Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rest In Peace, Deanne Patricia DePass-Feaster

Deanne Patricia DePass-Feaster, native of Kingston, Jamaica and resident of New Orleans, passed on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 in New Orleans.

Deanne was a community activist, dedicated to reducing health disparities by increasing access to physical fitness and healthy nutrition. She worked tirelessly to support the health and well-being of the community, particularly African American women and their families.

Deanne was the administrative director of the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies from 1992 to 2006, and later started Studio 13 Miracle and Healing Center, an exercise and healing space dedicated to the principles of Liberation, Spirit and Wellness in the New Orleans community.

Deanne's passion for justice and her kindness will be deeply missed by her friends, family, and community.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Federal Voting Rights Complaint Filed on Early and Absentee Voting for Upcoming Municipal Elections

The Louisiana Justice Institute has sent a letter of complaint to alert the U.S. Justice Department to a violation of the Voting Rights Act that will substantially curtail the opportunity of New Orleans voters to cast early and absentee ballots in the February 6, 2010, Municipal Primary Election as well as the March 6, 2010 Municipal General Election.

Mayor Ray Nagin announced on December 17, 2009, that City Hall and most other city buildings and offices quartered in those buildings would be closed from the close of business each Thursday through Monday morning.

Since City Hall will be closed on Fridays and Saturdays under Mayor Nagin’s budget implementation plan, the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office, the primary early and absentee voting location, will be closed for 3 of the 7 scheduled days of early and absentee voting, resulting in a substantive change in voting procedures that requires pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice under the provisions of Section V of the Voting Rights Act. The Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office in City Hall is the most centrally located site for early voting, and the location most familiar and accessibly by public transit for New Orleans voters.

Neither the City of New Orleans or the State of Louisiana has petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance of this substantive change in voting procedures, which would have a disparate impact on minority voters.

In the last major election, the November 4, 2008, election for President of the United States, more than 17,000 voters cast early or absentee votes during the 7 days of early voting. Of the total of 17,006 early and absentee ballots cast, African American voters cast approximately 73 percent, while African Americans comprised only 62.5 percent of registered voters for that election. “This change in voting procedures is a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Tracie Washington, Managing Director of the Louisiana Justice Institute. “The Louisiana Justice Institute and other community organizations are calling on the mayor and city council to comply with the law and immediately reverse this thoughtless, pennywise and pound foolish budgetary measure to restore full access to early and absentee voting to all registered voters in New Orleans.”

Rest In Peace Althea Francois

Althea Francois, a life-long activist for peace and social justice, passed away on December 25th at the age of 60.

Althea spent her life actively engaged in struggles for justice, starting with her involvement in the New Orleans chapter of the Black Panther Party, where she began her efforts to help political, economic and racial prisoners. She embodied the finest and most basic ideals of empathy and generosity and inspired all that had the privilege of coming in contact with her.

Althea has long been a leader in local organizing against the Prison Industrial Complex. In the late '90's, Althea worked to create a base for political prisoner work in New Orleans, and was one of the main organizers in the campaign to free the Angola Three; three Black Panthers held in solitary confinement for their political beliefs. When Angola Three member Robert King was released in February of 2001, he moved to the home of Althea and Marion Brown, another former panther.

Shortly before Katrina, Althea was able to purchase a home-base for her daughters and grandchildren in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood. In 2005, the flooding of New Orleans ripped apart the security she had at long last established. The years since then were a tense balancing act between work in Atlanta, work in New Orleans, her children and her grandchildren. Though Althea rarely complained, she was beset with a number of crippling maladies - asthma, high-blood pressure and the incessant pressure of keeping a family together in these difficult times with never enough support.

In the months after Katrina, she was one of those who came together to form a new organization, called Safe Streets / Strong Communities. Her dedication, vision, and commitment guided the organization through several intense years of struggle over the city's criminal justice policy. Her efforts brought real reforms, from the establishment of the city's Office of the Police Monitor to uncovering and exposing the role of New Orleans police in post-Katrina killings.

When told the news of her passing, former prisoner Robert King struggled to find words to express the depth of his sorrow. Invoking Matthew 25:35, he said "I was hungry and you fed me, was thirsty and you gave me drink, was in prison and you visited me. Althea fed us with hope. She had an enormously giving spirit that we will all deeply miss."

Althea loved her daughters with the ferocity of a lioness and was so proud of their accomplishments. They were the center of her being.

Sadly, Althea had no insurance and no savings, thus leaving her daughters not only with the grief of losing her, but with the challenge of raising funds for her funeral.If you can help with a donation to the family, donations to defray the funeral costs can be sent to:

Rhodes Funeral Home
3933 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, LA
(504) 822-7162


Olga Francois
c/o Todd Taylor
7704 Benjamin St.
New Orleans, LA70118
(202) 277-0997

Althea's Service will be Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 1:00pm at Rhodes Funeral Home.

