Friday, September 23, 2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
Tonight on my way home, I told my 13 year-old son that Troy Davis was put to death by the State of Georgia. He immediately broke into tears. I was taken aback by his reaction. We were just coming from his school football game where he had an awesome tackle and we should have been focusing and having a joyous discussion about that. But he asked me how my day went and when he was studying the constitution in school we had discussed Troy Davis and the right to a fair trial, so I thought I would let him know.
This is really a sad day for Troy Davis’s family, for all who are caught up in the INJUST justice system and for all children who are being taught about our constitution, especially children of color who need to learn that the constitution may work for some but not for everyone. As an African American male, he needs to know that not only is he 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than his white friends but also 3 times more likely to be executed.
This has left my son questioning how the United States would execute anyone, particularly someone who might be innocent like Troy Davis – From the mouth of babes. One might wonder how this could ever happen once, but it is a sad and awful truth that this occurs too many times. This isn’t something he will learn in his history class.
Reflecting on our criminal justice system as a whole, it’s really difficult to know how to move forward especially after Justice Scalia’s statement: "there is nothing unconstitutional about executing the innocent” and in comparing two very similar situations where a black man is executed and a white man is given clemency, as in the recent post I’ve seen about Troy Davis and Samuel Crowe. We have our work cut out for us. This is not a time to revert back to our everyday life, but a time to stand up and shout that this is wrong and we are not going to stand idly by and continue to watch this happen.
In our work in the juvenile justice system in Louisiana we see far too often the hands of evil working against our children and families. Far too often there is no accountability, from the Office of Juvenile Justice right up to the Governor’s office. When shown the evidence that children continue to be hurt and neglected by the hands that are supposed to care for them and help keep them from entering the adult system; or even worse, when shown the fate that has befallen Troy Davis, too many times those in power turn a blind eye.
What is being said here is that it is ok when our system makes mistakes, ignores the law, ignores the constitution, and takes longer than necessary to reform. Apparently, we can just lock children up for making mistakes, we can beat them, we can fail them, we can incarcerate them, we can push them into the adult system, and even kill them. Yes, we must keep up the movement, but it’s time that our movement includes action to get rid of those in power who continue to harm our communities! Our children are counting on us to keep them safe, and they are counting on America to include Justice for ALL!
Gina B. Womack is the executive director and co-founder of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), a statewide membership-based organization dedicated to creating a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those who are involved, or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Gina is the proud mother of three children, a member of Pleasant Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Sanctuary Choir as well the Joyful Gospel Choir. She is honored to be a 2006 Petra Foundation Fellow, 2009 Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana Advocate of the Year and 2009 Ms. Foundation Women of Vision award. Gina is also a 2011 Alston Bannerman National Fellow.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Cyclists and prisoner advocates are organizing a bike ride to aid the large incarcerated population of Louisiana. Called “NOLA to Angola,” the bike ride will raise funds for the Cornerstone Builders Bus Project, a Catholic Charities-supported project. The first annual NOLA to Angola ride will take place October 14-16, 2011.
Every month the Cornerstone Builders Bus Project charters a 55-passenger coach-style bus for families of the incarcerated in the New Orleans area to visit five prison facilities around Louisiana, including Angola. Due to the long distance of each trip, the Cornerstone Builders ensure the families will have onboard bathroom facilities and comfortable seats. Each trip costs the church approximately $1,000. Currently, the bus project has no regular source of income, though some trips are underwritten by local sponsors, including church groups and the Jefferson and Orleans Parishes Sherriffs’ Offices. Organizers of the NOLA to Angola Bike Ride hope that their fundraiser will be able to pay for half a year of bus trips.
Leo Jackson, assistant director of Cornerstone Builders, said, “The more we can keep the family intact, the more we can effect positive change. We want to keep lines of communication open between prisoners and their families.”
While the primary purpose of the ride is to raise funds for the monthly bus trips, another goal of the ride is to expose riders to the history and geography of South Louisiana while they travel to the distant prison. Matt Toups, one of four ride organizers, said, “For three days in October, 25 people will ride bicycles over 160 miles across Louisiana -- to raise money, but also to make connections. We're connecting New Orleans to the levee of the Mississippi River, the cypress of Maurepas Swamp, the refineries of Cancer Alley, and the Tunica Hills. We will see, firsthand, many of the places that make Louisiana and its history unique -- and we'll also find out how far prisoners' families have to travel to maintain precious family connections.”
The bicycle ride will end at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. When the ride ends organizers will deliver a letter to the Angolite, an award-winning prisoner-run publication at Angola. Ride organizer Steve Merlan said, ”by working with the Angolite - an extremely unique magazine whose history of journalistic excellence is well established - we hope to engage in a broader dialogue with the Angola inmate community and other readers interested in criminal justice.”
As of September 20th, all 25 rider spots have been filled. However, members of the public who would like to get involved can still sponsor riders or send donations to the project. Donation checks should be made out to: Second Zion Baptist Church Bus Project. Please do not write checks to NOLA to Angola.
Checks can be sent to the below address:
NOLA to Angola
1631 Elysian Fields #117
New Orleans, LA 70117
ABOUT CORNERSTONE BUILDERS: The Cornerstone Builders Bus Project, run out of the Second Zion Baptist Church in Marrero, Louisiana, provides monthly free transportation for families of the incarcerated to visit their loved ones at five Louisiana detention centers: Louisiana State Penitentiary, Dixon Correctional Institute, Tallulah Transitional Center for Women, Avoyelles Correctional Center, and Rayburn Correctional Center. The Bus Project is part of the larger Cornerstone Builders Program that also includes mentoring for children, working to place ex-offenders in AmeriCorps Vista vocational training, reentry counseling for formerly incarcerated persons, networking between businesses run by or willing to employee the formerly incarcerated, and an annual symposium.
