Monday, June 28, 2010

One Year Later: Honduras Resistance Strong Despite US-Supported Coup

By Bill Quigley and Laura Raymond

One year ago, on June 28, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was awakened by gunfire. A coup was carried out by US-trained military officers, including graduates of the infamous US Army School of the Americas (WHINSEC) in Georgia. President Zelaya was illegally taken to Costa Rica.

Democracy in Honduras ended as a de facto government of the rich and powerful seized control. A sham election backed by the US confirmed the leadership of the coup powers. The US and powerful lobbyists continue to roam the hemisphere trying to convince other Latin American countries to normalize relations with the coup government.

The media has ignored the revival of US hard power in the Americas and the widespread resistance which challenges it.

A pro-democracy movement, the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) formed in the coup’s aftermath. Despite horrendous repression, it has organized the anger and passion of a multitude of mass-based popular movements -- landless workers, farmers, women, LGBTQ folks, unions, youth and others-- and spread a palpable energy of possibility and hope throughout the country.

These forces of democracy have been subjected to police killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings, rape and other sexual abuse of women and girls, torture and harassment of journalists, judges and activists. Prominent LGBTQ activists, labor organizers, campesinos and youth working with the resistance have been assassinated. Leaders have been driven into exile.

Four judges, including the president of Honduran Judges for Democracy, were fired in May 2010 for criticizing the illegality of the coup. Two of them went on a widely-supported hunger strike in the nation’s capital. Judges who participated in public demonstrations in favor of the de facto government remain in power.

In 2010 alone, seven journalists have been murdered. Many others have been threatened. Reporters without Borders calls Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Why was there a coup? Honduras was planning to hold a June 28 poll on whether or not a referendum for forming a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution should be on the November ballot. Many among the poor correctly view the current constitution as favoring corporations and wealthy landowners. As a result of the constitutional preference for the rich and powerful, Honduras has one of the largest wealth gaps between the rich and poor in Latin America.

Washington and the Honduran elite were also angered that President Zelaya signed an agreement to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). ALBA is a regional trade agreement that provides an alternative to the free trade agreements such as CAFTA that have been pushed by Washington yet opposed by many popular movements through the Americas. Zelaya’s proposal to transform Soto Cano Air Base, historically important to the US military, into a much-needed civilian airport was unpopular in Washington as was his lack of support for the privatization of the telecommunications industry.

Forces in the US provided critical support for the coup. As members of the resistance have explained, coups do not happen in Latin America without the support of those with power in the US. Right wing ideologues and shell NGOs based out of Washington played a critical role in the coup and since. A leadership vacuum in the Obama Administration regarding Honduras has led to extreme right-wing ideologues directing US policy there. These people are hell bent on stopping the growing populist movements throughout Latin America from gaining more influence and power. Some, such as Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, have moved from positions in the State Department and United Nations into private lobbying firms or conservative think tanks. Others, such as Robert Carmona-Borjas, who was granted asylum in the US after his involvement in the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez, are working for so-called NGOs that use vague missions such as “anti-corruption” to mask the foreign policy work they do.

In the past year, the business elite in Honduras have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Washington-based lobbying and PR firms to get the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties in line. For example, the Asociación Hondureña de Maquiladoras (Honduran Association of Maquiladoras) hired the Cormac Group to lobby the US government regarding “foreign relations” just days after the coup. Close Clinton confidant Lanny Davis lobbied for the coup powers in DC. A delegation of Republican Senators travelled to Honduras in the fall to support the coup government and organized for wider Congressional support upon their return.

Despite initially condemning the coup, the Obama Administration has completely shifted its position. It provided critical, life-giving approval to the widely denounced elections that were boycotted by much of the Honduran population. The military that was killing people in the streets was also guarding the ballot boxes. Major candidates such as Carlos H. Reyes, now a leader of the resistance, refused to run. The Carter Center, the United Nations, and other respected election observers refused to observe. The FNRP called on people to stay home.

The Organization of American States suspended Honduras and has continued to resist efforts of Secretary of State Clinton to pressure them into readmitting Honduras. However, the US pushed for and was able to secure the formation of a high-level OAS panel to “study” the re-entry of Honduras at its recent meeting in Peru. We may well start to see the international community beginning to normalize relations with this illegitimate government.

As it stands now the coup government of Honduras’ biggest ally is the United States.

A year after the coup, US activists and pro-democracy supporters need to increase their knowledge about what is going on with our neighbors in Honduras and stand in solidarity with the resistance. For democracy to mean anything, it has to mean that plans for a national referendum to rewrite a Constitution to better serve a nation’s people should not be met with a US-supported military coup.

Once again the US is on the wrong side in Latin America.

Once again, the US government is undermining democracy and actively supporting a government that is murdering its own people.

