Friday, April 30, 2010

Fire on the Bayou: Non-Stop River of Oil Heads to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, By Bill Quigley

The Coast Guard estimates 5000 barrels of crude oil a day, 210,000 gallons a day, are pouring out of a damaged British Petroleum (BP) well in the Gulf of Mexico since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. Eleven people died in the explosion. The oil rig burned and sank. The exploratory well, which is 50 miles away from the coast, continues to powerfully disgorge oil from the bottom of the 5000 feet deep surface of the Gulf.

Oil has now reached the Louisiana coast. The Associated Press (AP) reported there is an oil slick 130 miles long and 70 miles wide in the Gulf of Mexico. Birds covered in thick black oil have already been recovered. Efforts to stop the oil have not proven effective. The AP reports the oil is expected to reach Mississippi on Saturday, Alabama in two days and Florida in three.

Late Friday afternoon, the Mobile Press Register reported a confidential government report prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Ops concluded that if the pipe on the Gulf floor “deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.” An uncontrolled release of oil “could become an unchecked gusher shooting millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.”

Plans to set parts of the Gulf on fire have been pushed back by bad weather. The unprecedented idea was to burn up the oil spill before it reached land. “This is a great tool,” promised a BP representative.

In response, one long-time Louisiana resident said, “You know you’re in very serious trouble when the solution is for BP and the feds to set the Gulf on fire.”

Worst hit in Louisiana are the coastal areas of Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes – just now limping back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

On Friday afternoon, federal and state officials held a joint press conference in Louisiana. Curiously, they held their conference with BP representatives. Officials characterized the situation as dangerous and unprecedented. Government representatives said they were pushing BP to increase its efforts to stop the oil because current efforts have not been effective. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano flatly acknowledged that the US is working closely with BP.

BP has caused a lot of trouble lately. The Pulitzer Prize winning news site Pro Publica reported BP “has found itself at the center of several of the nation’s worst oil and gas-related disasters in recent years.” BP recently plead guilty to federal felony charges related to a massive explosion in Texas where investigators found ignored safety rules and a disabled warning system. BP is also accused of responsibility for several recent spills in Alaska.

Why then would federal and state officials hold a joint press conference with BP, given the multinational corporation’s role in the unfolding disaster? Perhaps the reason was hinted at by a comment from the Secretary of the Interior in which he cautioned that the U.S. depends heavily on oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. Even though the White House protested that the oil spill is not President Obama’s Katrina, a public partnership between the perpetrator BP and the government certainly has the potential to become a “Katrina moment.”

Louisiana is trying to deploy 6000 members of the National Guard. Air Force planes have been called in to spray chemicals on the oil. National Guard soldiers in Louisiana are currently “engaged in the planning of the effort to evacuate and provide security and clean up for the coastal communities expected to be impacted by the spill.” They are also planning for the protection of medical facilities, fuel distribution, interstate highways, and power facilities.

Louisiana has already started setting up its shelter program for people with special needs who may have to be evacuated because of concerns about air quality.

Official states of emergency have already been declared along the coasts in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Along the Louisiana coast, people fear the loss of the fishing industry. In New Orleans people worry about air quality.

Thousands of pelicans, herons, egrets, ibis, frigate birds, and rarities like grebes and albatrosses are at risk from the river of oil. Dolphins are birthing at this time so their offspring are at risk. Shrimp and oyster fishing grounds are being closed.

Air quality for humans is another serious issue. The New Orleans area, home to hundreds of thousands, has already been blanketed by a chemical odor.

The head of the Louisiana State Health Department Jimmy Guidry said the smell is an irritant, affecting people with lung conditions and asthma. He said it is normal for the smell to arrive before air quality checks could detect anything harmful. Officials with the Louisiana Health and Hospitals and Environmental Quality said changes in air quality can cause nausea, vomiting or headaches for people who are sensitive. Air sampling was started by the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday and water sampling started Friday. No reports have been made public so far.

Governor Jindal has asked that the feds declare a commercial fisheries failure for Louisiana. The state supplies about one-third of the seafood harvested in the lower 48 states – about $2.85 billion worth a year. Louisiana has put price gouging laws into effect forbidding the raising of prices on gasoline, petroleum products, hotels, motels, and retailers.

Jindal told the press Thursday that he has asked several times for a detailed plan of how Coast Guard plans to handle the situation, but he has “not seen a quantifiable plan.”

In an ominous note, lawmakers, according to USA Today, say they have been told that not only is light crude headed towards the coast, but so too is heavy asphaltic oil.

“This isn’t a spill. This isn’t a storage tank or a ship with a finite amount of oil that has boundaries. This is much, much worse,” said Kerry St. Pe, the former head of the Louisiana oil spill response team. The Gulf spill is really a river of oil flowing out of the bottom of the Gulf according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

In 1975, the New Orleans group, The Meters, released their album Fire on the Bayou. The album cover featured an apocalyptic orange and yellow painting of a bayou ablaze. In 2010 the idea of a fire on the bayou may well be coming true.

Bill is Legal director of the center for Constitutional Rights and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans. His email is

Not Just Arizona: Immigration Enforcement Out of Control on Federal Level, By Bill Quigley

While people protest the terrible Arizona state law that uses local law enforcement to target immigrants, the federal government is expanding its efforts to use local law enforcement in immigration enforcement and has launched a major PR campaign to defend it.

One example of the out of control federal program occurred last week in Maryland. Florinda Lorenzo-Desimilian, a 26 year old married mother of three, lives in Prince George’s County Maryland. Last week she was arrested in her home by local police on a misdemeanor charge of selling $2 phone cards out of her apartment window without a license.

Ms. Lorenzo-Desimilian was booked at the county jail. During booking, she was fingerprinted. Local police sent her prints to the FBI who in turn notified ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that she had overstayed her work visa. Even though her three children are U.S. citizens, ICE kept her in jail for two days and is now trying to deport her.

This is the result of a federal ICE and Homeland Security program called “Secure Communities” which is supposed to be targeting violent criminals. Instead, this program is really operating a dragnet scooping up and deporting tens of thousands of immigrants, like Ms. Lorenzo Desimilian, who are no security risk to anyone.

Congress provided funding to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security in 2008 to “identify aliens convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment, who may be deportable, and remove them from the US once they are judged deportable.”

ICE says this program “supports public safety by strengthening efforts to identify and remove the most dangerous criminal aliens from the United States.”

However, ICE is not actually targeting convicted criminal aliens, dangerous aliens, or even violent aliens. They are targeting everyone.

ICE, through Secure Communities contracts with local law enforcement offices, runs every accused person’s fingerprints through multiple databases regardless how minor the charges. Thus, people like Ms. Lorenzo-Desimilian are subject to ICE investigation, detention and deportation.