ABOUT INCARCERATION IN LOUISIANA: According to a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Center on the States, 1 in 55 Louisianans is incarcerated in a prison or jail, and 1 in 26 Louisianans is under correctional supervision (incarceration, probation, or parole).2 According to the same study, Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration of any state (Washington D.C. is ranked higher) in the United States3.
ABOUT NOLA TO ANGOLA: Scott Eustis, Elizabeth Lew, Steve Merlan and Matt Toups are New Orleans residents concerned about Louisiana’s high incarceration rate and about Louisiana’s environment. By organizing this bicycle ride, they hope to address both of these concerns, raising money for a crucial service for prisoners’ families while riding pollution-free bicycles across the beautiful South Louisiana landscape.
For more information on NOLA to Angola, please visit: nolatoangola.org, or email: email@example.com.
Photo from Angola by Calhoun Photography studio.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The Renaissance Project Announces 4th Annual Gardening Convening at the Lower Ninth Ward Village – October 27-30, 2011
We welcome john powell of the Kirwan Institute, Ohio State and Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College who, respectively, will present on Unconscious Bias and White Privilege during the Convening. Kimberley Richards of New Orleans-based People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond will present the Power Analysis, from the Institute’s Undoing Racism Workshop. This year we acknowledge the 200th anniversary of Louisiana’s 1811 Slave Revolt.
ArtSpot Productions remounts the play Rumours of War based on incidents leading to and during the revolt at the African American Museum in Treme. Optional tours include a French Quarter walking tour of strategic locations during the Revolt and a bus tour along the route of the Revolt led by Louisiana native Leon Waters.
Ashe Cultural Center, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and the Renaissance Project are Racial Healing grantees of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Local partners include: Students at the Center, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Ashe Cultural Arts Center, ArtSpot Productions, Backyard Gardeners Network, Women and Agriculture, Our School at Blair Grocery, Holy Angels Convent, Tekrema Center for Art and Culture. Whole Foods, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, United Teachers of New Orleans, Open Society Foundations, and the W.K Kellogg Foundation are sponsors of the event.
Space is limited. Register at this link.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Former NOPD Officer Matthew Dean Moore, who was working as Williams’ partner on the day of the beating, was sentenced to 70 months in prison for obstructing justice and for making false statements to the FBI during a federal investigation into Robair’s death.
Below is the victim impact statement as read by Judonna Mitchell, the daughter of Raymond Robair at today's sentencing.
My name is Judonna Mitchell. I am the daughter of Raymond Robair. I am making this statement on behalf of myself, my sister, Lashonda Saulsberry, our grandmother, Marie Robair, and Raymond’s brothers and sisters, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
We understand that we’re here today for the court to sentence former New Orleans police officers Melvin Williams and Matthew Dean Moore for their responsibility in the death and cover-up of the death of our father.
We appreciate the opportunity to tell the Court about the impact of our father’s death on our family and our community. We are only sorry that our father could not be here himself. Had either of these men told the truth to the doctors at Charity hospital about our father’s injuries, he would be alive today. Instead, their actions and their lies cost our father his life.
We are extremely grateful for the successful efforts of the Department of Justice and the local US Attorneys Office in prosecuting this case. We also give thanks to Ms. Merline Kimble and the brave people of Treme who came forward, despite their fear, to testify. Otherwise the truth would never have been known. And although it has been painful to know what happened to our father, we are thankful, finally, that these men will be held accountable for their actions.
We have learned from witnesses that Mr. Williams beat, kicked, and stomped our father, while Mr. Moore stood by, doing nothing to protect him or to intervene. This brutal, unjustified attack took place in broad daylight, on a Saturday morning in Treme, on a street filled with ordinary people going about their daily lives. The witnesses, some of whom later testified at trial, described a "piercing scream" as Mr. Williams beat our father, without mercy, while Mr. Moore stood by and did nothing to protect him.
Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore then took our father to Charity hospital, where they lied about our father’s condition, leading the doctors and medical staff to pursue the wrong course of treatment. The lies these two men told at Charity hospital about our father’s medical condition caused his death as surely as if they had shot him to dead on the spot. They then returned to our father’s neighborhood that same day, threatening and intimidating witnesses. They wrote a false police report to cover up their actions, and have maintained their lies for years. They also tried to degrade our father and his entire neighborhood as if the people who live and work on St. Phillip St. in Treme deserved this kind of mistreatment.
Thanks to this trial, the cover-up of Raymond Robair’s death is over. That in itself is a relief to us. But it cannot bring our father back.
The death of our father has been devastating for our family. Our father was our protector, our provider, our strongest advocate, and a true friend. When we were children, he would hold us at night when we were afraid, and even when he could not be physically close to us, he always made sure we knew that he loved us and was thinking of us.
Raymond was funny. He could always make you laugh. Just seeing Raymond would always bring a smile to our faces. He was a great dancer. Our family gatherings were fun when Raymond was alive because he always made sure that everyone was enjoying themselves and having a good time. To this day we miss him when we all get together; it’s just not the same without him.
Our father was also our grandmother’s nurse and helper. Our grandmother, Marie Robair, Raymond’s mother, is 81 years old. She had 13 children, 7 of whom are alive today. Raymond is the only child of our grandmother who died as a result of violence.
Raymond would go to the store for her, cook and clean and care for her. Whenever she needed help she would call on Raymond. He was always there for her. In fact, he was the helper for our whole family. He was always busy doing home repairs, cutting the grass on our lawns, cooking and cleaning for us.
And he didn’t just take care of our children and our family. The kids in the neighborhood loved Raymond. He played with them, fixed their bikes, and looked out for them. When one of the neighborhood children heard that the police had killed Raymond, this child couldn’t understand how this could happen because, as he said, "Everyone Loves Raymond".
