Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Police Association of New Orleans Works to Protect Killer Cops

The Times-Picayune reported yesterday that a third police officer is expected to turn himself in for the killings and cover-up on the Danziger Bridge. The Picayune also reported on a party on Sunday, thrown by the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) to raise money for the legal defense of two officers who are being investigated for murdering Henry Glover and burning his body.

We have also discovered that PANO has an NOPD payroll deduction form on their website for donations to the officers involved in the Danziger massacre. Professor Lance Hill, who pointed this out to us, adds, "This obviously means that NOPD authorized using its payroll services (our tax dollars) to assist in raising money for these cops."

All of this goes to show that these officers, and the organization that represents them, continue to work to protect cops who have killed and tried to cover it up. The problems in the NOPD are clearly systemic. This is more than a new mayor or police chief can solve. We need federal oversight.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day One of Trial in Tensas Parish

Today in St. Joseph, Louisiana, the trial of Waterproof mayor Bobby Higginbotham began. As we reported last week, Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones and District Attorney James Paxton have accused Higginbotham of various charges of corruption. Bobby Higginbotham and his supporters, including Police Chief Miles Jenkins and school board member Annie Watson, say that Paxton and Jones are attempting to carry out a coup against Black political leadership in the parish.

Mayor Higginbotham, who is not a lawyer, represented himself at the trial today. Displaying confident knowledge of the law and an array of legal precedents and statistics to back him up, the mayor brought motions to have DA James Paxton removed from the case for conflict of interest, as well as for change of venue and for a continuance. The presiding judge ruled against Higginbotham on all counts, and jury selection began.

A six person jury was selected, with five white members and one Black member. According to the 2000 Census, the parish is 55% African American.

Several supporters of Higginbotham came to the courtroom to observe the trial, including Chief Jenkins, Ms. Watson, and Concordia Parish NAACP President Justin Conner.


When she was called for jury duty, Veda Manual’s reaction was no different from most citizens. “I knew it would be long,” she said. “No one wants to be there.” But because it was her civic duty, last week she sat at Criminal District Court and endured the process. Unfortunately, what she experienced will come as no surprise to most New Orleanians.

“Three times we could not seat a jury,” She says. The reason for this difficulty could not have been envisioned by the framers of our constitution. A majority of our residents – and an overwhelming majority of African-Americans – know this truth and live its fear. It was a case of drug possession with intent to distribute, where there was no physical evidence, just the testimony of the police officer(s). “In light of all of what we know about the police, I said I couldn’t convict anyone on their testimony alone. I was Juror No. 1. Sixteen of the other people in my group agreed. How can we trust the police?”

Ordinary citizens could not in good conscience affirm they could believe the truth of any testimony sworn under oath by officers of the New Orleans Police Department.

Harsh? Well, let’s consider some of the news headlines/reports and proven facts, just since Katrina:

NOPD officers' account of beating disputed
Associated Press
Oct. 10, 2005, 10:12PM
A retired elementary school teacher was arrested and beaten by police officers who claim he was publicly intoxicated. The incident was caught on tape by Associated Press Television News, and one producer was allegedly grabbed and shoved by the arresting officers.

NOPD baits, then arrests, the homeless
POSTED: 01:00 AM Friday, July 11, 2008
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer, New Orleans City Business
Police officers baited passersby by placing several small items worth less than 10 dollars in plain view on the dash of unlocked cars in an effort to entrap and arrest homeless people living under the Claiborne overpass.

Cop booked in rape of 13-year-old was investigated twice for raping young girls, but remained on the job
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
October 23, 2008, 7:59AM
A veteran NOPD officer, twice accused of rape by young girls in 2001 and 2003, was booked after a third girl accused him of rape. Though he was twice investigated in the past, both investigations ended with prosecutors citing “failure of the victims or the victim’s parents to cooperate.” Neither of the investigations were noted on his civil service record.

Cops involved in New Year's killing of Adolph Grimes III face other probes
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
February 05, 2009, 10:27PM
On the same evening nine officers shot and killed 22 year-old Adolph Grimes III another incident occurred where the same nine-man unit subdued Cleavon Crutchfield with a taser gun and drew guns on his family. Several of the officers involved in the separate incidents are under investigation for other incidents.

Man 'impersonating' cop was an actual NOPD officer
By Ramon Antonio Vargas, The Times-Picayune
March 20, 2009, 11:35AM
Darrius Clipps, who allegedly forced his way into several area homes and victimized several Hispanic men and women, was not impersonating a police officer as early reports claimed but was in fact a member of the police force.

NOPD cops lied about bar brawl, inquiry says
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
July 10, 2009, 9:23AM
An NOPD internal report concludes that police officers involved in a 2008 bar fight between off-duty officers and RTA workers lied to investigators, and at least one officer coerced false testimony from a witness.

NOPD downgrading of rape reports raises questions
By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
July 11, 2009, 9:02PM
Though the police boast a decline in the number of rapes, in examining complaints, there is a trend where in more than half of the complaints of rape or other sexual assault the matter is classified as a noncriminal complaint. The police attribute the disparity in complaints that are pursued and complaints that are “noncriminal” to the difficulty in coaxing rape victims to come forward. Some experts claim that many of the complaints that are reclassified as non criminal should be categorized as sex crimes.

State audit blasts NOPD evidence room, notes police leaders may have broken state lawBy Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
July 13, 2009, 10:09PM
The NOPD property and evidence room lost track of more than $200,000, and officials failed to notify the Orleans Parish District Attorney and state auditors in writing of the missing money.

NOPD cop who stole watch had been cited for two other crimes during time on forceBy Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
September 11, 2009, 7:00AM
An NOPD officer who was arrested amid allegations that he stole an expensive watch from a citizen while on a service call was twice cited for other crimes during his time on the force. In 2008 he was issued municipal summons in September for domestic battery, and in March for public intoxication, public intimidation, and resisting an officer.

Police shootings after Katrina: Was a gun inside a bag a threat to 5 officers?
By The Times-Picayune
December 13, 2009, 10:00PM
This story was reported by A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, and Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi of The Times-Picayune
A Matthew McDonald was shot and killed by 5 police officers days after Hurricane Katrina after they claimed he reached into a white plastic bag in an attempt to remove a handgun. No crime scene photos were taken, no autopsy was performed, and officers were unable to locate witnesses to the incident. Family members say that when they contacted the police, NOPD informed them that McDonald was killed by a civilian.

Police shootings after Katrina: How does a man waving down a police car die from a shotgun blast to his back?
By The Times-Picayune
December 14, 2009, 10:00PM
This story was reported by A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, and Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi of The Times-Picayune
Though a police investigation concluded that the shooting 45-year old Danny Brumfield Sr. by police officers outside of the Convention Center following Hurricane Katrina was justified by the threat Mr. Brumfield posed to the officers, further investigation suggests that the police investigation was half-hearted at best. Mr. Brumfield was shot in the back, not the shoulder as the police investigation claims. The police collected no evidence at the scene, and only one witness statement was taken, from Mr. Brumfield’s sister, despite the many onlookers who witnessed the incident.