Thanks to the Campaign to Free The Angola Three for some of the information above.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Question of Public Values

Last week I watched with interest, and then just disgust, as a 'masker' (don't get me started) complained to a WDSU news reporter about City of New Orleans buget cuts, which would preclude him from receiving the 'traditional toast' at Gallier Hall from Mayor Ray Nagin. Because the city is broke, Mayor Nagin cut expenditures on reviewing stands at Gallier Hall. Poor baby.

The irony was palpable. This member of the privileged elite of the City of New Orleans sat in his well-appointed seating area, complaining that the public is not paying for his traditional toast, at the same time citizens (read peasants) will be burdened with reduced garbage service, reduced hours at city offices (closures every Friday), and reduced services to our children.

Carnival Dude. Get a clue.

This is a question of public values and, while I'm appalled at the lunacy of this Carnival King's statement, my voice alone is ineffective.

So let's tell the mayor -- loudly and clearly -- Carnival Toast's are not a shared public value. The well-being of our children is a shared public value; restore funding to NORD. Public safety is a shared public value; restore the funding to NOPD. Our clean environment is a shared public value; restore the funding to the Sanitation Department.

Hey -- Carnival Krewe People -- you want a reviewing stand...PAY FOR IT YOURSELVES!

Too much like right?

New Orleans Housing Crisis Continues

A new report from Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center highlights the continuing issues that affordable housing tenants are facing in the city by shining a light on the failures of the city's Section 8 voucher system.

Evidence of the city's housing crisis is all around us. With homelessness on the rise, the area around the shelter on O.C. Haley has become a new tent city, with scores of men and women around the highway overpass facing the winter nights without a roof over their heads. On a recent evening, a vigil in that neighborhood was organized in memory of those who have died on the cold streets. For impoverished folks needing health care, the hospital system has also been failing.

Meanwhile, even HANO admits that the Section 8 voucher system doesn't work, telling reporter Katy Reckdahl, that the system "is, without question, broken." The remaining homes in Iberville also remain under threat, with more than a third of the complex already empty.

The size of our problems demands not just grassroots action, but changed policies on the city, state, and federal level. Survivor's Village, a local housing rights organization, recently announced that they will be initiating a Take Back The Land Initiative on January 18. We hope this helps move forward the change the city needs.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Pressure Mounts on the NOPD

The Times-Picayune, working with ProPublica and Frontline, have been running a powerful, devastating, series of articles this week. They have mounted what appears to be exhaustive investigations of shootings by the New Orleans Police Department in the days after Katrina. According to the reporters, "At least ten people were shot by New Orleans police in the week after Hurricane Katrina. This series focuses on four incidents that have never been fully examined."

As we've written in this space before, the Times-Picayune is about four years late on this story. Of course, the Picayune also waited until after hundreds of other newspapers from around the world had covered the Jena Six before they felt the need to send a reporter there, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.

Still, this is a vital story, and very well done. Our hope is that this media focus combined with investigations from the Department of Justice will create the public pressure for the real, systemic, changes the NOPD needs. It is hard to rebuild and recover if you don't have a foundation of justice to build on.

Monday, December 14, 2009

This Thursday: New Orleans Mayoral Candidates Forum on Criminal Justice

The Mayoral race is on. Some have asked: if the Saints are in the Superbowl, will anyone come to the election? Either way, let's get those early voting ballots ready.

At Louisiana Justice Institute, we have convened a process called the Nola Kitchen Table as a forum to begin discussing the issues that we need our politicians to address (more updates on that dialogue soon).

We also encourage everyone to go out and ask the candidates the hard questions. A great place to start is this week, with the New Orleans Mayoral Candidates Forum on Criminal Justice.

The Forum will be this Thursday, December 17, at 6:00pm at the Treme Community Center, 900 N. Villere St, between Dumaine and St. Philip.

A wide range of organizations have worked together to make this forum happen, including Families & Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Critical Resistance New Orleans, Safe Streets/Strong Communities, New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice, Resurrection After Exoneration, Voice Of The Ex-offender (VOTE), Women With A Vision, and the Youth Empowerment Project.

According to the invitation from the event's organizers, "The 2010 Elections are right around the corner and the voice of the community must be heard! Criminal Justice issues need to be addressed to those of us who have a real stake in seeing change. Our children and our loved ones need to come home to safe communities and to schools and jobs that keep our families off the streets and out of the system. The next mayor of New Orleans must make this a priority. JOIN US!"

Healthcare Action Wendnesday: Insurance Companies Profit, People Die

On Wednesday, December 16, a new organization called Healthcare Now! New Orleans will hold an action to commemorate the 45,000 people who died last year from lack of access to health care.

The protest will be at the Federal Building on 500 Poydras Street. Organizers say, "While calling attention to these deaths, we will be calling for a health care plan that covers everyone in the United States, and an end to the system of health insurance that has caused so many deaths."