Raymond would help anyone, at any time, and he didn’t expect anything in return. He once ran into a burning house and rescued a woman trapped inside. He became the caretaker of an elderly woman whose family didn’t look after her. Raymond would shop, cook, and clean for her, until she died. Raymond was the kind of person that makes a neighborhood a community. Raymond would also try to help people. This is what he was doing on the morning he was killed—he was waiting on the front stoop of his neighbor’s house to fix her roof when Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore drove up in their police car and proceeded to beat him to death.
It is obvious to us that Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore were blinded by their own prejudices when they pulled up in front of our father that day. They did not see the true Raymond. They did not stop to consider that they were beating and kicking a man who nursed his sick mother, who helped to parent five grandchildren and had another on the way, and who would be celebrating his 49th birthday with his family the following week. They did not even see our father as a human being. Instead, they saw our father as something less than human, someone who they could hurt, even kill, without consequence.
Maybe they thought that no one would care about Raymond. Maybe they thought that no one loved Raymond enough to fight to hold them accountable for causing his death.
How else can we understand how Mr. Williams would think he could get away with brutally beating our father in broad daylight, in front of so many witnesses. How else can we understand how Mr. Moore could stand by and fail to protect our father? Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore must have believed that the people in the neighborhood, the witnesses, would never have the courage to tell what they saw. And if the witnesses did come forward, Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore must have been confident that no one would believe them, because, after all, they lived in a neighborhood that these officers helped to stigmatize.
In some ways, Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore were right about the fear and intimidation that paralyzed the community. As far as we know, no one called 911 that morning. They were terrified when they saw what these police officers did to our father. They knew of Mr. Williams’ reputation for violence and dirty deeds. And we can’t blame them for not calling. Who do you call when it is the police themselves committing the violence and breaking the law?
And when witnesses did come forward, the police department disregarded them or intimidated them instead of taking their accounts seriously. If not for the federal government stepping in, this situation would still be going on today and we would never have had justice for Raymond.
Given his reputation, it is shocking to us that Mr. Williams was a Field Training Officer for the NOPD, in charge of "showing the ropes" to new recruits fresh out of the Academy. It is shocking, but it helps explain why we have so many problems with our police department. He trained Mr. Moore all right; he trained him in how to abuse and mistreat citizens and how to lie and cover it up.
And unfortunately, Mr. Moore was a willing and eager student who learned his lessons well. Instead of trying to stop Mr. Williams’ attacks, or telling the truth at the hospital, Mr. Moore chose to uphold the code of silence that protects violent officers like Melvin Williams.
We understand the situation Mr. Moore was in as a rookie officer. We also understand that Mr. Moore is an adult, who supposedly knew right from wrong. He had just gone through months of training at the Academy. But you don’t have to go to school to know that what Mr. Williams did to our father was wrong and against the law. We cannot condone or excuse Mr. Moore’s actions in any way.
Mr. Moore had just recently taken an oath to protect and serve our community, yet he made a mockery of that oath. And then he continued to violate that oath during the last six years, by lying and covering up what happened, including the lies he told on the witness stand in this trial. His disrespect for our father and our community is overshadowed only by his disrespect for the truth. Mr. Moore lied and our father died. We are thankful that the jury could see through his lies
With regard to the sentences for these two former NOPD officers, we believe Mr. Williams should be sentenced to the maximum penalty. He must be held accountable for the brutal beating and the death of our father, for covering up his crime and for withholding information that could have saved our father’s life. We feel that he should face the most severe consequences possible for hiding behind his badge as he committed these terrible crimes.
We also believe that Mr. Moore should be sentenced to the maximum sentence. We do not come to this conclusion lightly. Our hearts go out to Mr. Moore’s family, and especially his children. But we have to ask, where was Mr. Moore’s heart as he watched our father being attacked? Where was his heart when he stayed silent at the hospital, instead of trying to save our father’s life? And where was Mr. Moore’s heart in the years since, when he was given so many opportunities to tell the truth and chose not to?
We urge the court to impose the maximum sentence upon Mr. Moore not only to punish him for his crime but also to deter other police officers who may be in similar situations and who think that they don’t have to intervene to protect our citizens, that they don’t have to report wrong-doing by other officers, including their supervisors, who think that they can lie and cover-up crimes by fellow police officers, with no serious consequences.
We speak today as Raymond’s family but also as parents, trying to raise our children right in a city that we love. As parents, we frequently find ourselves at a loss when our children tell us that they are afraid of the police, or that they would not call the police if they were in trouble. We tell them that there are good police officers and that the police are here to protect them. But actions like those of Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore make it difficult for our children to believe us.
To this day, more than six years after our father’s death, Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore have never accepted responsibility for what they did. We hope they will seriously reflect on what they have done to Raymond and to so many other people in our community. We hope, for their own sakes, that someday they may feel remorse for the devastation they have caused.
It hurts us every day that Raymond is gone, but we know that he did not die in vain. We felt him with us every day in this courtroom. Raymond’s death exposed the crimes of these officers, and we feel that Raymond has now brought justice for many families within our community.
We will never be able to bring Raymond back. But we are at last able to move forward, as a family and a community, toward healing and justice.
When organized hate mongers bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, Cynthia Wesley, Carol Robertson, Denise McNair and Addie Mae Collins were getting ready for Sunday school and practicing for the church play. They were giggling and teasing each other about “usual” girl-child things. They planned to be best friends through adolescence, graduation, college and beyond. The deadly act of cowards who walked free with impunity for decades after committing the heartless deed, devastated an already embattled community and sent a message to all those who dared to stand against a status quo that sanctioned the killing of innocent children. As songwriter Richard Farina wrote:
On Birmingham Sunday, a noise shook the groundThe murderers of Cynthia, Carole, Denise and Addie Mae, were protected by a vicious state’s rights system that covered up these and other racially motivated deaths at the hands of known persons.