Police shootings after Katrina: SWAT team sees armed man, shoots him three times, but where's the gun?
By The Times-Picayune
December 15, 2009, 10:00PM
This story was reported by A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, and Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi of The Times-Picayune
In an incident where no civilian witness interviews were taken, 28 year-old Keenon McCann was shot several times by police officers who claimed he was brandishing a gun. No gun was recovered.

Riley, Compass, New Orleans police officials summoned to federal grand jury
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
January 15, 2010, 4:03PM
Current Police Superintendent Riley and his predecessor Compass, with other police officials, were questioned by federal prosecutors concerning two separate inquiries into police conduct following Hurricane Katrina. The prosecutors are probing the Danziger bridge shooting and the mysterious death of a man found burned to death in a car in Algiers.

Police supervisor encouraged cover-up, knew officer planted gun while still on Danziger Bridge
By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
February 24, 2010, 2:16PM
Lt. Michael Lohman has been charged with one count of conspiring to obstruct justice after he and several other officers colluded to falsify reports and plant evidence at the scene of a police shooting.

Mardi Gras Indians concerned about police antagonismBy Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune
March 08, 2010, 4:18AM
With Super Sunday around the corner, Mardi Gras Indians from several tribes have expressed concern over police antagonism towards spectators and participants. Indians have reported several incidents in which police harassed maskers and participants who claim they were parading peacefully.

Algiers police shooting report altered, sources say
By Times-Picayune Staff
March 14, 2010, 10:55AM
Inconsistencies lie between the official police report and the police report originally written by Officer David Warren whose name appears on the official document’s cover page. There are other inconsistencies in the report, which concerned the death of Henry Glover who died while in police custody and whose burned corpse was discovered in a car on the Algiers levee after Hurricane Katrina.

Suit claims police harass journalists and bystandersPosted: Monday, 15 March 2010 1:20PM
Associated Press Reporting
A suit brought against NOPD alleges that police officers have engaged in a pattern of arresting and/or harassing journalists and bystanders who photograph them in public. The plaintiffs cite 11 incidents since 2005 where people were harassed or arrested for videotaping, photographing, or observing police officers.

Danziger Bridge case suggests culture of corruption at NOPD
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
March 21, 2010, 9:45AM
Officers involved in a shooting on the Danziger Bridge following Hurricane Katrina are accused of conspiracy to cover up police misconduct. The coverup included officers of varying rank, who went so far as to meet in a gutted police station to ensure that their fictitious version of the story was uniform among the conspirators.


There is a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers of the New Orleans Police Department that deprives persons of rights, privileges, and immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. We know this. It’s nothing new; the hurricane didn’t stop anything.

In Black Rage in New Orleans, Leonard N. Moore traces the disturbing history of police corruption in New Orleans since World War II, up to Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, crime, drug abuse, and murder have become an unfortunate fact of life. Unfortunately, an underpaid, inadequately staffed, and poorly trained police force frequently resorted to brutality against African Americans. “Endemic corruption among police officers increased as the city’s crime rate soared, generating anger and frustration among New Orleans’s black community,” According to Moore, The NOPD’s abuses read like a bad Hollywood script — police homicides, sexual violence against women, racial profiling, and complicity in drug deals, prostitution rings, burglaries, protection schemes, and gun smuggling. “Documenting the police harassment of civil rights workers in the 1950s and 1960s, Moore examines the aggressive policing techniques of the 1970s, and the attempts of Ernest “Dutch” Morial—the first black mayor of New Orleans—to reform the force in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Even when the department hired more African American officers as part of that reform effort, Moore reveals, the corruption and brutality continued unabated in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

Dramatic changes in the NOPD cannot come by simply hiring a new police chief. We’ve done this before, yet the City of New Orleans has been beleaguered by the unrealized promise of sustainable reform. We recognize a new mayoral administration is coming, and no doubt Mitch Landrieu has his own ideas concerning needed innovations for NOPD. But one person can't fix this problem, and any assumption that the hiring of a new police chief is the solution simply placates the least vulnerable in our community, while adding salt to the wounds of those of us most likely to be victimized by brutal and/or corrupt police. We need a solution that addresses the systemic nature of the problem.


With an increasing awareness of police misconduct, Congress included a provision in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that authorizes the Department of Justice to file civil lawsuits against law enforcement agencies that engage in a pattern of violating people's rights and obtain a court order to monitor and reform them.

To establish a claim, Section 14141 requires the Justice Department to demonstrate that a municipality, police department, or other Section 14141 defendant has engaged in "a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States." The Supreme Court has suggested that the term "pattern or practice" has a "usual meaning"—a meaning denoting something more "than the mere occurrence of isolated or 'accidental' or sporadic [unlawful] acts." A "pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers" depriving persons of constitutional or statutory rights, denotes a course of conduct that is "standard operating procedure" within a police department—in the Court's words, a course of conduct that is "the regular rather than the unusual practice."

How is the process initiated? Usually with a “Dear City Attorney” letter. City officials and local law enforcement departments are never surprised when the federal government finally seeks redress but, generally, there is a formal letter that precedes the filing of litigation. Sometime thereafter, civil litigation, much like the sample Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief linked here is initiated.

A Call to Action – Citizens Acting Now to Create the Consent Decree

If a federal action is filed and resolved, it will be through an agreed Consent Decree, which will allow our federal courts to retain jurisdiction and enforcement powers over the matter. While we believe the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights can, indeed, come to the rescue of New Orleans residents who have suffered for far too long the ravishes of a rogue police force, it is our responsibility to direct what is to become “Sustainable Reform.”

We can do this, but the work will require organizing and cooperation from the entire community in developing and agreeing upon the contents of a Consent Decree between the Department of Justice and the City of New Orleans. This document will be the compact that binds reform. We have drafted a model document – New Orleans Community Members’ Terms and Conditions for Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of New Orleans/New Orleans Police Department – which can begin this conversation, and includes provisions detailing Management and Supervision of Police, Community Relations, Training, an Independent Police Monitor who reports directly to the U.S. District Court, and Complaint Protocol and Procedures.

The bottom line is if we as a community want the culture of our police department changed, and if we want sustainable reform, we must sit at the table and negotiate those terms and conditions that will make NOPD accountable to us!


Both the Clinton and Bush administrations used the civil lawsuit provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, successfully, several times: in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Detroit, the State of New Jersey, Steubenville, Ohio, and Prince Georges County, Maryland, among other jurisdictions.

In Pittsburgh—the first city to enter into a consent decree with the Justice Department— most provisions of the decree were lifted after the Bureau of Police was judged to be in substantial compliance. The key factors that enabled the city quickly to comply with the terms of the decree: the leadership of a talented police chief, guidance from the federal monitor, and an engaged community, which had an active, role in the process and access to police data that was given to the police monitor under the decree.

Veda Manual reported that in the end, a jury was seated in the possession with intent case. We understand not all – not even most - New Orleans Police Department officers are brutal or corrupt. But we can’t discern the good from the bad, and we are tired of suffering the consequences of trying. What we know for certain is that in the new rush to incorrectly proclaim crime as the #1 problem for the City of New Orleans, city officials have turned a blind-eye to civil liberties. Police cannot become the law unto themselves, and it is time for the U.S. government, through the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights, to step-in and step-up, be the good-guys, intervene, and help provide relief for New Orleans residents tired of and broken by our elected and appointed city officials who refuse to take responsibility for our chronically dysfunctional police department.