Monday, forty-five people protested with the human rights organization CASA Maryland against the ICE actions aimed at Ms. Lorenzo-Desimilian. Maryland State Representative Del Victor Ramirez challenged the Secure Communities sweeps in a statement to the Maryland Gazette. “She’s not a threat. Should you really be deporting a nonviolent mother of three? There are much bigger problems we could be using our resources for.”

This ICE program is now operating in 165 jurisdictions in 20 states and aims to be in partnership with every local law enforcement office in the country in a few years. ICE admits that in its first one year period almost one million people were fingerprinted under this program. About one percent, or 11,000 people, were identified as immigrants arrested – arrested not convicted - for major crimes. Most of the people deported by ICE were picked up for minor or traffic charges and not violent crimes. As the Washington Post revealed in March, ICE has explicit internal goals to remove 150,000 immigrants through the “criminal alien removals” and to deport 250,000 others this year.

Basic information about the ICE Secure Communities program has never seen the light of day. Questions like what are the error rates, what is the cost, how is oversight done, what about accountability for racial profiling and other questions have not been publicly disclosed. That is why the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic of Benjamin Cardozo School of Law filed a federal Freedom of Information Act case against ICE and others this week.

Protests aimed at the Secure Communities programs have occurred this week in Houston, Washington DC, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Raleigh, San Bernardino, and Maryland. Critics say the program makes the public less safe not more because it effectively blurs the role between local law enforcement and ICE agents seeking to deport immigrants. Protestors challenge the program deports people before they are even found guilty of committing a crime or even if the
arrest was illegal or later dropped. They seek a moratorium on all ICE-local law enforcement partnerships until basic facts about the program are disclosed, debated and evaluated. They created a website of information at

ICE responded to these protests with a six page internal media plan which included targeted op-eds in “major newspapers in the right cities where protests are planned.” The ICE media memo indicated it also arranged ICE interviews with the New York Times, the Associated Press, La Opinion, Telemundo and the BBC.

Regional ICE offices were directed to “reach out to English and Spanish language reporters initially in the eight cities where protests are planned Monday, April 23, to discuss the program and highlight its successes in that local area.” The ICE memo listed sound bites and talking points including “Secure Communities is not about immigration. It’s about information
sharing with local law enforcement…”

The ICE media plan also states incredibly, on page five, “To date, ICE has not received any complaints of racial profiling.” That would be real news to people across the country including Ms. Lorenzo-Similian and CASA Maryland.

As the Arizona experience shows us, combining local law enforcement and federal immigration can prove to be quite toxic. Perhaps if ICE would stop spending money on PR to defend its lack of transparency and spend it instead on sharing information about the program so it could be fairly evaluated, the public would be better served.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. His email is

Thursday, April 29, 2010

LJI Guest Column: Sodexo Workers on Tulane and Loyola’s Campuses Walk out of Work to Protest Unfair Labor Practices, By Lauren Elliott & Brian Ford

On Friday, April 23, the 50 out of 54 workers scheduled to work in Tulane University’s cafeteria Bruff Commons walked out of work to protest unfair labor practices committed by their employer, Sodexo Inc. Tulane University and Loyola contract Sodexo Inc, an international corporation, to provide all food service on campus in order to cut costs for the University. Sodexo achieves this goal by undercutting the workers’ wages and benefits in the race to bottom. In an effort to achieve bargaining power with their employer, workers have been organizing with the union SEIU’s local chapter since last fall. Very quickly those involved with the organizing began to face illegal intimidation and threats from management on both Tulane and Loyola’s campus. Sodexo workers on Xavier and Dillard's campus are unionized with SEIU and have seen improved working conditions since their organization.

The main complaints from the workers regarding working conditions are a total lack of respect from management (one woman has been working for Tulane food service for 40 years and must ask permission to go to the restroom), inadequate healthcare benefits (for most employees the healthcare plan provided would cost two weeks of their salary), and poverty wages (many Sodexo workers are paid under $9 hourly while the federal government reports living wage in New Orleans as $9.68 hourly for one individual). Many workers have waited over a year for raises, only to receive a raise of $0.20 or less while others who have worked on Tulane’s campus for more than 3 decades work for $9.50 per hour and without healthcare. Many were hired being told they could rise to management, only to realize they would be unable to do so because Sodexo would never provide training - they prefer to hire outside management. Many others were hired with the promise of full-time employment only to receive part time hours.

This walk-out was a large and loud public outcry against the injustices of Sodexo. For the first time, the Tulane and Loyola Sodexo workers seized opportunity to be public, vocal, and united. Prior to the walk-out only a few workers had come out publicly with their stories at student organized rallies and at city council hearing on April 13 because of the intimidation they experienced on the job. Most feared that if they went public with their support of a union they would face retaliation from management. The day of the strike they stood at the picket line and said, "Look at us, we are human!" to their managers as they walked by. After months of silence and fear, the workers were able to find courage in each other that day and the community of support around them, collectively demanding that management see them, hear them, and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve as humans. The first worker back on the job on Saturday told me that his manager said "Good Morning" to him for the first time ever. Their strength in solidarity was felt that day.

For more worker testimonials and information about the student campaign to pressure Tulane University and President Cowen to live up to its image as a socially responsible university, go to

Lauren Elliott and Brian Ford are seniors at Tulane and members of the Tulane University Solidarity Committee.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

LJI Guest Column: Standing up for Worker's Rights, By Ted Quant

May 1st is International Labor Day, also called May Day. I will be celebrating May Day at a rally and second line sponsored by the Congress of Day Labors that will also be raising the demand for the passage of a city ordinance making wage theft a crime in New Orleans.

I urge you to join me on May 1st, in the common cause of human rights and worker solidarity, starting at 11:30am at Armstrong Park.

May 1st is a day of international working class solidarity. It was born in the United States on May 1st, 1886, when more than 300,000 workers across the United States walked off their jobs to demand the 8-hour day. It spread from the United States around the world and eventually won the 8-hour day in country after country.

We don't have to look around the world for international working class solidarity. Globalization and the Katrina disaster have placed the international working class in our city. This new reality is creating for us both a threat and opportunity. The threat is that we will blame and victimize immigrants for the lack of jobs and low wages, instead of uniting in a fight for our shared need for jobs, peace and justice in our community and in the world.

May 1st is a day to seize this opportunity and to begin building the solidarity we need for the challenges ahead. The old slogans, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” and “solidarity forever” are as true now as they ever were. Let us unite on this International Labor Day and make the first concrete act of solidarity be a united effort to pass the city ordinance making wage theft a crime in New Orleans. People of every race and ethnicity are impacted by wage theft in New Orleans. Also honest businesses that pay their workers their just wages are undermined by the competition with the criminal businesses that steal from their workers. This is truly a case where, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Ted Quant is the director of the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice, based at Loyola University in New Orleans. The Twomey Center seeks to shape social justice consciousness through education, and to take action on critical social problems confronting society.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thirty San Antonio Social Justice Activists Come to New Orleans for Free Speech Fight

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is a 24-year-old non-profit social justice and cultural arts organization in San Antonio, Texas. For the last three years, they have been fighting against an unjust ordinance in their city that requires organizers of street marches to pay up to tens of thousands of dollars for political marches and cultural processions in the public streets, effectively silencing protests and cutting off community access to the downtown streets.

