Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Protests This Week Show Dissent on New Orleans Criminal Justice System

Two upcoming protest marches have revealed divisions among New Orleanians in their views of police and the criminal justice system. Organizers of an LGBT March and Rally Against Hate and Violence, scheduled for this Wednesday at 8:00pm, and Slutwalk New Orleans, scheduled for this Saturday at 10:30am, have both advertised and embraced a police presence as part of their events, bringing criticism from other activists.

The facebook description of the LGBT March announces that the New Orleans police "will be there to escort us and protect us." The full description reads:
Please join us for a rally and a march to show the presence of the LGBT community in the French Quarter. As I am sure many of you know, there have been several recent anti-gay hate crimes in New Orleans and especially in the French Quarter and the Marigny. There have been many robberies as well. It is time that we start to show our connection to our community. We need people to see that we are united in our commitment to each other. We need them to know that if someone in our community has been victimized that we are there to support each other, either by getting people to report crimes that have been committed or by helping them to report the crimes if they feel that cannot do it on their own. During this march, the NOPD will be there to escort us and protect us. This is a great opportunity to get to know your local police. I encourage signage and your presence to show that we can be united and that it is the responsibility of us all to overcome these crimes in our neighborhood. So please join us on a walk through the French Quarter starting at the entrance to Armstrong Park at the corner of N. Rampart and St Ann.
In response, activists - including members of New Orleans Black & Pink, Critical Resistance, and other local organizations - have organized a rally with a more critical view of the police. They have released a statement that notes the harm done by law enforcement.
Our home is the incarceration capital of the world. One in 86 adult Louisiana residents is in prison. Approximately 5,000 African-American men from New Orleans are in state prisons, compared to 400 white men. Our city jail, Orleans Parish Prison, is a site of rape and violence that a Human Rights Watch report called "a nightmare" for LGBTQ individuals. Incarceration has not made us safer as a community— and in fact does not deter crime. When our community members are locked away, it tears at the social fabric that holds our community together. Children grow up without parents at home, lovers long for their partners, and groups miss their members.  
These activists have organized an alternate march and rally, called the LGBTQ March and Rally For Safety In Solidarity, aimed at presenting a different path towards community safety.
Supporting each other in the face of violence does not have to take the form of reporting to police. Community safety comes from solidarity and liberation. It comes from ensuring that all people have access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, employment, and education. We hope that through dialogue we can address concerns of all members of our community and arrive at empowering solutions together.
This division in the LGBTQ community is not new. Writing in the book Captive Genders, Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee and Dean Spade discussed the participants in the Stonewall Rebellion, who rioted against police:
Could these groundbreaking and often unsung activists have imagined that only forty years later the "official" gay rights agenda would be largely pro-police, pro-prisons, and pro-war - exactly the forces they worked so hard to resist? Just a few decades later, the most visible and well-funded arms of the "LGBT movement" look much more like a corporate strategizing session than a grassroots social justice movement. There are countless examples of this dramatic shift in priorities. What emerged as a fight against racist, anti-poor, and anti-queer police violence now works hand in hand with local and federal law enforcement agencies, district attorneys are asked to speak at trans rallies, cops march in Gay Pride parades. The agendas of prosecutors - those who lock up our family, friends, and lovers - and many queer and trans organizations are becoming increasingly similar, with sentence- and police-enhancing legislation at the top of the priority list. Hate crimes legislation is tacked onto multi-billion dollar "defense" bills to support US military domination in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Despite the rhetoric of an"LGBT community," transgender and gender-non-conforming people are repeatedly abandoned and marginalized in the agendas and priorities of our "lead" organizations.
Saturday's "Slutwalk"is part of an international movement against rape culture. The movement began in Toronto, in response to statements from police officers that placed blame on women, and their their outfits or behavior, for being raped. Despite its goals and history, the movement has often been criticized for using language that excludes women of color. Shortly after the movement began, Canadian organizer Harsha Walia wrote this analysis:
Slutwalk runs the risk of facilitating the dominant discourse of ‘liberated’ women as only those women wearing mini-skirts and high heels in/on their way to professional jobs. In reality, capitalism mediates the feminist fa├žade of choice by creating an entire industry that commodifies women’s sexuality and links a woman’s self-esteem and self-worth to fashion and beauty. Slutwalk itself consistently refuses any connection to feminism and fixates solely around liberal questions of individual choice – the palatable “I can wear what I want” feminism that is intentionally devoid of an analysis of power dynamics.
The history of Slutwalk as a mostly white movement that excludes women of color is also highlighted by the timing and location of this year's march and rally. The rally begins at Congo Square at 10:30am. At the same place and time, an annual event called the Celebration of the African American Child is scheduled for the park, while just a few blocks away and a half hour earlier is an immigrants' rights march, sponsored by the New Orleans Congress Of Day Laborers.

On March 27, the organizer of New Orleans Slutwalk announced that law enforcement would be part of the event.
I am so super, special, extra excited to announce that representatives from several departments of the ‪#‎NOPD‬, and quite possibly other law enforcement agencies, will be joining us prior to the walk to discuss crime prevention and victims assistance in New Orleans!!!! For those of you who know the history of the SlutWalk movement...this is HUGE! HUGE!!!!!
While no counter protest has been planned for Slutwalk, this announcement brought responses similar to those expressed by critics of the LGBT march and rally. One commentator wrote, "the presence of the NOPD is offensive, threatening and problematic... Feminist politics without a racial/class analysis is not in fact feminist." The NOPD has been criticized in the past year for statements that blame women for sexual assault, and NOPD officers have frequently been charged with committing sexual assaults.

In response to online criticism, the Slutwalk organizer wrote:
I don't need to be "schooled" on feminism or why some might be offended or disturbed by the presence of law enforcement. I am well aware of the distressing behavior and actions of many within the NOPD and other agencies in this city. What I DO know is that as SlutWalk started because law enforcement failed the community, establishing dialogue with the police in this city is a starting point. Do I expect their presence to magically do away with racism, transphobia, sexism, misogyny, or any other issues we have with law enforcement? No. But I do know that without dialogue, none of those issues will ever be addressed.
Solidifying the links between these marches, today the organizer of the Slutwalk march posted a facebook invitation to the LGBT March and Rally Against Hate and Violence.

The conflicts revealed in these demonstrations are not new, but in the context of gentrification and displacement, a culture of police violence and an out of control city jail, they come at a time in our city when these issues evoke particular pain and passion. Organizers of the LGBTQ March and Rally For Safety In Solidarity do not see themselves as protesting the other march, but rather "calling in," to build a safer community without the devastating effects of the prison industrial complex.

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