We deserve this. Justice has been delayed and denied for far too long.

LJI Organizer Saia M. Smith contributed to this article.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Did a White Sheriff and District Attorney Orchestrate a Race-Based Coup in Northern Louisiana?

In the small northeast Louisiana town of Waterproof, the African-American mayor and police chief assert that they have been forced from office and arrested as part of an illegal coup carried out by the region's white political power structure. In a lawsuit filed last week, Police Chief Miles Jenkins (Pictured Above) describes a wide-ranging conspiracy led by the area’s district attorney and parish sheriff. These charges come at a time of widespread and high-profile racist attacks against the US President and Black members of Congress nationwide, and in a state where white political corruption and violence have been and continue to be used as tools to suppress Black political representation.

About 800 people live in Waterproof, a rural community in Tensas Parish that is 88% African American. Tensas has just over 6,000 residents, making it both the smallest parish in the state, and the parish with the state’s fastest declining population. The area schools remain mostly segregated, with nearly all the Black students attending public schools, and nearly all the white students attending private schools. With a median household income of $10,250, Waterproof is also one of the poorest communities in the US. The only jobs for Black people in town involve working for white farmers, according to Chief Jenkins. “Unless you go out of town to work,” he says, “You’re going to ride the white man’s tractor. That's it.”

Bobby Higginbotham was elected mayor of Waterproof in September of 2006. The next year, he appointed Miles Jenkins as chief of police. Jenkins, who served in the US military for 30 years and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Troy University in Alabama, immediately began the work of professionalizing a small town police department that had previously been mostly inactive. “You called the Waterproof police for help before,” says Chief Jenkins, “He would say, wait ‘til tomorrow, it’s too hot to come out today.” He also sought to reform the town’s financial practices, which Chief Jenkins says were in disorder and consumed by debt.

Ms. Annie Watson, a Black school board member in her 60s who was born and raised in Waterproof, worked as a volunteer for the mayor. She says that the mayor and chief, who had both lived in New Orleans, brought a new attitude that Parish officials didn’t like. “The Mayor and the Chief said you can’t treat people this way, and the Sheriff and DA said you got to know your place. If you're educated and intelligent and know your rights in this parish, you are in trouble,” she says. “They are determined to let you know you have a place and if you don't jump when they say jump you are in trouble.”

Ms. Watson explains that Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones and District Attorney James Paxton were threatened by Chief Jenkins’ efforts to professionalize the town’s police force. Aside from representing a challenge to Sheriff Jones’ political power, this also took away a source of his funding. “Before Mayor Higginbotham, all traffic tickets went to St. Joseph,” she says, referring to the Parish seat, where Sheriff Jones is based. “So he cut their income by having a police department.”

Jack McMillan, an African American deputy sheriff who works with Sheriff Jones, says he tried to warn Chief Jenkins to back down. “You’ve got to adapt to your environment,” he says. “You can't come to a small town and do things the same way you might in a big city. Like the song says, you got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.”

Chief Jenkins asserts that the white-led political infrastructure, led by the Sheriff Jones and DA Paxton, were threatened by his actions. This group immediately sought to orchestrate a coup against the two Black men, including clandestine meetings, false arrests, harassment, and even physical violence. Court documents describe how Paxton, Jones, and their allies formed an alliance “designed to harass intimidate, arrest, imprison, prosecute, illegally remove plaintiff from his position of police chief, prevent plaintiff from performing his law duties as police chief and/or force plaintiff to leave the town of Waterproof.”

Tensas Parish

Below, District Attorney James Paxton

Prior to the registration of 15 voters in 1964, there was not a single Black voter registered in Tensas, despite having more than 7,000 African American residents (and about 4,000 white residents), making it the last parish in Louisiana to allow African Americans to register. Tensas and the nearby parishes of Madison and East Carroll all share the sixth judicial district – currently represented by District Attorney Paxton. It is a small but influential district - Buddy Caldwell, DA for the sixth judicial district from 1979 to 2008, is now Attorney General for the state of Louisiana. The sixth district parishes all have majority Black populations and mostly white elected officials, which Chief Jenkins and Ms. Watson attribute to political corruption and disenfranchisement of Black voters.

Waterproof is “Reminiscent of the bygone days of southern politics,” with a white power structure maintaining political power over a Black majority, according to veteran civil rights attorney Ron Wilson, who is representing Jenkins in his civil rights lawsuit. “At any and all costs, even jeopardizing the life and freedom of my client, they will ruin him to maintain power. This case is ultimately about whether an African-American can be guaranteed the rights that are assured to him in the constitution.” According to court papers, this Jim Crow alliance dominates elected power in the area, and "even on the local level, where the office holders tend to be African American, they are powerless to control their own destiny.” According to Chief Jenkins, the District Attorney once boasted that he controlled the votes of Waterproof’s Black aldermen.

Chief Jenkins says he faced an immediate campaign of harassment. “They just wanted this town to be white-controlled,” explained Chief Jenkins. The police chief described being arrested multiple times under the order of DA Paxton and Sheriff Jones. The charges, says Jenkins, range from charges of theft for a pay raise he received from the town’s board of Aldermen to criminal trespass for going to the home of a citizen who had been stopped for speeding without a valid driver’s license, to disturbing the peace for an incident where individuals threatened the police chief with violence for issuing traffic citations. Ms. Watson says the charges were invented out of thin air. “It was a sad case of lies,” she says, adding that, “The majority of the town of Waterproof supports the chief and supports the mayor.”

Chief Jenkins says he was arrested and declared a flight risk by District Attorney Paxton, despite living and owning property in the Parish. “In all my years,” says attorney Ron Wilson, “I've never seen a police officer, and certainly not a police chief, charged for something like this.” Chief Jenkins alleges he was attacked and choked by a deputy sheriff, who he says shouted, "Shut up...We are in charge…We are the sheriff and the sheriff controls Tensas Parish. The sooner you all learn this the better off you will be," an action that Ms. Watson says she also witnessed.

Chief Jenkins says his police car was shoved in a ditch, and when he arrested the people who had committed the act, the DA refused to press charges. In fact, he says the DA refused almost all charges he presented and released anyone he arrested. The chief was even charged with kidnapping for one incident in which he arrested the former town clerk for illegal entry. “That’s the most ludicrous notion I've ever come across,” says Wilson. “That a police chief can be arrested for kidnapping, because he placed someone under arrest who was breaking the law.”

A grand jury has returned indictments of Chief Jenkins and Mayor Higginbotham, and Higginbotham’s trial is scheduled to begin this Monday. The mayor faces 44 charges, including 18 counts of malfeasance in office and 21 counts of felony theft. Jenkins faces three counts of malfeasance in office. The charges appear to be based on the results of a state audit of Waterproof that found irregularities in the town’s record keeping going back to before the election of Higginbotham – irregularities that the mayor and police chief say they had repaired.