And people all over the earth turned around.
For no one recalled a more cowardly sound.
And the choirs kept singing of Freedom.
It was a back-in-the-day crime that resonates today. It resonates today as we demand justice for twenty-first century victims of the same hatred that killed the Four Little Girls. We must remember these young martyrs by vowing never to rest until all those responsible for the death of James C. Anderson, who was killed in Jackson, Mississippi on June 26, 2011 by a vehicle driven by modern day night riders, looking for a Black life to claim, are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We can accept nothing less! We must insist that a Black life has the same value as that of a white life. We must lift the veil of denial and become part of the solution that will once and for all put an end to such acts of racial hatred.
As we remember the Four Little Girls, we also must demand answers that will solve the mystery shrouding the death of Frederick Jermaine Carter, whose body was found hanging from a tree on December 3, 2010 in Leflore County, Mississippi. We can no longer remain in the safety zone.
We, who are the beneficiaries of the opportunities denied so many, must come out of our comfort zones and use our inquiring minds and influence to question how such events can occur today, despite the distance we have come. For the sake of our children and all the “Four Little Girls” and Boys to come, we must challenge structures and institutions that continue to exclude the majority to enrich the minority.
Remembering this day and celebrating the lives of Cynthia, Carole, Denise and Addie Mae, should propel us into action. It should make us work harder to dismantle all of the 21st Century separate-but-equal schemes that deny millions of children their constitutional right to equal access to a quality education. It should make us work harder to level the playing field for those who despite this country’s wealth, are caught in a web of grinding and unrelenting poverty.
To survive the onslaught of contemporary forms of injustice, we must demand ACCOUNTABILITY from all those elected to improve the quality of our lives. No longer can we accept their silence and inaction. Now is the time to demand more. Now is the time.
On this day, when our hearts are so heavy, we must renew our resolve to fight the good fight until the job is done! Remember the martyrs and fight for the living! Shame on us, if we don’t.
Jaribu Hill, Executive Director of The Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights is a civil rights attorney. The Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights was founded in 1996 in Oxford, MS to provide education, advocacy and organizing support for low-wage workers and other victims of civil and human rights violations in the workplace. Ms. Hill is the former Director of the Southern Regional Office of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Dr. Angela Barthe was home grown beauty.
Dr. Barthe was the wife of City Council member Jon Johnson. As we can all understand, Jon is grieving terribly the loss of his wife while simultaneously making arrangements for her funeral and comforting their young daughter. Mayor Landrieu sent a press release expressing his condolences, as did most council members.
Most. Not all. Despite the admonitions by her fellow council members, Stacy Head has decided to convene an Emergency Council Meeting tomorrow at 2:00 p.m., to discuss tardy sewerage and water board fees. No doubt, tardy sewerage and water board charges are a financial burden to this community. But Ms. Head is not convening the meeting tomorrow because this 2:00p is urgent – the $91 million city budget deficit will not close at 2:30p because of Stacy’s meeting. No, Stacy is convening this 2:00p meeting because she knows Council member Johnson will not be able to attend and, therefore, she believes it the perfect opportunity to embarrass and chastise further Council member Cynthia Hedge Morrell who, by-the-by, is Stacy’s declared opponent for the Council-at-Large seat being vacated by Arnie Fielkow. Despicable, nasty politics.
Hearing these latest Head tomfoolery, I am reminded that it was only last year when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was targeted and gunned by the dark forces of intolerance and hatred that is the heinous underbelly of politics in this country. It was President Barack Obama who urged us to move forward in unity and civility, believing "we can be better." Mrs. Head didn’t hear that message, and continues to place politics above humanity.
Council member Stacy Head is home grown ugly.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Two Years After the DOJ Calls Conditions at OPP Unconstitutional, Billboard on I-10 Calls for Action at Orleans Parish Prison
Exactly two years after the Department of Justice issued it’s September 11, 2009 report that found a practice of the violation of civil rights of individuals held at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) launched a new phase of its public education campaign for reform of the jail, with a billboard on I-10 and the announcement of a series of community forums. The billboards include a set of five rotating messages, including support for a smaller jail of no more than 1438 beds, an end to the per-diem system, and immediate action by the Department of Justice to improve conditions at the facility.
The recommendation for a smaller facility comes after national experts and a Criminal Justice Working Group convened by Mayor Landrieu determined that, through the implementation of reforms including pre-trial services, reducing racial disparities in lengths of detention, and increasing the use of citations in lieu of minor arrests, a jail of 1438 beds could be sufficient for the City of New Orleans. While the City Council approved a replacement jail of this size in February 2011 following this recommendation, there is significant work that remains for the full implementation of these reforms. According to Norris Henderson, Executive Director of VOTE, an OPPRC member organization, “The city needs to move aggressively towards implementing the types of reforms considered by the Criminal Justice Working Group, which when completed can be a beacon of pride for the city. Similar reforms have been demonstrated in other cities to improve public safety, to reduce jail populations, and to save invaluable taxpayer dollars. New Orleans can do it as well.”
OPPRC is also calling for an end to the per diem system, or the funding of the jail through payment by the City for each individual held daily in OPP. While the per diem is $22.39 per inmate, the actual cost is over $30 daily, including the additional costs of health care and staffing paid by the City to the Sheriff. This will cost the city $27.5 million this year. As stated by Mayor Landrieu at the August 9th District B Community Budget meeting, “If we pay (the Sheriff) per person, per day, the argument is he has an incentive to keep more people. What we really need to do is ensure that he keeps only the number that we need him to keep and no more.” New Orleans is the only major US city in the United States that finances its jail through a per diem system. As stated by Dana Kaplan, Director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), “Given both the perverse incentive that the per diem creates to incarcerate more people and the fact that $22.39 per person is insufficient to safely operate a jail, there should be no obstacle this budget cycle to ending the outdated per diem system and transitioning to a performance based approach to funding OPP.”