The City of San Antonio requires some marching permit applicants to pay thousands of dollars for traffic control while waiving all costs for permit holders whose message is endorsed by City officials. In the next few weeks, the City of San Antonio will send the International Woman’s Day March Planning Committee a bill that the San Antonio Police Department has estimated will be somewhere between $1,500 and $7,500.

Here in New Orleans, we are familiar with these struggles, having faced similar post-Katrina attempts by the New Orleans Police Department to impose fines that would have made many Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs have to shut down their parades.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit against the City of San Antonio on behalf of the San Antonio International Woman’s Day March Planning Committee and the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition. The lawsuit is scheduled for Oral Argument in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on this Tuesday, April 27th, at 1pm. Thirty San Antonio activists and community members have come to New Orleans by bus to meet with social justice activists here and build solidarity across our movements. They hope New Orleanians will join them for their day in court, as well as various other community events while they are here,

“It is good news that the Court set the case for oral argument, because the City opposed our oral argument request, and a case is set for oral argument only when the Court determines that the case presents substantial legal issues,” writes attorney Amy Kastely in a recent issue of La Voz de Esperanza. “Less than 12% of the cases filed with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals are set for oral argument,” continues Kastely.

On Monday, April 26th, the folks from Esperanza are planning to spend the day in solidarity visits with a wide range of local community organizations to learn about organizing going on in New Orleans. The agenda for the day has been coordinated by Viola Washington of New Orleans' Welfare Rights Organization.

On Monday night, the Esperanza Center invites you to join them for a get together and dinner at the Community Book Center, at 2523 Bayou Road, at 6pm. According to organizers, "We hope that this will be a chance to break bread together, to learn about and share stories about local community organizing work in San Antonio and New Orleans, and to get to know one another on a personal level. We will also be bringing some music and foods to represent the culture of San Antonio. We invite you to bring music, poetry, performance, etc. to share the stories and culture of the people of New Orleans."

You can read more about the case at

The Community Book Center can be reached at 504-948-7323. To reach Esperanza, call Amanda Haas or Graciela Sanchez at (210) 228-0201 or (210) 667-5695.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Victims of Police Brutality and Community Leaders Demand US Justice Department widen its Probe of NOPD

A newly formed coalition, Community United for Change, will be holding a picket line and press conference to announce their demand to US Attorney General Eric Holder and the US Justice Department to widen their present investigation of the NOPD to include all instances of police violence, abuse and murder over the past 30 years.

* When: Tuesday April 20, @ 11:00 am
* Where: 600 Camp Street
* Who: Community United for Change

"We don't want the investigation to look at just 8 instances of abuse. We believe there are scores of victims in our community and scores of murderers and abusers on the NOPD" said Peggy Williams. Family members of victims who have received no relief on the local level will join with families who are currently included in the 8 cases being investigated. Together they will add their voices to demand an enlarged probe.

The Assistant US Attorney Perez stated that the New Orleans Police department is suffering from a "Crisis of Confidence", He continued by saying, "I'm very, very disturbed by the allegation we're investigating . . . We certainly intend to use every law enforcement tool at our disposal to ensure that wrongdoing is uncovered and that in the long-term systems are put into place to prevent these problems from happening".

Organizers of of CUC said that they "are holding Perez to his words by demanding that an enlargement of the federal investigation be given to all acts of deprivation by the NOPD."

They also will announce the convening of a public hearing to be held at 6pm, Thursday, April 22 at St. James AME Fellowship Hall on 219 N. Derbigny Street. The public hearing will take testimony from victims, witnesses and family members of the deceased to present to the US Justice Department in support of our demand to widen the probe.

New Report: Excessive Punishment of Minor, Subjective Offenses Results in Racial Disparities

From Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children:

Louisiana's Rate of Suspensions and Expulsions Found to be Far Above National Rate
Excessive Punishment of Minor, Subjective Offenses Results in Racial Disparities

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) are joining today with education advocates, parents, and students on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol Building to release “Pushed Out: Harsh Discipline in Louisiana Schools Denies the Right to Education.”

According to the report, Louisiana’s expulsion rate is five times the national rate, nearly 16,000 middle and high school students drop out each year, and public schools in the state dole out over 300,000 out-of-school suspensions a year. Within the state-run Recovery School District direct operated schools, the expulsion rate is ten times the national rate and 1 in every 4 students was suspended in a single year, twice the statewide rate and over four times the national rate

State law, as currently written, contributes to the problem, allowing principals to suspend students for a wide range of minor misbehavior, including “willful disobedience,” disrespecting school staff, and using “unchaste or profane language.” For many public school students and parents, these figures merely reflect what they already know to be true from experience. Working in her community, Ashana Bigard hears these stories repeatedly. “Two middle school students asked why students at their school get suspended for wearing the wrong color undershirt underneath their uniform shirt and for wearing the wrong color socks. They expressed their concerns about being suspended for such minor infractions and then missing school and falling behind.

Moreover, the overuse of harsh discipline disproportionately affects some Louisiana school children over others. African American students make up 44% of the statewide public school population, but 68% of suspensions and 72.5% of expulsions. And in school districts with a larger percentage of African American and low-income students, there are higher rates of suspension and expulsion. These districts tend to have fewer resources for positive interventions.

“Pushed Out” makes specific recommendations to change the trend, such as abandoning zero tolerance policies and implementing Positive Behavior Support approaches which, where implemented, have led to a 50% drop in suspensions and violent acts and large increases in academic performance. The report gives specific recommendations to Louisiana state government for how to reduce the number of children who are pushed out of school and thereby lose their right to an education.

The report’s findings support two bills filed this legislative session, SB 628 introduced by Senator Ann Duplessis, that would eliminate subjective behavior as a suspendable and expellable infraction in Louisiana; and Senator Sharon Weston Broome’s SB 527 which requires local school districts to provide training to teachers on effective classroom management techniques. Full copies of the report are available upon request.

Statewide Findings From the Report:

In Louisiana, only 65.9% of students graduate from high school in four years, and nearly 16,000 middle and high school students dropout each year.

The expulsion rate in Louisiana is five times the national rate and the out of school suspension rate is twice the national rate.

Over 86,000 students are suspended out of school, more than 90,000 are suspended in school, and over 7,000 are expelled each year.

When including multiple suspensions for the same students, there are over 300,000 out of school and in school suspensions a year which range from 1 to 5 days each. Even if the average length of suspension was only two days, this would result in over half a million lost school days each year.

State law has contributed to the overuse of suspensions and expulsions. School principals may suspend students out of school for a wide range of minor misbehavior, including “willful disobedience,” disrespecting school staff, using “unchaste or profane language.” Statewide, suspensions and expulsions for these vague and subjective offenses are applied disproportionately to students of color, students from poor communities and students with disabilities.