Patterns of Violence

Mayor Higginbotham was elected at the same time as two other Black mayors of small Louisiana towns, both of whom also received threats based on race. In December of 2006, shortly after Higginbotham was elected mayor of Waterproof, Gerald Washington was shot and killed three days before he was to become the first Black mayor of the small southwest Louisiana town of Westlake. An official investigation called his death a suicide, but family members insist otherwise. Less than two weeks after that, shots were fired into the house of Earnest Lampkins, the first Black mayor of the northwest Louisiana town of Greenwood. Lampkins reported that he continued to receive threats throughout his term, including a “for sale” sign that someone planted outside his house.

Waterproof was Klan country from the reconstruction era until well into the 20th century, and violence frequently broke out in the area. Eight Black men in Madison Parish were lynched over a period of three days in 1894 for the charge of “insurrection,” apparently because one man refused to follow an order from a sheriff. “The Klan was very active here,” says Ms. Watson, recalling her childhood in the 50s and 60s. “We had crosses burned on people’s lawns. The school principal had a cross burned on his lawn. A man named Sun Turner was shot and killed on the streets by the Klan.”

Waterproof is an hour south of Tallulah, the site of a notoriously abusive youth prison, and a little more than hour east of Jena, where accusations of systemic racism brought 50,000 people from around the country, including many civil rights leaders, to a 2007 march. Like Jena, Waterproof is also home to a prison that holds federal immigration prisoners.

When asked for comment on Chief Jenkins’ lawsuit, Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones (pictured at left) denied that race was a factor, claiming that Jenkins had abused his office and that many of the local citizens who filed complaints against him were Black. “I'm not going to support any type of corruption,” said Jones. “Certainly not from him.” District Attorney Paxton, also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, disputed all accusations from Jenkins, suggesting that he had tried to help Jenkins when he was first elected. “A lot of this will become clear when the case against Mayor Higginbotham goes to trial on Monday,” he added.

Flood Caldwell, one of the town’s aldermen, is currently serving as the town’s mayor. Jenkins points to Caldwell’s appointment as further evidence of a coup, saying that the town aldermen, under the direction of DA Paxton, illegally voted to remove Mayor Higginbotham. “No one recognizes Caldwell as mayor except the DA and his friends,” says Chief Jenkins. The office of the Louisiana Secretary of State confirms that they still have Higginbotham listed as mayor, adding that they cannot comment further because of pending litigation.

Wilson says this case is ultimately about the repression of Black political and civil rights. “I think this has been going on in Tensas for a while,” he says. “I think they’ve gone too far in this case, and someone finally has come along and says they won’t go along.” Wilson hopes this lawsuit will bring federal attention. “We hope the justice department will look into this and bring some much-needed reform to this part of the world,” he says.

Chief Jenkins says he took the Sheriff’s job to serve the community, “You’ve given this country the best years of your life and you get treated like an unwanted stepchild,” he says. “I didn't realize there was so much politics to just doing your job.”

Ms. Watson believes that this is a struggle for self-determination and basic civil rights. “I was born in 1948,” she says. “Ever since I was born, Blacks never had a say in this parish, until Chief Jenkins and Mayor Higginbotham. They spoke up, and tried to change things. That’s why the parish is going after them.”

Jacques Morial of the Louisiana Justice Institute contributed to this story.

Great Youth Events This Weekend

This Announcement Comes From Our Friends at the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies:

There are a lot of great youth events this Saturday.

During the night, come out to the STOP ShAkEdOwN, a Youth Talent Show that will also raise HIV awareness, put on by IWES' STOP campaign from 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm at Warren Easton High School's Auditorium (3019 Canal St.). ARRIVE EARLY because we our capacity is limited to 200 people!! Artists will perform in the categories of Spoken Word, Singing, Hip Hop, Dance, & Fashion, and there will also be a youth Art Exhibit. $275 will be raffled off to audience members, and there will also be FREE food & drinks. DJ Poppa will keep you moving between acts and Dennis Photo Finish will be there for you to take pictures, as well.

From 11:00 am - 3:00 PM Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) is having their 2010 Youth Summit at Hope Academy (2437 Jena St.) with workshops, discussions, and planning for the future. There's FREE food and Young Adults Striving for Success (YASS) will be raffling off an iPod shuffle & a Playstation 3. DJ Chromatic will be on the 1s & 2s, and they will have special performances by Nobby & Magnolia Shorty.

From 10:00 am - 7:00 pm there will also be the Pick Up Your Pieces Youth Summit at Science & Math High School (5625 Loyola Ave.) for youth aged 8 - 25. The summit will address youth concerns to make positive change happen. They will also have a Second Line on Sunday, March 28th, kicking off at the Treme Center (900 North Villere St.) at 1:00 pm.

Derek Rankins, a youth organizer who has been working on the Summit at Science and Math, tells LJI, "It's important for young people to come to Pick Up Your Pieces, because its a place for youth to have the conversations about things that effect us every day."

See you this weekend!

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Mother’s Thank You

On November 4, 2008, family and friends broke bread at Casa Tracie to watch the election returns and, most importantly, to celebrate Jacob’s return home after his second surgery at Children’s Hospital. Most of my family and friends didn't know Jacob's treatment was made possible by the Emir of Qatar.

See, I was not insured in 2008, and nor was Jacob. After the NAACP Gulf Coast Advocacy Center (my former employer) closed its New Orleans Office in 2007, I was left without health insurance. “No problem,” I thought. “I can just purchase health insurance for me and Jacob.” Unfortunately, I learned I had a “pre-existing condition” strangely discovered only after my employment and insurance ended, which left it all but impossible for me to obtain health coverage.

While not having health insurance was annoying, I wasn’t bothered so much. I’ve always been very healthy, and Jacob’s pain was only in my tush. So I never expected October 2, 2008. I cannot begin to express in words the sheer terror I felt when I learned Jacob had a golf ball sized tumor growing in his back, compressing his spinal cord and literally paralyzing him, that he would need extensive surgery and some rehabilitation, and there was absolutely no way on earth I could pay for it all. I inhaled so deeply I nearly fainted.

The Children’s Hospital administrator must have thought I was crazy when she asked me how I would pay and I responded “Cash.” She said, “You know the first day of tests alone cost almost $8,000?” I couldn’t understand how 2 hours in the hospital for tests could cost $8k, but I really didn’t care. I just said I’d figure it out. That was a Friday and Jacob was scheduled for his first surgery the following Thursday. He was having that surgery. About an hour later that same administrator called me back and told me about this program at the hospital, funded by the Emir of Qatar. Through his substantial grant, Children’s Hospital was able to provide care free of charge to children without insurance.

You have to shake your head in bewilderment. I live in the richest country in the world, but healthcare is a privilege. It was Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Emir of Qatar – a small Arab emirate in the Middle East, absolute monarchy, with a population of about 1.4million people - who paid for the surgeries that saved my son from paralysis. He walks today, quite well, and is an even bigger pain in the tush.

I thanked Emir Hamad bin Khalif in November 2008. Today, I thank President Barak Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and all the brave men and women in our U.S. House of Representatives who listened to thousands of stories like mine, and are, indeed, Profiles in Courage, because they did not allow their fears to hold this country back from the hope of a nation where healthcare is a right. I thank them because once President Obama signs the healthcare reform bill to law, the discriminatory effect of having been cast as someone with a “pre-existing condition” will no longer exist.