Finally, in the wake of sweeping reform of the New Orleans Police Department and two years after their initial findings that the jail consistently violates the civil rights of people held in its care, OPPRC is also calling for the Department of Justice to take action to improve conditions at Orleans Parish Prison. Since their report was issued in September 2009, conditions have only deteriorated and thirteen more people have died in the custody of the jail.
On September 20th the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition will be hosting a public forum, for all community members concerned about conditions at OPP and related issues to have an opportunity to speak and offer recommendations for reform. The forum will be held from 6 – 8 pm at the Mahalia Jackson Center in Central City, located at 2405 Jackson Avenue. Representatives from the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have been invited to attend.
Gulf Coast Activists Among Those Arrested in Largest Environmental Justice Direct Action of this Century
Over the course of two weeks in Washington, DC, more than 1,200 people were arrested in front of the White House in protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. The controversial 1,700 mile project would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the US and activists have called it the most important environmental decision facing President Obama. The sit-ins began on Saturday, August 20, and involved movement leaders, activists and authors like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, actors and celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Daryl Hannah, and hundreds of activists from across the US and Canada. A delegation of Gulf Coast activists joined the protests, including activist Cherri Foytlin of Rayne, Louisiana; and Bryan Parras of TEJAS.
Below is an excerpt from Foytlin's story of her arrest in Washington:
I won’t go too much into the Tar Sands and Keystone XL Pipeline, if you have been paying attention at all, you know how devastating this is going to be – if it is completed, to our communities from Canada to Texas. I implore you to educate yourself and get involved with protecting our country from what is basically a continuous assault on our health and environment, let alone basic sensibilities.
Honestly, I had no prior plans on getting arrested. As you know, it was not so very long ago that I was in handcuffs in NOLA, and I was worried about implications from one case to the other. Yet, I did want to stand in solidarity with those opposed to the pipeline, and especially with out Gulf Coast communities in Texas who, as I stated before, have long bore the burden of energy production in the United States. It is too high a bill to pay, I am sure you will agree, when the cost is human life and sadly, and in too many instances, our coastal communities have been paying that cost for decades.
We were told that we could come and sit, and that there would be 3 warnings by the police before arrests were made.
First warning came, and I looked across the crowd of people.. sweat pouring off of brows, nervous smiles, holding of hands, elderly with canes, a fist clenched, a hand waving, an intense contemplative gaze, chanting.
Second warning came, and I looked beside me to my friend, Bryan Parras, a Houston resident, advisor for the Gulf Coast Fund and leader with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS). He was smiling, (he usually is). Bryan, and his colleague Estaban, had already shared with us that they were going to go all the way in their commitment to protect the communities of Texas. I was thinking of how much I respect him, for all the sacrifices he has made in defense of his community, and our Gulf. Working on these issues much longer than I, after all the losses and successes, here he was, making a stand by sitting for our entire nation. I was proud to be beside him in that moment.
I began to think about all those lives already lost in the Texas communities, in the Gulf Coast communities, across the nation, across the globe. And I remembered of the many times we all speak of “unity“, “inclusion” and “solidarity“. Were they hollow words? Is unity something that you say when you want someone to join your cause? Are we really one Gulf? One nation?
Third warning, the final shifting of feet, last minute checks for ID’s in back pockets, butterflies in your stomach.. decisions.
I was number 26 arrested that day, the last of the women, out of over 50 participating.
As they took our info, they loaded us tight into a barely air conditioned police van – eight woman in a row on one side, eight more on the other, with an iron wall between us. It was tight, and hot, and claustrophobia held us for a few seconds, before the women on the other side of the van, who we could not see, began singing.
Singing beautiful words, about not being stopped, about the folly of taking our bodies to lock up while our spirits ran free. It was beautiful. That is unity, I saw it, and it came to me through misty eyes.
As we arrived, and the engine was shut down, and we were left without air for a few very uncomfortable minutes, we all began to talk.
“Where are you from?”
“Across the nation.. East coast, west coast, gulf coast, farm land, mountain top, island, wheat field, lake side, city sidewalk, high top apartment, suburbia..”
So, I hadn’t planned on being arrested that day, which is why I only had 30 of the $100 needed to get out of jail. After we were led into holding, I mentioned my dilemma to a few people. Adding that, I was not worried because I knew well that my Gulf Coast people out side were going to get me out. They had my back, but I may have to stay for a while over, I told them.
A lady, whose name I am ashamed to say I cannot remember, moved her zip tied hands from behind her back to her side pocket, almost loosing her balance to pull out $10 that she had over her $100 and gave it to me.
And then the young woman from D.C., who I had also seen at Power Shift, she gave $5.
And the lady whose 80th birthday it was, she pushed a twenty into my pocket.
Followed by most of the others, soon I was turning down ladies who wanted to contribute. In five minutes, I had all that I needed to walk out.
My sisters, all of whom I had just met, with hands banded behind them, and yet they were picking me up, you see?
They gave me more than a simple $100 that day.
Along with them, I would like to publicly thank with all the sincerity I have in my soul, the people of 350.org, including Rae, Linda and Bill. And especially the rest of the Gulf Coast delegation, including: (and please forgive me if I leave out anyone), fellow inmates Bryan Parras and Estaban ?, Fritzi Presley, Charles Taylor, John Gooding, Mandi Thompson, Michelle Chauncy, Andre Gaines, Chuck Brady, Karen Savage, Paul Nelson, Aaron Viles, and Drew Landry – there were more, 16 in all who bravely brought their voices and hearts to defend and protect us all.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
CFSC was joined by retired Warden Buddy Knight from Avoyelles Parish who shared stories from his time as an assistant warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and head warden of Cottonport Correctional Center. Retired Warden Knight also educated CFSC about why giving people second chances makes for safer and more productive prison environments.