Schools are 2.6 times more likely to suspend and 3.2 times more likely to expel African American students than white students.

African Americans make up 44% of the statewide student population but 68% of suspensions and 72.5% of expulsions.

School districts with a larger percentage of African American students and students in poor communities utilize more punitive and exclusionary discipline policies and have higher rates of suspension and expulsion.

For instance, in RSD direct operated public schools, where 98% of students are African American and 79% low income, almost 30 percent (28.8%) of students were suspended out of school.

In St. Tammany Parish, where only 18.5% of students are African American and 45.1% low income, only 4.1% of students were suspended out of school.

Research shows that African American students are more likely to be punished for subjective offenses such as “disrespect, excessive noise and loitering,” and that schools impose more severe punishments on African American students than white students for the same infractions.

Schools increasingly involve police in disciplinary matters, resulting in arrests for problems once dealt with by educators.

The American Psychological Association’s national research demonstrates suspensions and expulsions increase likelihood of future behavior problems, academic difficulty and drop outs.

Nationally, students with multiple suspensions are three times more likely to drop out by 10th grade than students who have not been suspended. Youth who drop out of high school are three times more likely to be incarcerated.

While Louisiana spends $8,402 a year to educate one child in public school (including local, state and federal funding), the state spends $105,928 a year to incarcerate one child in a juvenile correctional facility.

New Orleans Findings From the Report:

The expulsion rate in RSD direct operated schools is ten times the national rate.

RSD direct operated schools are 98% African American and 79% low income.

In RSD direct operated schools, 1 in 4 students, are suspended out of school. This is more than twice the statewide rate in Louisiana and over four times the national rate.

Among RSD students surveyed by FFLIC, 60 percent had been suspended.

Seventy percent of those who had been suspended reported at least one of their suspensions was for minor misbehavior including 42% for disruptive or disrespectful behavior, 16% for having clothing or items prohibited by school rules, and 12% merely for being late to class or school.

Among students surveyed 40% had been recommended for expulsion.

Twenty one percent of those recommended for expulsion were sent to a juvenile facility.

Only 5% recommended for expulsion reported receiving any counseling or mediation during their expulsion.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board spent about $46 per student on school security with a student population of about 65,000. In 2006-2007, RSD spent $2,100 per student with a student population of approximately 9,500. By the 2008-2009 school year, RSD had cut their security budget by more than half, but still spent $690 per student – 15 times the pre-Katrina spending.

From September 2007 to January 2009, there were 492 school related arrests at 54 New Orleans public and charter schools. Approximately one quarter of the arrests were for minor offenses that should not involve police intervention in a school setting and in all likelihood should have been dealt with by school staff, including disturbing the peace, trespass (which often involves being on school grounds after the school day ends), truancy and school fights not categorized as Battery or Assault.

Alternatives to Overuse of Suspension and Expulsion:

Both school-wide Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) approaches and restorative practices have track records of success. Implementation of these policies in schools across the country has led to up to a 50% drop in suspensions and violent acts and large increases in academic performance.

Although mandated by the state to be used in Louisiana public schools, and mandated by the RSD in 2008 to be applied in all RSD direct operated schools, PBS approaches are not fully implemented in many school districts, including the RSD.

Zero tolerance policies sit side-by-side with these approaches, undermining their efficacy.


State government must monitor and reduce discrimination in discipline policies and practices and reduce the number of children being removed from school for non-violent and subjective behaviors. To do so:

The State Legislature should pass legislation to reverse zero-tolerance policies and reduce out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

The State Legislature should eliminate subjective infractions from state’s list of suspendable behaviors.

The State Legislature should require that districts provide classroom management training that includes techniques that reduce unnecessary suspensions and expulsions.

The State Department of Education and local school districts should implement preventive and positive approaches to discipline, including PBS approaches and restorative justice programs and best practices for the use of law enforcement in schools

Bush Insider Reveals Guantanamo Deception: Hundreds of Innocents Jailed, By Bill Quigley

Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, provided shocking new testimony from inside the Bush Administration that hundreds of the men jailed at Guantanamo were innocent, the top people in the Bush Administration knew full well they were innocent, and that information was kept from the public.

Wilkerson said President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld “indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons” and many in the administration knew it. The wrongfully held prisoners were not released because of political maneuverings aimed in part to cover up the mistakes of the administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who served in the US Army for over thirty years, signed a sworn declaration for an Oregon federal court case stating that he found out in August 2002 that the US knew that many of the prisoners at Guantanamo were not enemy combatants. Wilkerson also discussed this in a revealing and critical article on Guantanamo for the Washington Note.

How did Colonel Wilkerson first learn about the innocents in Guantanamo? In August 2002, Wilkerson, who had been working closely with Colin Powell for years, was appointed Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State. In that position, Wilkerson started attending daily classified briefings involving 50 or more senior State Department officials where Guantanamo was often discussed.

It soon became clear to him and other State Department personnel “that many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all.”

How was it possible that hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners were innocent? Wilkerson said it all started at the beginning, mostly because US forces did not capture most of the people who were sent to Guantanamo. The people who ended up in Guantanamo, said Wilkerson, were mostly turned over to the US by Afghan warlords and others who received bounties of up to $5000 per head for each person they turned in. The majority of the 742 detainees “had never seen a US soldier in the process of their initial detention.”

Military officers told Wilkerson that “many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other incentives.” The US knew “that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantanamo detainees had been turned in to US forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money.”

As a consequence, said Wilkerson “there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place.”

Wilkerson wrote that the American people have no idea of the “utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the initial stages…Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”

Why was there utter incompetence in the battlefield vetting? “This was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, the troops and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled in such vetting, and the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to ‘just get the bastards to the interrogators.’”

As a result, Wilkerson’s statement continues, “there was no meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians picked up on a very confused battlefield or in the territory of another state such as Pakistan.”

In addition, the statement points out “a separate but related problem was that often absolutely no evidence relating to the detainee was turned over, so there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place.”

“The initial group of 742 detainees had not been detained under the processes I was used to as a military officer,” Wilkerson said. “It was becoming more and more clear that many of the men were innocent, or at a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in any court of law, civilian or military. If there was any evidence, the chain of protecting it had been completely ignored.”

Several in the US leadership became aware of this early on and knew “of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released,” wrote Wilkerson.

So why did the Bush Administration not release the men from prison once it was discovered that they were not guilty? Why continue to keep innocent men in prison?

“To have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers,” wrote Wilkerson.

“They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released,” according to Wilkerson. “I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.”

The refusal to let the detainees go, even those who were likely innocent, was based on several political factors. If the US released them to another country and that country found them innocent, it would make the US look bad, said Wilkerson. “Another concern was that the detention efforts at Guantanamo would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were. Such results were not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at the Department of Defense.”