I thank them because this week, I will exhale.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jazz Funeral for Public Education at UNO

On Tuesday, March 23, at noon, a coalition of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends of the University of New Orleans (UNO) calling themselves SAVE UNO will be holding a Jazz Funeral and rally to protest budget cuts to UNO and other colleges and universities across the state. The event is also in support of political reforms that will restore funding to higher education in Louisiana in the short and long term.

The Jazz Funeral will begin at the University Center at noon, march through campus, and culminate with a rally on the Quad in front of the UNO Library. All students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of UNO are invited to attend and support public higher education in the city of New Orleans and state of Louisiana.

Speakers include Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center Executive Director James Perry; UNO alumni and activist Rafael Delgadillo; and UNO Graduate Student Anna Hackman.

According to a statement from organizers:
In 1958, the University of New Orleans opened its doors with the clear mandate of bringing “public-supported higher education to Louisiana's largest urban community." In little over a year, the state of Louisiana, led by Governor Jindal, has threatened that mission and undermined public support for UNO by cutting the budget for higher education by nearly $250 million dollars, with promises of more cuts to come. These cuts are occurring in a state that desperately needs more funding for higher education and ranks near the bottom of virtually every educational indicator. This assault on higher education, in turn, undermines Louisiana’s economic future. In order for the state to attract companies that offer good jobs, we need a labor force that is educationally equipped for the 21st century. Our political leaders must stop cuts to higher education – stop undermining the state’s future -- and reform the state constitution so that higher education is protected and supported in both the short and long term.

UNO, which saw its enrollment and budget decimated after Hurricane Katrina, has thus far been able to maintain its reputation as a place where a rigorous education can be obtained at a reasonable cost. That reputation and reality is being threatened on both ends: On the one hand, class sizes are increasing, class offerings are decreasing, and UNO is able to offer less and less in the way of programs, technology, and a college experience. On the other hand, as they receive less, students see their tuition and fees increase, which makes higher education less and less accessible for the average citizen. This Rally demands a different vision of higher education.
We'll see you Tuesday at noon, at UNO.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Downtown Business Meeting Draws Protest

The Louisiana Department of Commerce and the New Orleans World Trade Center drew protests yesterday for hosting a seminar called "Doing Business in Israel and the Middle East" hosted by an Israeli consulting company called EDI. On a cold early morning (the seminar was held at 8:00am) about twenty protesters marched from the World Trade Center to the Westin Hotel in Canal Place, the site of the seminar.
With chants like "Just Like Jim Crow/Israeli Apartheid Has Got to Go" and "Don't Invest in Occupation/ Invest in Haiti Reparations" the protesters linked issues of international investment with global and local social justice causes. The demonstration included members of the local chapter of Pax-Christi and New Orleans Palestine Solidarity as well as representatives from the UNO chapter of Amnesty International and UNO and Delgado chapters of the General Union of Palestine Students. They were upset about Louisiana tax dollars being spent to encourage investment in Israeli occupation. The timing of the seminar brought further outrage, as it came on the same day of rising tension between the current Israeli government and the Obama administration, and on the seventh anniversary of the day that US human rights activist Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer while protesting illegal home demolitions carried out by Israeli forces.

At the same time that demonstrators gathered outside the Westin, one of the participants inside the seminar handed out information about the growing international divestment movement that seeks to apply international economic pressure for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The seminar reportedly brought out less than 10 businesses, at least some of which seemed receptive to the arguments against investment.

Top Photo by Adul Aziz.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pressure on NOPD Continues in Trial This Week

The right of New Orleanians to observe and question police behavior is on trial this week.

During Mardi Gras 2007, Greg Griffith videotaped police grabbing a young girl by the hair and throwing her on the ground. The girl was soon released, but Griffith continued to film the police involved. Although the police appear to move on, they soon returned. On the video (which Griffith was able to preserve and is posted online) it appears that one of the officers rushes up to Griffith and violently arrests him without cause.

According to a press release from the ACLU of Louisiana, the ACLU (in partnership with Tulane Law Clinic) have jointly sued the New Orleans Police Department, Chief Warren Riley, and several officers for wrongful arrest and suppression of free speech, on behalf of two men who were arrested for filming police interaction with the public.
Greg Griffith and Noah Learned were watching the 2007 Bacchus parade on Canal Street when they saw and videotaped police officers engaging in what appeared to be rough treatment of a teenage girl. When the police realized that they were being filmed, they tackled and arrested both plaintiffs, seized the camera, and erased the video footage. "The public has a First Amendment right to film all activities that occur on public streets, including police activities," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "In fact, public scrutiny of the actions of the police and other public officials is essential to the preservation of basic rights."

The lawsuit...seeks a declaration that the arrests and the seizure of the camera were illegal, an injunction prohibiting any future interference with the public's right to film police activities, and damages.
The case is being heard in the federal courtroom of Judge Jay Zainey, US District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana. We're told it's important for supporters to be in the courtroom.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Louisiana Justice Institute Co-Director Tracie Washington Wins Victory Against Attempts To Silence Dissent

Yesterday, The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) of the Louisiana Attorney Discipline Board announced that it had completed its investigation and has formally dismissed the complaint filed by the ODC on behalf of The New Orleans City Council against Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) Co-Director Tracie Washington.

The ruling, which found no basis in fact for the charges attempting to disbarr Tracie Washington, is a victory for all who would seek to struggle for greater transparency in New Orleans city government. However, this victory has not come without sacrifice to LJI and the greater New Orleans legal advocacy community. Even now the ODC has left open a threat to "re-open the case" if this dismissal is "blasted" all over the news.

Background: In October 2008, LJI launched Project Transparency ( We did this because access to information, especially about our government and its activities, is a crucial part of citizenship, and it is a human right. Members of the public demand access to unclassified documents their tax dollars have been used to produce.

In December 2008, LJI made a request for the emails of several city council members, their staff, and members of the Nagin administration. Our intent was to support research and provide information to the public. And our research proved what we suspected all along: roving quorums of councilmembers, divided along racial lines. The reason New Orleans local government has become ineffective and growth stymied is due in no small measure to the racial tension exhibited amongst City Council members, petty bickering, and tribalism one would expect in viewing Survivor - not local government.

But our councilmembers and their attorneys fought Louisiana Justice Institute at every step of the way - all the way to the State Supreme Court - to keep you from having full access to these records.

Yesterday's ruling from the ODC follows a September ruling from the Louisiana State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruling agreed with The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board's (LADB) Hearing Committee Report and Recommendation, which found absolutely no grounds to the charges against Tracie and LJI. In fact, one LADB Hearing Committee member wrote, in this case "New Orleans City Government is using its influence to attempt to crush an opponent with ethical charges when the real battle is over its own incompetence and ineptitude. With scant evidence of any harm caused by the public release of three emails that bear no resemblance to privileged documents and with no evidence of future harm posed by Tracie Washington, the LADB, by its prosecution of this matter, has become a weapon of the city government and an instrument of harm to the public."

The New Orleans City Council, in its petition to the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel, submitted misleading statements and outright lies to the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana, all in an effort to punish and silence Tracie Washington and Louisiana Justice Institute for daring to challenge these government officials' obsession with secrecy, closed government, and good ol' boy politics of the 50's and 60's.

This is not just about Louisiana Justice Institute. Baseless attacks like these are an attack on all who would struggle for greater openness and transparency from their city government.