The retreat ended with a story telling session where families had the opportunity to share stories of their loved ones serving juvenile life without parole. This gave family members an opportunity to practice telling their stories and advocating to members of the legislature for a more fair and equitable sentencing for their loved ones. CFSC continues to hold conference calls on the first and third Tuesday's of the month to discuss strategy and learn advocacy skills. For all those interested in joining please contact Kelly Orians or Ethan Ashley at 504-522-5437.
Photo above: CFSC members gather with Retired Warden Buddy Knight after a full day of strategic planning at St. James Episcopal Church in Alexandria, LA.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
In a 116-page report...the civil rights division of the Justice Department accused the Puerto Rico Police Department of systematically “using force, including deadly force, when no force or lesser force was called for,” unnecessarily injuring hundreds of people and killing “numerous others.”The report "condemns nearly every aspect of the force," according to the New York Times. "Its hiring and training practices, the way it assigns and promotes officers, and its policies governing officer behavior and accountability for misconduct. The report recommends 133 remedial measures that would amount to a sweeping intervention."
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, says the 17,000-officer force routinely conducts illegal searches and seizures without warrants. It accuses the force of a pattern of attacking nonviolent protesters and journalists in a manner “designed to suppress the exercise of protected First Amendment rights.”
And it says investigators “uncovered troubling evidence” that law enforcement officers in Puerto Rico appear to routinely discriminate against people of Dominican descent and “fail to adequately police sex assault and domestic violence” cases — including spousal abuse by fellow officers.
“Unfortunately,” the report found, “far too many P.R.P.D. officers have broken their oath to uphold the rule of law, as they have been responsible for acts of crime and corruption and have routinely violated the constitutional rights of the residents of Puerto Rico.”
This is one of 17 investigations of local police departments launched by the DOJ. The New Orleans investigations have been among the most prominent, but as other interventions heat up, look for more shocking revelations. The actions of a newly-empowered Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department represent perhaps the greatest break with Bush Administration policies. But criminal justice activists and abolitionists have argued over the ultimate effects - will these investigations lead to positive changes in communities hard hit by police violence? Will they open opportunities to build alternatives to criminalization? Or will they serve as reforms that ultimately reinforce and justify police departments?
Much of that may depend on how activists on the ground respond to these investigations, and the ways in which they use the opportunities presented by the investigations to push for alternatives. In this respect, the process that New Orleans community members have been through, of creating a People's Consent Decree, has set an important precedent. But reforms of these departments are not enough. As the abolitionist organization Critical Resistance has pointed out, "We know that more police and prisons will not make our communities safer. Instead, we know that things like food, housing, and freedom are what creates lasting safety."
Friday, September 9, 2011
New Orleans Activists Win Groundbreaking Reforms in Treatment of LGBT Youth in the Criminal Justice System
Recently, the Louisiana Department of Human Services and the New Orleans juvenile detention center, the Youth Study Center (YSC), introduced a groundbreaking new policy that is designed to protect the safety and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth under their supervision. This policy not only oversees the protection of LGBT youth already in the custody of the system, which are estimated at 15% according to national data, but also mandates that direct care staff, supervisors, and social service providers at the detention center shall be required to undergo training to help create a safer environment for LGBT youth in their care.
The policy, which is one of the best in the country, was developed from a model policy written by clinical psychologist and national juvenile justice expert, Dr. Marty Beyer. It is impressive in its scope, providing eleven procedural guidelines that largely encompass the unique needs of LGBT youth. The policy clearly defines what qualifies as discrimination, harassment, and abuse pertaining specifically to LGBT youth, and prohibits both staff and other incarcerated youth from discriminating or threatening anyone based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity. The policy also prohibits LGBT youth from being placed in isolation as a "means of keeping them safe from discrimination," and prioritizes youths' "physical and emotional well-being." One of the more remarkable elements of this policy is its attention to issues concerning transgender youth.
Among the many "best practice" provisions the policy outlines, it requires that "transgender youth will be called by the first name and pronoun they request even if their name has not been legally changed." The policy also states that transgender youth will not be forced to shower or change clothing in front of staff or other youth - a situation that can be especially humiliating and terrifying for this demographic. Within the provisions of the policy, transgender youth must also be allowed access to counseling and medical attention in accordance with professional health standards. All of these are enormous steps forward, particularly for a demographic that is all too often overlooked in LGBT policy making, and for a facility still under a consent decree from a class-action lawsuit filed by JJPL in 2007.
Wesley Ware, Director of the LGBT youth organizing project of JJPL, BreakOUT! and former LGBT Youth Project Director, helped institute the policy. "I coordinated the investigation for JJPL's lawsuit 4 years ago. To now be a part of making reforms at the facility, in particular for LGBT youth, has been an incredible experience. The Youth Study Center still has a long ways to go, but they're becoming a leader with their policy reforms. Now the challenge becomes implementing the policy. Some youth have reported being held in their cells for being LGBT as recently as a few months ago, so the staff will need ongoing training and technical assistance to ensure all youth are treated fairly and appropriately." The facility has already trained their upper level staff and line staff on LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Calling prostitution "a dangerous, violent crime," NOPD Police Chief Ronal Serpas announced today that New Orleans police had arrested 67 sex workers in the months of July and August in an undercover operation that also involved State Police, the FBI and the Secret Service.
In June, the NOPD made a similar announcement, in operations that totaled at least 60 prostitution arrests. Another June operation, targeting the clients of prostitutes, brought 29 arrests, including one NOPD officer.
Perhaps the most disturbing element of the recent campaign was the announcement by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro that "prosecutors persuaded judges to slow down," causing releases on light bail to plunge.