At the Department of Defense, Secretary Rumsfeld, “just refused to let detainees go” said Wilkerson.

“Another part of the political dilemma originated in the Office of Vice President Richard B. Cheney,” according to Wilkerson, “whose position could be summed up as ‘the end justifies the means’, and who had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent, or that there was a lack of useable evidence for the great majority of them. If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”

President Bush was involved in all of the decisions about the men in Guantanamo according to reports from Secretary Powell to Wilkerson. “My own view,” said Wilkerson “is that it was easy for Vice President Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because Cheney had the network within the government to do so. Moreover, by exploiting what Secretary Powell
called the President’s ‘cowboy instincts,’ Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the President’s acquiescence.”

Despite the widespread knowledge inside the Bush administration that the US continued to indefinitely detain the innocent at Guantanamo, for years the US government continued to publicly say the opposite – that people at Guantanamo were terrorists.

After these disclosures from deep within the Bush Administration, the newest issue now before the people of the US is not just whether the Bush Administration was wrong about Guantanamo but whether it was also consistently deceitful in holding hundreds of innocent men in prison to cover up their own mistakes.

Why is Colonel Wilkerson disclosing this now? He provided a sworn statement to assist the International Human Rights Clinic at Willamette University College of Law in Oregon and the Federal Public Defender who are suing US officials for the wrongful detention and torture of Adel Hassan Hamad. Hamad was a humanitarian aid worker from Sudan working in Pakistan when he was kidnapped from his apartment, tortured and shipped to Guantanamo where he was held for five years before being released.

At the end of his nine page sworn statement, Wilkerson explains his personal reasons for disclosing this damning information. “I have made a personal choice to come forward and discuss the abuses that occurred because knowledge that I served an Administration that tortured and abused those it detained at the facilities at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere and indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons has marked a low point in my professional career and I wish to make the record clear on what occurred. I am also extremely concerned that the Armed Forces of the United States, where I spent 31 years of my professional life, were deeply involved in these tragic mistakes.”

Wilkerson concluded his article on Guantanamo by issuing a challenge. “When – and if – the truths about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be revealed in the way they should be, or Congress will step up and shoulder some of the blame, or the new Obama administration will have the courage to follow through substantially on its campaign promises with respect to GITMO, torture and the like, remains indeed to be seen.”

The US rightly criticizes Iran and China for wrongfully imprisoning people. So what are we as a nation going to do now that an insider from the Bush Administration has courageously revealed the truth and the cover up about US politicians wrongfully imprisoning hundreds and not releasing them even when they knew they were innocent? Our response will tell much about our national commitment to justice for all.

Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill can be contacted at

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Are Children Killing Children in New Orleans? By Lance Hill, Ph.D

The shooting of eight people this weekend in one incident has once again set off a debate about youth violence in New Orleans. What I find troubling is that in today’s newspaper which reports this incident and several other killings, the paper also reports another police officer under investigation into the alleged police killing of a black man in the aftermath of Katrina; and it reports the awarding of a Pulitzer prize for a story on the alleged killing of nine patients, most of whom were African American, at Memorial Hospital four days after Katrina. For the past two weeks, the local news has been full of allegations of police and racist vigilantes killing innocent citizens in the wake of Katrina.

The young teenagers engaged in violence today were mere children when Katrina struck. This “Katrina Generation” lived through the some of the most degrading and inhuman treatment ever inflicted on a community in the last century. Children returned to a city with no public medical care, no systematic trauma stress care; a city where authorities closed hospitals and mental health care units; where children lived in gutted houses and attended schools where they were forced to sit on floors because they had not chairs or desks. Yet we wonder what is wrong with our children?

Isn’t the question: “What is wrong with us?”

If we dehumanize children, can we not expect that they lose a part of their humanity? When children numb themselves to their own pain, can we not expect them to numb themselves to other people’s pain? The most dangerous form of violence is the silent violence of indifference to the suffering of others.

How can we ask children to heal themselves when we cannot heal ourselves of our own inhumanity? Nearly five years after Katrina, there is still no trauma screening program in New Orleans schools.

Why are children killing children in New Orleans? Because we make killing less painful than living.

Lance Hill, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, Tulane University.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hundreds Gather at Secondline to Protest Cuts to Education and Health Care

More than 300 New Orleanians took to the streets yesterday in a spirited secondline and protest against the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, as well as call for funding and political support for education and health care.

A large contingent of students from UNO came to support the demonstration, as well as activists from the campaign to save Charity Hospital. With a variety of homemade signs and banners with messages like "We Dat Fighting Cutbacks" and "Save UNO, Save SUNO, Save Delgado," many of the protesters brought a message that linked the various struggles to save New Orleans' public sector against the broader Republican agenda of profiteering and privatization.

The demonstration began at 6:00pm at Lafayette Square, with a secondline, led by the Stooges Brass Band, to the Hilton Riverside Hotel (main site of the Republican gathering). With chants of "The say cut backs, we say fight back," the group of several hundred protesters stayed outside the Hilton for about a half hour, then marched to the nearby Brennan's Restaurant, where Governor Jindall was reportedly hosting a $10,000/plate fundraiser. From Brennan's, a smaller group marched back to the Hilton then disbanded soon after.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nine Myths about Socialism in the US, By Bill Quigley

Glenn Beck and other far right multi-millionaires are claiming that the US is hot on the path towards socialism. Part of their claim is that the US is much more generous and supportive of our working and poor people than other countries. People may wish it was so, but it is not.

As Senator Patrick Moynihan used to say “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts.”

The fact is that the US is not really all that generous to our working and poor people compared to other countries.

Consider the US in comparison to the rest of the 30 countries that join the US in making up the OECD – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These 30 countries include Canada and most comparable European countries but also include some struggling countries like Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Slovak Republic, and Turkey.

When you look at how the US compares to these 30 countries, the hot air myths about the US government going all out towards socialism sort of disappear into thin air. Here are some examples of myths that do not hold up.

Myth #1. The US government is involved in class warfare attacking the rich to lift up the poor.

There is a class war going on all right. But it is the rich against the rest of us and the rich are winning. The gap between the rich and everyone else is wider in the US than any of the 30 other countries surveyed. In fact, the top 10% in the US have a higher annual income than any other country. And the poorest 10% in the US are below the average of the other OECD countries. The rich in the U.S. have been rapidly leaving the middle class and poor behind since the 1980s.

Myth #2. The US already has the greatest health care system in the world.

Infant mortality in the US is 4th worst among OECD countries – better only than Mexico, Turkey and the Slovak Republic.

Myth #3. There is less poverty in the US than anywhere.

Child poverty in the US, at over 20% or one out of every five kids, is double the average of the 30 OECD countries.

Myth #4. The US is generous in its treatment of families with children.

The US ranks in the bottom half of countries in terms of financial benefits for families with children. Over half of the 30 OECD countries pay families with children cash benefits regardless of the income of the family. Some among those countries (e.g. Austria, France and Germany) pay additional benefits if the family is low-income, or one of the parents is unemployed.