We applaud today's decision, we will fight any efforts in retaliation, and we pledge to keep advocating for openness and transparency from our local government.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Exclusive Video of Police Harassment of Mardi Gras Indians

On Monday, journalist Katy Reckdahl ran a powerful story in the Times-Picayune exposing police harassment of Mardi Gras Indians in Central City on Mardi Gras Day. For many community members, this revived memories of previous police harassment, especially on St. Joseph's Night of 2005, when police broke up the Indian tradition by driving through at high speeds, cursing at and threatening Indians and others, and even making arrests.

Below is exclusive video of the Mardi Gras day police harassment of Mardi Gras Indians described in Reckdahl's story. The footage - shot from a cel phone - is very low-resolution and shaky, but it documents the chaos, sirens, and overall atmosphere of terror generated on that day.

The video was shot by Michelle Conerly, a certified nursing assistant who lives on the block the incident occurred. Conerly also managed to write down the car numbers of six of the seven police cars who caused the panic (the seventh was a black undercover car).

The police car numbers were 603, 903, 609, 0088, 03076 and 01020.

In a recent interview, Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu has said our city needs “a complete culture change in the New Orleans Police Department." A good first step would be to bring respect for New Orleans' cultural traditions to the police department.

Police Brutality of Mardi Gras Indians from Lily Keber on Vimeo.

Thanks to local filmmaker Lily Keber for her help in posting the video online.

Battle Continues Over Future of New Orleans Public Schools

While most media coverage of New Orleans schools depicts the post-Katrina changes as a success story, community activists continue to raise concerns. The sudden transformation, including the firing of thousands of teachers and other staff; taking away recognition of the teacher's union; and the state's seizing of most schools, followed by a swift change to a mostly-charter system; have led to a school system radically different from the system of five years ago. But are these changes for the better?

Many former employees don't see it that way, and are still fighting back. Associated Press reports today that the class-action lawsuit filed in response to the mass-firings of school staff is continuing to move forward:
Louisiana's Supreme Court has declined to get in the way of a class action lawsuit fighting the dismissal of New Orleans public school employees following Hurricane Katrina. The suit alleges the school workers were wrongfully terminated after most of the city was flooded following the 2005 storm. The suit was filed by several of the fired employees. The Orleans school board and the state agency that took over many of the city's schools are defendants in the suit, which has yet to go to trial. In 2008, a state judge granted class-action status, meaning all of the fired employees could be covered by the suit. An appeal court agreed last year and the Supreme Court decided not to intervene last week. Attorneys estimate as many as 8,500 fired employees are affected.

Community activists are also involved. Tomorrow, an organization calling itself Citizens for Local Control (CLC) has organized a community meeting on the issue, asking what effect the changes in the school system has had on our community. The organization lists a wide range of issues to be discussed, including:
-The privatization of public finds for education.
-A lack of accountability for charter schools.
-A lack of special education services.
-The false notion of school choice.
-Former school buildings being turned into homes instead of community centers.
-The lack of a plan for the return of schools to the Orleans parish School Boards.
The meeting will be tomorrow: Thursday, March 12, from 5:30pm – 7:30pm, at the Central City Renaissance Alliance, 1809 Oretha Castle Haley. All parents, youth, former Orleans Parish teachers, and concerned citizens are invited.

Citizens for Local Control, the sponsors of the meeting, say their mission is "To restore democracy, access and fairness within the local system and network of schools in New Orleans; by organizing for local accountability and control of New Orleans Public Schools." For more information call 504-655-3515.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Haitians Seek Shelter and Survival

A recent article in the New York Times reports that the approaching rainy season in Haiti is, "The hard deadline against which Haiti’s government and relief agencies in Port-au-Prince are racing as they try to solve a paralyzing riddle: how to shelter more than a million displaced people in a densely crowded country that has no good place to put them."

According to the Lawrence Downes, writing in the Times, Haiti has three choices:
1. Let people stay in filthy, fragile settlements where no one wants to live, and pray when the hurricanes hit.
2. Build sturdy transitional housing in places like Jérémie, in the southwest, that can absorb the capital’s overflow.
3. Encourage people to return to neighborhoods that are clogged with rubble and will be for years, where the smell of death persists...
In Downes' calculation, the first choice is the worst possible option, and the second is not possible (or at least years away), leaving only the third, which he refers to as "merely absurd."

Into this ongoing disaster, profiteers continue to seek ways to exploit this devastated country. As Bill Quigley has noted, Miami is hosting a conference this week where "private military and security companies [will] showcase their services to governments and non-governmental organizations working in the earthquake devastated country."

It has also been widely reported that the makers of the famous "poison trailers" that caused such harm on the Gulf Coast after Katrina are seeking to send their trailers to Haiti. "Trailer manufacturers see Haiti's disaster as an opportunity to unload used FEMA trailers that threaten to create a glut of cheap, used trailers on the US market," reports a recent editorial in the Times-Picayune, which adds that the trailers are "not deemed an acceptable health risk for US citizens, and it's offensive to suggest that the health of Haitians matters less."

Activists in New Orleans witnessed not only the effects of the toxic trailers but also the pattern of attempts to profit disguised as aid. "Why on earth would we want to export something that we know wont work?" asks Louisiana Justice Institute co-director Tracie Washington.

Housing will certainly be a continuing need in Haiti and this situation needs real answers, not more Shock Doctrine. It was exactly for these reasons that Louisiana Justice Institute and others started the Louisiana/Haiti Sustainable Village Project.

This coalition of more than 40 disaster recovery and urban infrastructure professionals - co-convened by LJI's Jacques Morial - is working to build an emergency village in Haiti that will provide housing, infrastructure and other services that constitute communities rather than camps. With major involvement of New Orleans residents, supporters and rebuilders, the Louisiana/Haiti Sustainable Village Project is laying the foundation for a model for recovery. We have learned the lessons of Katrina, and we seek to work for the accountable reconstruction that New Orleans never had. This effort seeks to support the Haitians in leading their own recovery.

The Project has already sent 100,000 cubic tons of donated medical supplies, tents, household goods, and food to the port of Jacmel. Previous to that, they airlifted more than six tons of medical supplies to medical teams in Jacmel and La Vallee de Jacmel in Haiti and they are preparing to send a second barge and more recovery experts.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Local Outrage at New Orleans Music Magazine Over Racially Insensitive Cover

Local music magazine OffBeat has stirred anger and outrage with it's new cover, which features a photo of members of a white rock band hanging in the air, next to the headline Strange Fruit.

OffBeat has pulled the picture from their website and issued the following statement today:
We’ve heard from many of you about our cover text for the March issue, and if we had the chance to do it again, we’d go in a different direction. In retrospect, it was ill-chosen and we apologize to those who are offended by it...We didn’t realize the phrase “strange fruit” has the same power in 2010 that it did when lynching was a more contemporary threat...

