Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mayor Landrieu and Ronal Serpas Wage War Against the City of New Orleans

Mayor Mitch Landrieu ran for office on a promise of reform of the city's police department. He promised a national search for a new police chief as his first major initiative as mayor. Then the members of his search team began quitting, saying the process was rigged. When Landrieu "national search" ended with the choice of his childhood friend, it was clear that our new mayor had a different vision of reform than many in this city.

So it should come as no surprise that the mayor who made a big statement about inviting in the Department of Justice to oversee the NOPD recently ended up taking back his invitation

Community members protested Mayor Landrieu's decision to ignore community input and hire Ronal Serpas. They protested his choice from day one; Serpas' inauguration. Landrieu ignored the protests and warnings, and insisted his choice was the right one. And now, three years later, New Orleans still has among the highest murder rates of any city in the world. It still has the highest incarceration rate of any city in the world. It still has one of the most corrupt police forces in the world, and that force continues to kill young Black men, like Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen. They continue to attack Black youth: one recent incident was captured on video, when police (state police and NOPD) rushed at two kids whose only crime was being Black and in the French Quarter.

Serpas and Landrieu have fiddled while the city burned. Last summer, faced with reports that New Orleans' murder rate had gone up in his first two years, Serpas declared, "I think we're seeing exactly what we wanted to see." Tulane criminologist Peter Scharf responded, "If this is good I don't know what bad would look like...I'd prefer frankly, some serious self introspection and staring at the numbers to figure out what's going on, rather than congratulating yourself."

Landrieu's major anti-crime effort of the past year seemed to rest on a badly-conceived advertising campaign that most people found either confusing or offensive.

Serpas' efforts have been marked by terrible ideas that were launched with big fanfare then quietly shelved, like his idea to release the criminal records of murder victims - the ultimate in blaming the victim from a police chief that was desperate to find anyone to blame but himself for policies gone badly wrong. Then there was his plan to send officers around checking to see if car doors were locked. His department put out a much derided statement on sexual assault that seemed to place blame for sexual assault on the victims, with advice like "Dress comfortably, so you can move quickly if you have to," and, "Don’t get into an empty elevator with a stranger."

In a city that already had the highest incarceration rate in the world, the Landrieu-Serpas team not only sought to increase arrests for petty offenses, they also seemed to have declared war on the culture the city is known for. Prosecutions of alcohol vendors rose 628%. In the city famous for Storyville and sex workers as culture workers, Serpas arrested as many indigent women who were selling sex as he could. Landrieu-Serpas have attacked secondline vendors, musicians, costume-sellers, live-music venues, and seemingly everyone else that creates the culture this city is known for. His traffic cameras have made most of their money by catching people driving what they think is the correct speed limit, not by enforcing public safety.

Overall, there is a feeling in New Orleans that Mayor Landrieu prioritizes the concerns of tourists over the people who actually live here. In response to this tendency, Rosana Cruz, Associate Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender), has named Landrieu our "concierge-in-chief." Cruz added:
Please understand, out of town guests, I want you to have a good time! But we also constantly hear local and state officials telling the nation, “Your party is real important to us! New Orleans is a place to come and have a good time!” The unspoken end to that sentence is, “no matter how much pain and suffering is still happening.”
Luna Nola, another local blogger, echoed that theme with a recent post, in which she noted:
The movers and shakers of our city seem hell-bent to attain the desired 13 million annual visitors at any cost. Do you ever get a sinking feeling that those coveted 13 million non-residents seem to matter more than the ~370,000 New Orleanians who, to date, have dug their heels in to rebuild this city? I do… and with ever increasing frequency, as the Landrieu Administration continues to march relentlessly to the beat of its own drummer.
With a serious lack of community trust in the police department, Serpas made things worse through an aggressive policy of harassing and arresting Black youth - in which 93% of those arrested for curfew violations are Black, and a stop-and-frisk policy that has apparently ensnared 70,000 people and is likely racially discriminatory. Meanwhile his department lied and concealed the records for these policies

And when evidence came out that New York City police officers were spying on New Orleans residents, Landrieu and Serpas had no reaction.

A recent editorial by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund Lewis lays out the breadth of opposition Landrieu's reign has brought:
After several years of community meetings designed to document NOPD misconduct, several years of investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and more than a year of negotiations and debate about the proposed NOPD consent decree and efforts on the part of the Landrieu Administration to prevent the inclusion of a civilian oversight panel in the decree, the mayor has decided that the NOPD consent decree is “not necessary.”

You have got to be kidding me.

Mind you, this is also after decades of murder, terrorism, robberies, corruption and unconstitutional policing by New Orleans’ finest, including the murders of Kim Groves, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Henry Glover, Raymond Robair, Adolph Grimes III, Steven Hawkins, Justin Sipp, Wendell Allen and all the other men, women and children gunned down by the NOPD, tangible evidence of continuing racial profiling in the Mid-City Retail District and French Quarter and the recent attack on two Black teenagers in the French Quarter.

This is the mayor of White Chocolate City who has publicly described his Black critics as dysfunctional and called the cops involved in the shooting of Earl Sipp and the killing of Justin Sipp “heroes.”...

I don’t think this mayor gets how tired people of this city are of him. Even those who detested the mayor’s predecessor and once believed that anyone would be better than what we had after the Great Flood of 2005 are now questioning the wisdom of making such a declaration.

Cab drivers are tired of the mayor and the way he has undermined their ability to earn a decent living.

Minority contractors who continue to be locked out of opportunities to do business with the City of New Orleans are not happy with the mayor.

Civil-service workers who are being undermined by their boss at City Hall while watching him give his inner circle six-figure salaries are certainly tired of the mayor.

NORD referees who the city takes its time to pay are fed up with the mayor.

Residents who pay exorbitant property taxes but see no improvement in the infrastructure, no reduction in neighborhood blight or adequate police protection are sick and tired of this mayor and his shenanigans.

Civil rights groups and leaders who the mayor excluded from taking part in annual events commemorating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and Juneteenth have certainly had their fill.

Elderly residents on fixed incomes who have been forced to pay more in Sewerage & Water Board bills and will likely be similarly fleeced by Entergy are sick of him.

Mothers whose sons have been racially profiled by the NOPD have had enough of this mayor.
For decades, New Orleans has had one of the most corrupt and violent police forces in the world. Mayor Landrieu promised to change that, but he and his police chief have fought against change, and every step they have taken seems to have made things worse. New Orleans deserves better.

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