Myth #5. The US is very supportive of its workers.

The US gives no paid leave for working mothers having children. Every single one of the other 30 OECD countries has some form of paid leave. The US ranks dead last in this. Over two thirds of the countries give some form of paid paternity leave. The US also gives no paid leave for fathers.

In fact, it is only workers in the US who have no guaranteed days of paid leave at all. Korea is the next lowest to the US and it has a minimum of 8 paid annual days of leave. Most of the other 30 countries require a minimum of 20 days of annual paid leave for their workers.

Myth #6. Poor people have more chance of becoming rich in the US than anywhere else.

Social mobility (how children move up or down the economic ladder in comparison with their parents) in earnings, wages and education tends to be easier in Australia, Canada and Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway, and Finland, than in the US. That means more of the rich stay rich and more of the poor stay poor here in the US.

Myth #7. The US spends generously on public education.

In terms of spending for public education, the US is just about average among the 30 countries of the OECD. Educational achievement of US children, however, is 7th worst in the OECD. On public spending for childcare and early education, the US is in the bottom third.

Myth #8. The US government is redistributing income from the rich to the poor.

There is little redistribution of income by government in the U.S. in part because spending on social benefits like unemployment and family benefits is so low. Of the 30 countries in the OECD, only in Korea is the impact of governmental spending lower.

Myth #9. The US generously gives foreign aid to countries across the world.

The US gives the smallest percentage of aid of any of the developed countries in the OECD. In 2007 the US was tied for last with Greece. In 2008, we were tied for last with Japan.

Despite the opinions of right wing folks, the facts say the US is not on the path towards socialism.

But if socialism means the US would go down the path of being more generous with our babies, our children, our working families, our pregnant mothers, and our sisters and brothers across the world, I think we could all appreciate it.

Bill Quigley is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. There is a version of this article with footnotes for those interested. Bill can be reached at

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Louisiana Court of Appeal Grants Continuance in Trial of Waterproof Mayor

The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals has granted an a continuance in the trial of Mayor Bobby Higginbotham of Waterproof, Louisiana.

Mayor Higginbotham requested the continuance on the first day of trial, complaining that he had just received records he had requested from the state, and had not had time to go over them, and in addition needed additional time to find a lawyer. His request was not granted, and the mayor represented himself in the opening days of the trial. Now, in an apparent victory for the mayor and his allies, the appeals court has interrupted the trial and overruled that decision.

In a decision handed down at 4:30pm today, the court said it had reviewed the minutes of the court, a transcript on of the hearing on motions for discovery, a transcript of the hearing on a motion to continue, and copies of charges. The courts decision reads,
We have now carefully reviewed all these items which include an amended indictment accepted by the trial court; we have also reviewed additional memoranda from the state and the applicant.

Based upon the foregoing review, we hereby grant the writ with regard to the motion for continuance and direct the trial court to grant a recess of the trial for a minimum of 30 days to allow the defendant an opportunity to fully review the materials provided in response to the motion for discovery and prepare a defense to the indictments charging public contract fraud and felony theft.
We will continue to watch this case as it develops.

New Orleans Social Justice Community Gathers This Weekend for the Party of the Year

This Saturday, an historic coalition of the many grassroots organizations that make up New Orleans' social justice community will come together for the party of the year: a masquerade party to fundraise for New Orleans' participation in the US Social Forum, a national gathering happening this summer in Detroit.

In January, we highlighted local organizing happening to plan for the 2010 US Social Forum, noting:

From June 22 - 26, 2010, tens of thousands of social justice activists from across the US will converge on Detroit, Michigan for the US Social Forum, a unique convening that is part of an international process aimed at increasing justice in our world. Grassroots organizers from New Orleans have been working to make sure that New Orleans is a central part of this historic event...

New Orleans organizers have been planning for the 2010 US Social Forum for several months. There is already a youth contingent organizing to make sure young voices are represented, and fundraising has already begun. Local organizations like The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond; Advocates for Environmental Human Rights; Black Men United for Change and Equality; VOTE-NOLA; and Safe Streets Strong Communities are already working on making sure the people of New Orleans are represented. To get involved, contact one of these organizations.

There is much that people from around the US can learn from New Orleans and our post-Katrina experience. On any issue - criminal justice, education, health care, privatization, housing, and the workplace - we have faced both crisis and massive changes. This process represents a chance to move our local struggles forward, and to make sure the lessons we have learned educate and inspire others.
Several hundred New Orleanians went to the last US Social Forum , in Atlanta in 2007. As a result, New Orleans' community organizations played a central role in the movement strategizing happening that weekend. But those were better economic times, and Atlanta was a lot closer. For New Orleans to continue to play this important role, grassroots fundraising efforts like this weekend's masquerade party are vital.

Also, we are sure this will be an amazing time, with an incredible group of people.

The Masquerade Party will be this Saturday, April 11, from 7:00pm - 11:00pm, at the at the African American Museum on 1418 Governor Nicholls. Organizers have also put together a raffle, with prizes including a 37 inch flat screen TV. Tickets can be purchased from Community Book Center, 2523 Bayou Road, or from many local social justice organizations.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mitch Landrieu Dismisses Critics of Police Chief Search Process

At a press conference today, Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu fired back at the former members of his police chief search team, dismissing them as "individuals who chose to take their ball and go home." The Mayor-elect did not respond to their criticisms at length, seeming to ignore the fact that many of their demands related to basic issues of transparency such as access to task force meeting minutes.

"We have seventeen members of the task force who are completely on board with what we're doing," said Landrieu, adding that the total number of members of all his search teams was more than four hundred people. "We've had four people out of four hundred say this isn't my cup of tea."

Landrieu said that the board members represented the old ways of New Orleans politics. He accused them of finger-pointing and possessing a narrow agenda, and painted their departure as sour grapes against a new mayor who is breaking with the city's old habits. "We're going to rediscipline ourselves in this city," said Landrieu.

Baty Landis, the Silence is Violence founder who was forced off the committee for making her comments public, was disappointed in Landrieu's comments. "I was hoping that he would step up today," she said. "I was hoping he'd say that he would take an active hand in the process. As it stands, it seems he's just saying everything is fine and our complaints were just an aberration."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

LJI Guest Columnist: New Orleans Youth Advocates Host Talent Show to Stop Alarming Rise of HIV/AIDS Among Teens, by Iman Shervington

As New Orleans ranks fifth in the nation among AIDS case rates and 50 percent of the new HIV infections occur among youth under 25 years old, New Orleans youth are taking a new approach to STOP this alarming trend among their peers. On Saturday, March 27th nearly 300 teens and adults participated in the “STOP Shakedown,” a talent competition of youth performances of Hip Hop, Singing, Dance, Spoken Word, Fashion, and Visual Arts focused on HIV/AIDS prevention.