We profoundly regret our thoughtlessness and insensitivity, but we believe our history of coverage demonstrates our concern for race-related issues and we are saddened by those who would extrapolate this to speak to our character. The context of the cover text next to an indie rock band suggests that we’re not using the phrase in a threatening way, and we believe our mission covering music borne out of slavery suggests that we don’t take the issues connected with it—including hate crimes—lightly. We believed that in 2010, the phrase “strange fruit” could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter. This was an error in judgment for which we apologize.
Many community members have said that the apology doesn't go far enough. Takema Robinson, commenting on OffBeat's facebook page, writes,
The cover was Racist not insensitive. There is no way that a Southern Music magazine does not understand the history of lynching and Billie Holiday's lyrics. This does not make this magazine racist, but calling this cover anything less is an offense in and of itself. It's just hard to believe that this magazine cover passed so many eyes on its way to print and that no one on the Offbeat staff pulled the emergency break! Given that this is the case, I recommend immediate anti-racism training for all involved including the editor-in-chief. The pain this inflicts is way to deep for just an apology. A lesson needs to be learned.
Local Blogger Emilie Staat writes,
“Strange Fruit” is a famous song that immediately invokes a powerful, horrifying image of lynched black bodies hanging from trees–strange fruit. An image that your cover visual seems to mock, with the six white guys smilingly hanging from monkey bars/jungle gym. I can see no reason or intention for the title to be paired with this article except to incite response. Yet, it seems you expect to get off the hook (off the tree, offBeat?) with nothing more than a limp Twitter apology. Back to business as usual? If your audience knows what “Strange Fruit” refers to (and what serious Southern musician or listener wouldn’t?), the juxtaposed image can only offend. If your audience doesn’t know the song or its context, the headline wouldn’t grab their attention or make any sense, in which case, it simply fails.
Responding to Staat, one of many bloggers that have carried this story, OffBeat’s publisher and editor Jan Ramsey writes:
Being accused of being racist is blowing this faux pas so out of proportion, it’s ridiculous. I resent OffBeat being labeled as racist by anyone. It’s obvious to me that you’re getting a big kick our of keeping this bullshit going. Ah, the venality of our public. For 23 years, I’ve busted my butt trying to create someting positive about local music in OffBeat…dismissing what we’ve done with a quickie label of racism is taking a lot for granted and is just plain stupid when you consider 23 years of work...Our “black eye” (oops, was that racist?) is certainly generating more traffic for your blog, now isn’t it? Why don’t you let us apologize and get on with your blog?
This controversy over OffBeat's cover comes during the same week that students in California held mass protests over racist incidents at University of California, San Diego, including a "Compton Cookout," mocking Black history month. Clearly, the argument over what is racist and what is an "unfortunate mistake" is not over. We believe OffBeat needs to do some more thinking about their response to this controversy.

Time for a US Revolution: Fifteen Reasons, By Bill Quigley

It is time for a revolution. Government does not work for regular people. It appears to work quite well for big corporations, banks, insurance companies, military contractors, lobbyists, and for the rich and powerful. But it does not work for people.

The 1776 Declaration of Independence stated that when a long train of abuses by those in power evidence a design to reduce the rights of people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is the people's right, in fact their duty, to engage in a revolution.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said forty three years ago next month that it was time for a radical revolution of values in the United States. He preached “a true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.” It is
clearer than ever that now is the time for radical change.

Look at what our current system has brought us and ask if it is time for a revolution.

Over 2.8 million people lost their homes in 2009 to foreclosure or bank repossessions – nearly 8,000 each day – higher numbers than the last two years when millions of others also lost their homes. At the same time, the government bailed out Bank of America, Citigroup, AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the auto industry and enacted the troubled asset (TARP) program with $1.7 trillion of our money.

Wall Street then awarded itself over $20 billion in bonuses in 2009 alone, an average bonus on top of pay of $123,000.

At the same time, over 17 million people are jobless right now. Millions more are working part-time when they want and need to be working full-time.

Yet the current system allows one single U.S. Senator to stop unemployment and Medicare benefits being paid to millions.

There are now 35 registered lobbyists in Washington DC for every single member of the Senate and House of Representatives: 13,739 in 2009. There are eight lobbyists for every member of Congress working on the health care fiasco alone.

At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that corporations now have a constitutional right to interfere with elections by pouring money into races.

The Department of Justice gave a get out of jail free card to its own lawyers who authorized illegal torture.

Another department of government, the Pentagon, is prosecuting Navy SEALS for punching an Iraqi suspect.

The US is not only involved in senseless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. now maintains 700 military bases world-wide and another 6000 in the US and our territories. Young men and women join the military to protect the U.S. and to get college tuition and healthcare coverage, and are killed and maimed by being placed in elective wars and used as the world’s police. Wonder whose assets they are protecting and serving?

In fact, the U.S. spends $700 billion directly on military per year, half the military spending of the entire world – much more than Europe, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, and Venezuela - combined.

The government and private companies have dramatically increased surveillance of people through cameras on public streets and private places, airport searches, phone intercepts, access to personal computers, and compilation of records from credit card purchases, computer views of sites, and travel.

The number of people in jails and prisons in the U.S. has risen sevenfold since 1970 to over 2.3 million. The US puts a higher percentage of our people in jail than any other country in the world.

The tea party people are mad at the Republicans, who they accuse of selling them out to big businesses.

Democrats are working their way past depression to anger because their party, despite majorities in the House and Senate, has not made significant advances for immigrants, or women, or unions, or African Americans, or environmentalists, or gays and lesbians, or civil libertarians, or people dedicated to health care, or human rights, or jobs or housing or economic
justice. Democrats also think their party is selling out to big business.

Forty three years ago next month, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached in Riverside Church in New York City that “a time comes when silence is betrayal.” He went on to condemn the Vietnam War and the system which created it and the other injustices clearly apparent. “We as a
nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

It is time.

Bill is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be reached at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

LJI Guest Columnist: Parnell Herbert on Police Accountability

As I sit in my apartment in Houston TX . I viewed a New Orleans news channel online and thought, "How pathetic. Will times never change?"

They are still using the same old strategies on us and we are still falling for them. "Civil Rights Leaders protest." The police assault on innocent civilians on the Danziger Bridge who were guilty of nothing more then trying to survive is the story I was drawn to.

"When Black people get angry, they call out the Safe Negroes to calm us down."

Several years ago I was in New Orleans after NOPD officers murdered mentally challenged Anthony Hayes on St Charles Ave. I was invited to join a group of "Civil Rights Leaders" to meet with Police Chief Warren Riley and high ranking officers of New Orleans police force.

After two hours of rhetorical discussion we left the meeting and met with the media who were anxiously waiting outside. Basically we said, "We told them not to do it again, and they said OK."

I was home New Years of 2009 when NOPD officers murdered a young man who was sitting in a car in front of his Grandmothers home. I watched the TV news as some of these same "Civil Rights Leaders" emerged from a meeting with Chief Riley and said, "We told them don't do it again, and they said OK."

On the Tuesday evening news, again many of the same "Civil Rights Leaders" held a press conference to denounce the actions of NOPD in the Danziger case.

What do you accomplish by denouncing a case where you have a confession? Where were they in 2005 when it occurred? That may be an unfair question because they were possibly dispersed throughout the country as many of us were. But a fair question is: "Where were they when New Orleans first Black District Attorney, Eddie Jordan, was being publicly lynched for bringing indictments against these same cops on this same case?"