The high-profile press conference held to announce the arrests, combined with the multi-agency involvement, indicates that this is another attempt by the NOPD to polish their image, similar to a recent campaign that involved officers checking the locks on car doors and knocking on houses.
The announcement also came on the same day that a judge ruled that a suit challenging Louisiana's registration of sex workers could go forward.
Chief Serpas' official statements further demonized the sex workers, accusing them of nearly every crime short of terrorism. "We find time and time again that women and men who actively participate in prostitution tend to commit other crimes," claimed Serpas. "Such as some form of battery, simple robbery, armed robbery, illegal drug deals, or carrying concealed weapons. In some cases, customers of prostitutes find that their wallets have been lifted, which means bank card theft and sometimes stolen identity cases. This is why it’s an incredibly worthwhile effort to target people involved in the prostitution business."
According to the Times-Picayune, Serpas indicated at the press conference that the arrests were requested by French Quarter business owners. It remains to be seen if this targeting of women provides the public image make-over the NOPD is hoping for.
Photo of Ronal Serpas from 2010 press conference.
The Louisiana Supreme Court released its opinion in State of Louisiana versus Felton Dorsey yesterday, September 7, 2011. In a section titled “Endemic Racism,” the Court addressed the claim that the “presence of a confederate flag memorial outside the courthouse in Caddo Parish injects an arbitrary factor-race-into the capital sentencing decision.” The opinion acknowledged “the display of a confederate flag would be offensive to some” citing cases from the 4th and 11th Circuit Courts that recognized that “the confederate flag has multiple ‘emotionally charged’ meanings and is viewed by some as a symbol of white supremacy” and that “It is the sincerely held view of many Americans, of all races, that the confederate flag is a symbol of racial separation and oppression… it is not an irrational inference that one who displays the confederate flag may harbor racial bias against African-Americans.”
The Supreme Court recognized that race should never play a role in capital proceedings, but held that the issue was not “properly before it”, because defense counsel failed to raise an objection to the presence of the Flag at the time of trial. The Court stated that hearings should be conducted at the trial level as to the adverse effect of the flag on the “administration of the criminal justice system with respect to black defendants” before it would address the issue on appeal.
The decision did not address excluded Juror Mr. Carl Staples’ right to serve on a capital jury without the prejudicial influence of the Confederate Flag.
This opinion affirms the concerns of the community, including the 26 Caddo Parish and other Louisiana Clergy Leaders, 28 Law and history scholars, the ACLU, the NAACP, the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute For Race And Justice, the Southern Center For Human Rights and Mr. Carl Staples who signed onto the amicus brief in this case, that there is an unacceptable risk that the Confederate Flag injects racial bias into capital proceedings at the Caddo Parish Courthouse and that they must continue their efforts to highlight this in capital cases at the trial level.
“The Court has called for pre-trial hearings to determine whether the Confederate Flag injects racial bias into capital proceedings,” local pastor Reverend Sim Roberson responds, “So that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
Legal Challenge to Crime Against Nature Law Moves Forward: Judge Refuses State Request to Dismiss Suit
Plaintiffs challenging the discriminatory requirement that they must register as sex offenders because of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) conviction were vindicated yesterday when the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana refused to dismiss their lawsuit against a number of Louisiana state officials. Plaintiffs in Doe v. Jindal who were charged, prosecuted, and convicted of offering oral sex for compensation have been forced to register as sex offenders under a provision of Louisiana’s 205-year-old Crime Against Nature statute, rather than under its prostitution statute, which punishes the same conduct but does not require sex offender registration.
Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney Alexis Agathocleous said, “We are pleased that the court has vindicated our clients and allowed this challenge to go forward. Judge Feldman has agreed that our clients have raised serious constitutional questions about the discriminatory punishment meted out under the old Crime Against Nature by Solicitation statute, and has agreed that they deserve their day in court. Our clients have been labeled as sex offenders simply because they were convicted of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation rather than Prostitution – which encompasses exactly the same conduct. In a significant victory for our clients, the court will now scrutinize their claim that this distinction is unconstitutional because it results only from moral disapproval of sex acts associated with homosexuality.”
Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women with a Vision, said, “The women and transgender women of our NO Justice Project have been living with the scarlet letter of ‘sex offender’ status for years. Our clients are mothers, daughters, and veterans. Yet, because of this law, they have been forced to live on the fringes of the community, disconnected from many support systems. It’s time for the State of Louisiana to give them justice, and we are deeply gratified that the court will hear their case.”
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. But those with old convictions must still register.
“The Court has recognized that the individuals who showed tremendous courage in coming forward to challenge mandatory sex offender registration based solely on a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation conviction have made a plausible claim that this requirement has no rational basis, violates their constitutional rights, and is fundamentally unfair," said police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, co-counsel on the case. "They are now one step closer to hopefully being in the same position as those convicted since the legislature corrected the disparity between the statutes, and to being free of this outdated, discriminatory and disparate punishment for a minor nonviolent offense.”
For more information about the federal lawsuit challenging this law, visit this link.
Police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, Law Clinic, and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP are co-counsel in the case.
The 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.
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. We accomplish this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
On Monday, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), released a report to the Office of Juvenile Justice, the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission, and Governor Bobby Jindal, providing details of family reports of failing juvenile reform. The report highlights OJJs failure to in implement the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003 (ACT 1225) and offers recommendations which will bring about reform and move Louisiana more inline with an internationally accepted model of juvenile rehab services. (Family reports comprised by FFLIC were given anonymously due to concerns of retaliation or other harm against incarcerated youth.)
FFLIC is a state-wide agency serving as an advocate for parents who have children receiving inadequate care, safety and rehabilitative services while in the care of state juvenile facilities.