The event was hosted by the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES) through their “STOP” campaign. The campaign has trained a group of fifteen youth advocates aged 14-25 years old who’ve used their voices through discussions and videos on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to speak bluntly with their peers about sex, teen relationships, HIV/STI testing, and the consequences of risky behaviors.

“The STOP Shakedown was a first for the Institute and we were highly impressed and inspired by the success of the event to bring together youth and adults around such an important message,” said Denese Shervington, MD, CEO and founder of IWES. “The fusion of performance art and HIV prevention messages is an innovative way to educate our community around a highly stigmatized issue, and we hope to continue work like this in the future. The success of this event highlights the effectiveness of using new media to reach youth where they are, through their peer networks.”

Developed and launched last December by the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES), the “STOP” campaign (Social Marketing Technology Outreach Program), has trained local youth advocates to develop a multimedia HIV risk reduction campaign. The youth use social media outlets and venue-based product placement at local health clinics, schools and businesses to spread their message and disseminate trendy safer sex kits called “STOP kits” containing condoms and a list of local sites to get free HIV testing. To date, “STOP” has reached over 2,000 youth of color in the greater New Orleans area.

In addition to the show, attendees were able to visit health and information booths about other IWES youth programs as well as from other youth-serving organizations like Job1, St. John #5 Camp ACE, and Brotherhood Incorporated.

The night opened with the screening of short films on sexual health topics from both the STOP and MAP (Media Advocates for Prevention) programs that were created by and for local youth. The competition followed and consisted of 45 youth aged 14-23 competing in 6 categories: Dance; Singing; Spoken Word; Hip Hop; Visual Art; and, Fashion. In keeping with a public health “edutainment” approach, the emcee, Mandisa Moore, engaged the audience through announcements of the project's key messages by providing youth-relevant sexual health information and HIV statistics between acts. The night concluded with music from DJ Poppa and the awarding of over $1250 in awards and door prizes.

And the Winner is….

The Grand Prize winner, Jerry Weathersby, was in the Dance category, and was recognized for his incredible homage to Michael Jackson that included a show-stopping jump from the stage onto the floor in which he landed in a split. Jonathan Moody was the winner of the Visual Art competition, for his dynamic portrayal of a young man who’s body is affected by HIV called “HIV Bound.” Other prizes were awarded to the following contestants:

Spoken Word: Sana Shuja, 1st Place; Jeremiah “Reality” Douglas, 2nd Place

Singing: Yondi Gross, 1st Place; Langston Theard, 2nd Place

Hip Hop: Jermy “Lucky Lou” Tassin, 1st Place; Aston Shields, 2nd Place

Dance: Kendall Santacruze, 2nd Place

Fashion: Jameson Warren, 1st Place; Dominique Davis, 2nd Place

Visual Art: Ashley Ware, 2nd Place; Robert Atkins, Honorable Mention

Iman Shervington is STOP Program Coordinator at the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies.

About IWES: The Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES) was founded in 1993 in response to health disparities among women of color. IWES is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) community-based organization based in New Orleans, Louisiana, dedicated to improving the physical, mental, and spiritual health and quality of life for women of color and their families.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Questions Raised About Landrieu's Search for Police Chief

With Norris Henderson's resignation, four former members of Mayor-elect Landrieu's task force on the search for a new police chief have now left or been forced out due to serious concerns about the process used in the search.

This is an historic moment for the city, and stakes are high. Rarely has there been such widespread and popular support for radical change in the New Orleans Police Department. Rarely have police violence and corruption been so openly displayed for all to see. Criminal justice reform has long been a signature issue of Landrieu's, and he made the search for a new police chief one of his highest priorities. For better or worse, this decision may define his administration before it even begins.

An open letter signed by Norris Henderson of V.O.T.E. NOLA, Gina Womack of Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, and Baty Landis of Silence Is Violence lays out some serious concerns:
Briefly put: The police chief search process is in turmoil. As far as specific concerns about the search, we each have a slightly different focus, as representatives of overlapping but different constituencies. Yet some points of concern we hold in common include:

1. The public survey administered in early March was not the survey drafted by Task Force members during our meetings. We were not given an opportunity to review the survey before it was released, nor even provided with the survey at the same time as the media.

2. After considerable effort soliciting and listening to public input, we have no assurance that this input will play a role in assessing initial applicants.

3. Suggestions made by Task Force members throughout this process have been for the most part either denied or ignored entirely.
Task Force requests that to this day have not received any response include:
*Access to Task Force meeting minutes
*A productive solution to the second public meeting of this Task Force, as promised by Mr. Landrieu
*Availability of the IACP contract for general Task Force review (this, incidentally, could have saved valuable time spent debating points that were apparently decided by IACP contractual stipulations long ago)
*Regular email updates to Task Force members, alerting us to progress and decisions made impacting the search.

Task Force requests that have been denied include:
*Opening Executive Committee proceedings, during which most decisions are made, to additional Task Force members by request or invitation, in order to ensure that the Executive Committee reflects the community as broadly as possible
*Access to the list of attributes forming the initial candidate assessment matrix, to be used by the IACP for the first cut of applicants
*Access to the full applicant pool by a small team of Task Force members
*More frequent meetings
*Additional time for the entire process.

Louisiana Justice Institute holds out hope that this process can be fixed, and that the final result will produce a police chief who can make the radical changes that are badly needed. The former members of the search team end their letter with both hope and a call for the mayor to get involved:
We sincerely hope that, in spite of flaws that have prohibited our continued participation as Task Force members, the remaining body can help the Mayor-Elect to find a police chief who will serve all communities. We urge remaining members to take the time and care required to accomplish this, for the sake of us all.

In particular, we call upon Mayor-Elect Landrieu to reclaim direct management of the search for a new police chief; to re-focus this chaotic and deeply imperiled process; and to live up to the community accountability he has promised in this most important of his decisions as our new Mayor.

Protests Planned to Greet Massive Gathering of Republicans

Several thousand Republicans; including Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, and Michael Steele; are planning to descend on New Orleans this coming weekend for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, billed as the largest GOP gathering until the next RNC convention.

This Friday, April 9, several brass bands, including the Stooges Brass Band, will be leading a secondline from Lafayette Square to the Riverside Hilton Hotel, site of the RNC convention. The secondline begins at 6:30PM sharp.

- The SRLC is not welcome in NOLA without a fuss.
- Healthcare is a basic human right.
- Oppose police oppression, the prison-industrial complex, and the dominant culture of militarism.
- Recognize the need for active resistance to confront all forms of oppression, respecting a diversity of tactics.
- A commitment to mutual-aid and voluntary association as organizing principles.
- Recognize the need to settle organizational differences internally.

We hope the people of New Orleans will show this hate-filled gathering that they are not welcome here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Not Just Guantanamo: U.S. Torturing Muslim Pre-trial Detainee in New York City, By Bill Quigley

Today in New York City, the US is torturing a Muslim detainee with no prior criminal record who has not even gone to trial.

