.

That is the epitome of what this event, and our arrest, was about. That there is hope, we have allegiance to each other, that the loss of one does not and will not end the journey of the whole for truth, justice and recompense of the human rights violations that are taking place in our homeland.

There are so many to thank for the success of the day. I would especially like to recognize Kyle Nugent and Noah Learned, who I had not met prior and yet went all the way on behalf of our people and coast. The people who helped in organizational duties, too many to name here - but in particular Karen S, Ada, Devin, Josh, Mary-Margaret, Anne, Elizabeth, Robert - there are so many. And including the people who were at the event(s) of last week, and/or are still working on this issue, or others like it.. you are all my heroes.

I would also like to make clear, that the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police Department were very kind in their treatment of us before, during and after our arrest. The first thing I was told after getting in the car was, “Why didn’t you just go home, Miss Cherri? None of us wanted to arrest you.”

They also took the handcuffs off as soon as we arrived at the station, and made sure we were as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

So, there you have it.

I want you all to know, that we will not stop. We will not stop until our fishermen, our workers, our families, our wildlife, our waters, our region - are made whole again. Because when you love something, when you really do, you will never be silenced in protecting and fighting for it.

There will be further opportunities for those caring souls across the nation to stand with us for justice. Be ready.

You see, THAT is the greatest weapon in our tool box, that is what will win this and so many other battles we have been called to participate in, it’s our LOVE that will carry the day.

On August 4 we took our first stand. Courage, my friends, this is just a beginning.

Yours truly,

Cherri Foytlin

Photo above by Nicola Krebill from New Orleans Indymedia.