For more information, email

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bill Quigley: "Why ACORN Won"

On December 11, 2009, a federal judge ruled that Congress had unconstitutionally cut off all federal funds to ACORN. The judge issued an injunction stopping federal authorities from continuing to cut off past, present and future federal funds to the community organization.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and its allies in 75 cities will again have access to millions of federal dollars to counsel people facing foreclosure, seeking IRS tax refunds, and looking for affordable low cost housing. ACORN, which has received about $54 million in government grants since 1994, will be able to apply for new federal programs just like any other organization.

The court ruled that Congress violated the U.S. Constitution “by singling out ACORN and its affiliates for severe sweeping restrictions” and that such action constitutes illegal punishment or a “bill of attainder.”

What is a bill of attainder? Even most lawyers have no idea. Bills of attainder are acts of Congress which unilaterally punish an individual or organization. Essentially Congress acts as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.

The U.S. Constitution has prohibited bills of attainder since 1787. U.S. founders objected to bills of attainder because in England Parliament passed many such bills against political enemies, used them to throw people in prison and even execute them without trial.

Congress punished ACORN without even trying to figure out if any laws had been broken or allowing the 500,000 member organization to defend itself.

What about protecting the taxpayers against fraud? As the court pointed out, there are many legal ways for the government to investigate and terminate federal contractors which have been proven to engage in fraud or illegal activity.

But Congress did not want to wait for trials or proof or to allow ACORN due process.

Conservatives developed a voting majority and imposed punishment without a hearing or anything.

ACORN has been a target of right-wing politicians for years. Conservatives hate ACORN primarily because it registered over two million people to vote since 2003 and because it has an overwhelming African American, working class, democratic-voting, membership.

Fox News is obsessed with ACORN. Google Fox News and ACORN and you will see over two million hits. Google Glenn Beck and ACORN and you get over a million hits, six hundred thousand for Rush, and three hundred thousand for Michelle Malkin.

Right wing members of Congress accused ACORN of being a “shell game” using millions of taxpayer dollars “to advertise for a political candidate” and which “helped President Obama get elected.”

After a highly dubious right-wing sting operation in September, the conservative media machine overran Congress members, including, sadly, many democrats, and passed the bill of attainder cutting off all federal funds to ACORN and any affiliates, subsidiaries and allies.

Most Congress reps knew full well this was an illegal bill of attainder as it was pointed out in the debates and even by the Congressional Research Office, but voted to let it go through anyway. Representatives Nadler and Grayson and Senator Leahy, among others, repeatedly pointed out that this was unconstitutional. Democrats who voted for the bill of attainder included many who had sought and received help from ACORN members in the past. They have some explaining to do.

Progressives who remained silent while the nation’s largest low income African American community organization was under attack also should re-think their lack of support. Did anyone think that if the right-wingers took down Van Jones and ACORN they would stop there?

What is ahead? Surely the conservative opponents of ACORN will continue to bloviate and continue to try to put ACORN out of business. There will likely be fights galore. But with this ruling the fights will be a little fairer.

ACORN won this case. The U.S. Supreme Court has called the prohibition of congressional bills of attainder a “bulwark against tyranny.” Here the bulwark against tyranny worked to stop the right-wing smear machine.

But the rule of law won too. And all of us and Congress have again been taught a valuable lesson – there are no shortcuts when it comes to following the Constitution.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the team who represented ACORN in their successful federal constitutional challenge. You can read the opinion at or contact Bill at

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Touring Production of Color Purple Opens in New Orleans Amid Controversy

The Color Purple, a Tony Award-nominated Broadway production presented by Oprah Winfrey, opens tonight in New Orleans. Producers have taken the admirable step of fundraising to support the return of Gulf Coast families.

However, the producers have chosen to make their donations through an organization called the St. Bernard Project, which has invited controversy through their close relationship with the St. Bernard Parish government. Critics like Lance Hill, the executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University, have pointed out that the racial discrimination practiced by the local government in St. Bernard has actually set Gulf Coast recovery back, and that organizations like St. Bernard Project actually exacerbate the problem by refusing to take a stand against racial discrimination.

“The main reason that these relief groups have had to disproportionately rebuild Black rentals,” explains Hill, “is because the Parish is tearing down or blocking construction of affordable housing faster than the relief groups can rebuild.”

Last year, one of the only two members of the St Bernard Parish Council to speak out against the actions of the Parish told reporter Lizzy Ratner, "They don't want the blacks back… What they'd like to do now with Katrina is say, We'll wipe out all of them. They're not gonna say that out in the open, but how do you say? Actions speak louder than words. There's their action."

In September, a wide coalition of relief and recovery organizations and individuals concerned about this issue signed an open letter on this issue, designed to put pressure on both the Parish and on the St. Bernard Project. “It is time that we take a stand against housing discrimination in St. Bernard and throughout the Gulf Coast,” the letter states. “And make clear what the moral imperatives are for all organizations that seek to rebuild the Gulf Coast as a fair and just society.”