I watched as they shouted into the microphones in front of the TV cameras expressing their outrage. Their "Call for justice and equality," their "Demand for change, change with police training and the way these investigations are handled," their plea for the incoming mayor to make choices that will prevent this from happening again.

I watched as incoming mayor Mitch Landrieu vowed to make sure we have a police force that is "Well resourced and well protect and to serve."

I was drawn to a term that we used often back in the 60's: "Talking loud and saying nothing!" That is the rhetoric I hear from the city.

The only way to demand and receive change is to reopen past cases of police abuse and murder beginning with the young brother on New Years morning; Anthony Hayes on St. Charles Ave; Raymond Robair on Villere St; Joe Williams of the Hot 8 Brass Band, Jenard Thomas murdered in front of his father.

Ask your readers to add to this list then go to City Councilman James Carter , State Representative Cedric Richmond of the Judiciary Commitee; Congressman John Conyers, Chairman of the Federal Judiciary Commitee; and Attorney General Eric Holder. And let us not forget Federal Investigator Jim Letten and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

We must also hold accountable Coroner Frank Minyard and his investigations and decisions in many of these cases. Accountability is the key. When police are shown that they can no longer get away with murder, they will discontinue the practice. The people of New Orleans are in a position to cause positive change throughout the United States.

These demands must be made publicly, they must be made loudly and they must be made clearly.

Just after I wrote about the police murder of Raymond Robair I found a new news story on the case: The FBI made a big deal about investigating that case and came up with the same cover up scenario. Business as usual.

Come on, Black people, stand up!!! We have to strike while the iron is hot. Google "Raymond Robair New Orleans " Don't sleep through this one.

Parnell Herbert is a New Orleanian, displaced to Houston by Hurricane Katrina. He is active on many social justice causes, including the right of return for New Orleanians, and freedom for the Angola Three. His new play, Angola Three, was recently performed in New Orleans.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

LJI Community Profile: Reverend Samson "Skip" Alexander

Speaking in front of an enraptured audience yesterday at the Carrollton Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, New Orleans civil rights leader Reverend Samson "Skip" Alexander presented a first-hand perspective of the civil rights movement. Showing personal photographs of legendary figures and historic moments, Reverend Alexander called the talk Eyewitness to History.

Samson's personal history began with a fifteen year old girl from Gert Town who's life was in danger from giving birth to a fifteen pound baby. Doctors didn't think both the girl and baby could live. But they did: the child grew up to be Reverend Alexander, and his mother lived into her 80s.

"You have to know your history," said the reverend, in a discussion that ranged from the Missouri Compromise to the story of the Scottsboro Boys, to a debate he once engaged in with the rapper Juvenile. Talking about the Scottsboro case, Reverend Alexander expressed the importance of doing your own research, saying, "Things like that were not listed in the Times Pick-On-You."

Reverend Alexander also described some of the inspiring figures he has met, from Louis Armstrong to national and local civil rights leaders. He discussed desegregation struggles in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the fight over the burial place of Louisiana's Black governor P.B.S. Pinchback, who remains buried in Metairie Cemetery, which had been previously reserved for whites only.

Reverend Alexander passionately recounted the importance of the struggles for freedom that made up the civil rights movement, and the very real dangers Black folks lived with during Jim Crow. "When you didn't have the law on your side, you didn't have anything," said Alexander. Black people at this time were not free to travel even small distances, he said. "Going to Baton Rouge might cost you your life. The Klan might run you off the road."

Discussing the period of Jim Crow segregation, Reverend Alexander highlighted the fact that Black New Orleanians owned more businesses then and in many ways had more economic opportunities. "In segregation, we didn't know anything else," he said. "And we got along quite well." The civil rights movement was a movement for political and economic freedom, but in many ways the economic side of the battle remains to be fought.

Reverend Alexander was also a leader of the Memphis Sanitation Strike, and worked with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. "We lived in struggle, but kept our eyes on the prize," he said, describing his time organizing for civil rights. "No one gave us freedom. We earned our place."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mercenaries Circling Haiti By Bill Quigley

On March 9 and 10, there will be a Haiti conference in Miami for private military and security companies to showcase their services to governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the earthquake devastated country.

On their website for the Haiti conference, the trade group IPOA (ironically called the International Peace Operations Association until recently) lists eleven companies advertising security services explicitly for Haiti. Even though guns are illegal to buy or sell in Haiti, many companies brag of their heavy duty military experience.

Triple Canopy, a private military company with extensive security operations in Iraq and Israel, is advertising for business in Haiti. According to human rights activist and investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, Triple Canopy took over the Xe/Blackwater security contract in Iraq in 2009. Scahill reports on a number of bloody incidents involving Triple Canopy including one where a team leader told his group, “I want to kill somebody today…because I am going on vacation tomorrow.”

Another company seeking work is EODT Technology which promises in its ad that its personnel are licensed to carry weapons in Haiti. EODT has worked in Afghanistan since 2004 and provides security for the Canadian Embassy in South Africa. On their website they promise a wide range of security services including force protection, guard services, port security, surveillance, and counter IED response services.

A retired CIA special operations officer founded another company, Overseas Security & Strategic Information, also advertising with IPOA for security business in Haiti. The company website says they have a “cadre of US personnel” who served in Special Forces, Delta Force and SEALS and they state many of their security personnel are former South African military and police.

Patrick Elie, the former Minister of Defence in Haiti, told Anthony Fenton of the Inter Press Service that “these guys are like vultures coming to grab the loot over this disaster, and probably money that might have been injected into the Haitian economy is just going to be grabbed by these companies and I’m sure they are not the only these mercenary companies but also other companies like Haliburton or these other ones that always come on the heels of the troops.”

Naomi Klein, world-renowned author of The Shock Doctrine, has criticized the militarization of the response to the earthquake and the presence of “disaster capitalists” swooping into Haiti. The high priority placed on security by the U.S. and NGOs is wrong, she told Newsweek. “Aid should be prioritized over security. Any aid agency that’s afraid of Haitians should get out of Haiti.”

Security is a necessity for the development of human rights. But outsourcing security to private military contractors has not proven beneficial in the U.S. or any other country. Recently, US Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL) and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) introduced bills titled “Stop Outsourcing Security” to phase out private military contractors in response to the many reports of waste, fraud and human rights abuse.

Human rights organizations have long challenged the growth in private security contractors in part because governments have failed to establish effective systems for requiring them to be transparent and for holding them accountable.

It is challenging enough to hold government accountable. The privatization of a public service like security gives government protection to private corporations which are also difficult to hold accountable. The combination is doubly difficult to regulate

The U.S. has prosecuted hardly any of the human rights abuses reported against private military contractors. Amnesty International has reviewed the code of conduct adopted by the IPOA and found it inadequate in which compliance with international human rights standards are not adequately addressed.

This is yet another example of what the world saw after Katrina. Private security forces, including Blackwater, also descended on the U.S. gulf coast after Katrina grabbing millions of dollars in contracts.

Contractors like these soak up much needed money which could instead go for job creation or humanitarian and rebuilding assistance. Haiti certainly does not need this kind of U.S. business.

In a final bit of irony, the IPOA, according to the Institute for Southern Studies, promises that all profits from the event will be donated to the Clinton-Bush Haiti relief fund.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a long-time human rights advocate in Haiti. He can be reached at