For the last almost three years, Syed Fahad Hashmi has been kept in total pre-trial isolation inside in a small cell under 24 hour video and audio surveillance. He is forced to use the bathroom and shower in full view of the video. He has not seen the sun in years. He takes his meals alone in his cell. He cannot see any other detainees and he is not allowed to communicate in any way with any prisoners. He cannot write letters to friends and he cannot make calls to anyone but his lawyer. He is prohibited from participating in group prayer. He gets newspapers that are 30 days old with sections cut out by the government. One hour a day he is taken into another confined room where he is also kept in total isolation.

Children are taught that the US Constitution protects people accused of crimes. No one is to be punished unless their guilt or innocence has been decided in a fair trial. Until trial, people are entitled to the presumption of innocence. They are entitled to be defended by an attorney of their choice. And the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The punishment of Mr. Hashmi has been going on for years while he has been waiting for trial. In addition to the punitive isolation he is subjected to today, he was denied the attorney of his choice. He was allowed only counsel investigated and pre-approved by the government. He is not allowed to look at any translated documents unless the translator is pre-approved by the government. He is not allowed any contact with the media at all. One member of his family can visit through the heavy screen for one hour every other week unless the government takes away those visits to further punish him. The government took away his family visits for 90 days when he was observed shadow boxing in his cell and talked back to the guard who asked what
he was doing.

If the Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, what is the impact of forced isolation? Medical testimony presented in his case in federal court concluded that after 60 days in solitary people’s mental state begins to break down. That means a person will start to experience panic, anxiety, confusion, headaches, heart palpitations, sleep problems, withdrawal, anger, depression, despair, and over-sensitivity. Over time this can lead to severe psychiatric trauma and harms like psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations, mass anxiety and acute confusion. Essentially, the mind disintegrates.

That is why, under international standards for human rights, extended isolation is considered a form of torture and is banned. The conditions and practices of isolation are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Torture, and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In 1995, the UN Human Rights Committee stated that isolation conditions in certain US maximum security prisons were incompatible with international standards. In 1996, the UN special rapporteur on torture reported on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in US supermax prisons. In 2000, the UN Committee on Torture roundly condemned the United States for its treatment of prisoners, citing supermax prisons. In May 2006, the same committee concluded that the United States should “review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.”

John McCain said his two years in solitary confinement were torture. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” The reaction of McCain and many other victims of isolation torture were described in a 2009 New Yorker article on isolation by Atul Gawande. Gawande concluded that prolonged isolation is objectively horrifying, intrinsically cruel, and more widespread in the US than any country in the world.

Who is this man? Syed Fahad Hashmi grew up in Queens and attended Brooklyn College. He became an outspoken Muslim activist. He moved to London and received a master’s degree in international relations there.

Yet the federal judge hearing his case continues to approve of the forced isolation and the rest of the restrictions on this presumably innocent man.

The reason that this is allowed to continue is that Hashmi is accused of being involved with al Qaeda.

Mr. Hashmi is accused of helping al Qaeda by allowing rain gear (raincoats, ponchos and socks) that were going to Afghanistan to be stored in his Queens apartment, he allowed his cell phone to be used to contact al Qaeda supporters and he made post-arrest threatening statements.

Supporters of Fahad have demonstrated outside his jail, set up a website – and have worked for years to alert the public to his torture. Articles by Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges and Jeanne Theoharris have been written over the past several years documenting and protesting these human rights violations.

But, once accused of connections with terrorism or al Qaeda, apparently, the US constitution and international human rights do not apply. Torture by the US is allowed. Pre-trial punishment is allowed. The presumption of innocence goes out the window. Counsel of choice is not allowed. Communication with news media not allowed.

The trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi is set for April 28, 2010 in New York. Till then he will continue to be tortured by the US government whose star spangled banner proclaims it to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach him at

Friday, April 2, 2010

Historic March Begins With Easter Demonstration for Public Housing

This Sunday, the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, the national Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign will launch a March To Fulfill the Dream. They seek to build a movement to end poverty, and they demand guaranteed healthcare and housing for everyone in the US. They will be spending the next three months marching across the US to raise awareness and build alliances in this struggle. The march begins here in New Orleans on Sunday at 5:00pm at 3800 St. Bernard, and on June 20 they will arrive in Detroit for the US Social Forum.

The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign has been working locally with Survivors Village, a grassroots housing rights organization. Endesha Jukali of Survivors Village writes:
Survivors Village is sponsoring a Right To Return Rally in St. Bernard which is also meant to show support and give a good send off for Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign and their allies who will be in New Orleans for the march/caravan. I know that it is asking a lot of some people to alter the plans that they normally make on Easter Sunday and come to a political event. That’s why I am hoping those of us who work for social justice everyday will be the nucleus of the rally.

Recently Pam Nath of Mennonite Central Committee wrote a letter urging Christians to follow in the path of Jesus and support the poor and the oppressed on this most holy of days in that faith. I am appealing to those of you who may not be Christians, but have admired the works of people like Martin Luther King and other social justice martyrs.

It is no coincidence that King’s move towards economic justice and opposition to the waste of resources and human life brought about by war immediately preceded his death. These were crucial and volatile issues then, and we are up against the same forces and the same issues today. Considering the sacrifices of those who went before us, giving up some time on Sunday, should not seem a terrible burden.

I am sure looking at the way things are in New Orleans, the U.S., and the world, MLK would preach his Easter sermon and then stand against poverty and oppression. Those of us who admire such a great man should emulate him. Do what you have to do on Sunday and then come and support PPEHRC as they start on their journey.
Housing activist Pam Nath writes:
When I think of Jesus’ life, I think of his first public proclamation of what his life was all about: “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4: 16-21). I think of how he “hung out” with poor folks and others who the society of the day saw as undesirables (the kind of folks that many folks might want to clear from their neighborhood or city if given the chance to create a “new” New Orleans) (cf: Mark 13: 41-44; Luke 7: 36-49; Mark 5: 24-34; Mark 1: 40-43; John 4: 1-27). I think of his saying “You cannot serve both God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24), telling the rich man to sell all that he had and give it to the poor (Matt 19: 16-24), and claiming that we would be judged by how we respond to the poor (Luke 17: 19-31). I think of him overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple just a few days before he was killed (Matt 21: 12-18).
And Minister Kojo Livingston writes the following words in the most recent issue of Louisiana Weekly:
I personally believe that if Jesus were here in the flesh today, he would be spending a lot of time in jail for putting his foot in the behinds of religious and political leaders. If he saw the foul things that political and business leaders have done in the wake of Katrina, he would go straight off. There is nothing that the moneychangers in the temple did that was more profane than what the powers-that-be have done to the Black and the poor in New Orleans and Louisiana. Jesus was always down with the downtrodden and he would not be sitting around just yakin’ about how bad it was.
We'll see you on Sunday!