In the nearly 20-page report, FFLIC highlights comparisons and contrasts to and between the current Louisiana and Missouri models of juvenile rehabilitative services. According to FFLIC, the Office of Juvenile Justice agreed to adopt the internationally acclaimed Missouri Model, developed by the Missouri Services Youth Institute, which focuses on therapeutic, child-centered environment versus a traditional adult correctional or custodial model. Among the standards successfully implemented in the Missouri Model, FFLIC believes Louisiana is ineffective in rehabilitative therapy, placement of low-risk youth, facility staff and administration, youth transitions to productive citizenship, education, and physical facilities.
Gina Womack, Executive Director of FFLIC, says she is saddened by the findings in the report and is disappointed that these constant shortcomings by the Office of Juvenile Justice force organizations such as FFLIC, observing its 10 year anniversary, to exist. “In the 10 years we have existed, we’ve gotten a law passed — a law that is largely being ignored. Children are still being abused and neglected within a system that vows to care for them. The fate of our children is in the hands of people who continue to treat our children with disregard and their families with disrespect,” Womack says.
“Our children are being handled according to outdated correctional methods. We need to get a handle on this situation before another child dies behind those razor-wire fences,” Womack added.
Other major areas of concern cited in the report include:
A lack of family involvement
A mother of a child currently at the Bridge City Center for Youth said she was not given any information about her child when he entered Office of Juvenile Justice custody. Upon her child’s intake, she was not made aware of whom she should call in order to receive information. Another parent expressed her concern about how parents are informed of policy changes. While visiting her son, this parent was informed that visitation policies had changed while some parents were turned away before seeing their children.
A lack of high caliber staff involvement
FFLIC believes Bridge City struggles to retain adequately trained staff due to administrative problems and a lack of support. Currently, probation officers and parole officers are being used to supplement understaffed shifts. The report also cites multiple incidents of staff sexual misconduct and intimate relationships with the youth. A social worker was terminated from Swanson for having a relationship with a youth and there are reports of misconduct at Bridge City.
Poor youth services and harsh facility conditions
Parents are learning from their children that youth interactions have grown “extremely hostile” within the past months, resulting in fights between youths from different neighborhoods. As a means to prevent the violence, one parent said the Office of Juvenile Justice simply places more aggressive youth in the same dorm facility.
“The Louisiana juvenile justice system does not seem to be rehabilitating too many youth,” FFLIC officials stated in the report. “Instead, these youth are being housed and released without any significant change to their behavior and perceptions. Sometimes due to the mistreatment and the violence they have suffered while locked up, they (youth) become more harden(ed) and jeopardize themselves and their community.”
FFLIC came on the scene in 2001 when the organization held a “Mock Jazz Funeral” to mourn the dead and dying dreams of Louisiana’s youth. The jazz funeral protest garnered national media attention and led to the closing of the Tallulah youth prison, deemed the worst juvenile facility in the country by the New York Times in 2000. At the Louisiana facility, youth were subjected to broken bones, black eyes, fractured jaws, and rapes as everyday occurrences.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
VAYLA Press Conference: Six Public High Schools, Six Years After the Storm, 450 Student Voices from Inside New Orleans Educational Experiment
About 18 months ago, students began to examine conditions in six public high schools, embarking on the most extensive, youth-led evaluation of New Orleans schools since Hurricane Katrina.
In total, we have gathered 50 hours of testimony and 25,000 survey responses, engaging over 450 students. We will be hosting a press conference to release our report to the public. Come hear what is happening in schools from the students themselves.
Six Public High Schools, Six Years After the Storm
Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 3:30 p.m.
New Orleans Main Library
3rd Floor Auditorium
219 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, LA 70112
For more information:
504.253.6000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 2, 2011
Even if we were in the mood to be charitable toward Jackie...we still have to point out just how easy it could have been for her to better handle this situation. All she had to do was say something like, "You're right. It's true that New Orleans in the mid 20th Century, like much of America, experienced a tremendous economic expansion, but we still had a long long way to go to make the benefits of that expansion available to everyone. Just like today we face these same kinds of challenges... blah blah."...
A statement like that would have clarified her "40s and 50s" remarks while also acknowledging the underlying reason why what she clearly believes is a misinterpretation of them would rub people the wrong way. Unfortunately she made it too difficult for us to tell just what her intentions were because she chose, instead, to root her rebuttal in an increasingly embarrassing appeal to #standing.The blog also quotes from a Gambit article on NORD from last year:
Rather than attempt to show she understood where her critics were coming from, she stubbornly whipped out just about every cliche from the Stereotypical Aging White Guilt Travel Purse she could grasp at from "My family once owned property in this neighborhood!" to "Some of my best friends are..." to "Haven't I always treated you so well?" It was so cringeworthy, it was like watching Steve Carrell's character in The Office address a "conference room meeting" on diversity....
But there comes a point beyond which our sympathy will extend. When we arrive the next day at ”I’m sorry that there were a handful of people in the crowd that didn’t appreciate what I’ve done for them,” it's pretty obvious that someone isn't even trying.
"It didn't matter if you were Uptown, downtown, rich or poor," Clarkson recalls. "You either volunteered, coached a team, or wrote a check. NORD was public and private, it was black and white — though separate — and it was athletic as well as artistic.The Library Chronicles blogger rightly notes the logical conclusion to draw from these comments:
"My father never built a white playground without building a black playground," she adds.
That looks to me like Jackie is having trouble with more than just choosing the right words. It sounds more like she still doesn't, after 60 years, really agree that there was a problem in the first place. Which might explain better than anything why she's been less than pliable on the matter, even when others step in to speak for her.
Though Landrieu, upon recovering the microphone, said that Clarkson had apologized, it is unclear if she did so.
After Landrieu commends her for apologizing, she can be heard on video saying, “I didn’t apologize.”