Once again, the US has sided with anti-democracy forces and is trying to bully the world into rubber-stamp approval of our mistakes.

Moving forward from this unfortunate anniversary, one thing is certain - the people’s movement in Honduras is only growing. The resistance has gone ahead with organizing for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Today there will be massive demonstrations throughout Honduras. We must stand with this dramatic and powerful social movement and challenge our own government to support the forces of democracy, not destroy them.

Bill and Laura work at the Center for Constitutional Rights. You can contact Bill at and Laura at CCR will be hosting the NYC premiere of a film about the Resistance on July 7, 7pm at Tribeca Cinemas in lower Manhattan. It will also premiere in DC and Berkeley.

For more information about the Honduran resistance, please see their website (and click on the “English” tab):

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Father's Day Message, By E. Johnson

Sunday, June 20, is a celebration of all the fathers of the world. It is a celebration that endures every year through a lifetime of highs and lows.

What determines who is a good father and who is not? Do we as a society evaluate fathers by wealth, by their enforcement of rules, or perhaps by their resemblance to our own fathers? Do we judge a father by his ability to afford material objects or simply by love?

I think love outweighs it all. Love endures when times seem rough and remains the same in our attitude and actions. In a time of changing technologies and ways of living, love remains a constant. How long does the new style of tennis shoe or cell phone last before a new style hits the shelf?

Love is a constant force that a father can give a child, but it is not the only force that affects that child. It is true that it takes a village to raise a kid, and sadly as a father I am but one part of that village. I have given my children my heart and soul to ensure that they know they are the most loved people on this planet. But they are faced with a village that is weakened by the cycle of poverty, rampant racism and the flaws of the justice system. These are all part of the village that I grew up in and have brought my children up in.

While I have done everything that I can for my children, I see other systems in our village that have failed. There is the education system that is supposed to provide a learning environment and experiences at all stages of a child’s development that are humane, just, and designed to promote excellence in order that every individual may be afforded an equal opportunity to develop to his or her full potential. But the policies that are in place provide just the opposite: the national dropout rate is still very high. The suspension and expulsion rates are at an all-time high and unfairly target people of color.

There is the judicial system that thinks the same 14 year-old who is not mature enough to even drive a car is mature enough to face an adult court and comprehend what is happening and how severe the punishment might be. Research shows that adolescents don’t put facts together and draw conclusions the way adults do. At what age should we determine that someone is an adult?

There are many great fathers in this world that come from all walks of life. As fathers we must stand up for what is right for our children and believe that change comes from within. Happy Fathers’ Day and allow love to be the center of your life: that’s what fathers do!

Mr. E Johnson is an organizer with Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC).

Photo by Abdul Aziz.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Resurrection After Exoneration Hosts Fundraiser This Weekend

Resurrection After Exoneration (RAE) is a New Orleans organization dedicated to serving innocent men who were once wrongfully imprisoned.

From their website:
Each year, we hear about more innocent people being released from prison in the United States. Today, there are over 400 exonerated men and women who have been wrongly convicted and victimized by our criminal justice system. On average, each has served more than 10 years in prison before being released. RAE was founded in 2007 by exonerees to promote and sustain a network of support among formerly wrongfully incarcerated individuals in the South. RAE works to reconnect exonerees to their communities and provide access to those opportunities of which they were robbed.
RAE was founded in 2006 by John Thompson, an exoneree who spent 18 years in prison – 14 on death row – for a crime he didn’t commit. RAE now provides exonerees with case management, social services and education, and the opportunity for exonerees to share their stories with the world.

RAE is hosting their first ever fundraiser on June 19 - Juneteenth - from 5:00pm - 7:00pm. As an organization dedicated to helping emancipate modern-day prisoners and captives–those wrongfully incarcerated in the Louisiana state penitentiary–RAE is dedicating this event to celebrating freedom in every form, while commemorating the long road ahead to providing true freedom to all.

The fundraiser will be at the Angela King Gallery, at 241 Royal Street in the French Quarter. It will feature music by the Leroy Jones Jazz Trio, art and a silent auction, hors d'oeuvres from area restaurants, and will be hosted by special guest Jed Horne, the Pulitzer-winning author of Breach of Faith and Desire Street.

Above: John Thompson holds picture of Jim Williams, the man who sent him to death row. Williams is posing with model electric chair he had made.
Photo by Frank Aymami.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sheriff Gusman Unveils Plans to Expand Largest per Capita Jail in the US

From Our Friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:

The ACLU of Louisiana calls on the New Orleans City Council to reject Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s plan to expand Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) to 5,832 beds, large enough for 1 bed for every 60 residents. OPP, currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, is already the largest per capita jail in the nation and the City’s own Planning Commission has recommended a smaller sized jail. The Sheriff’s request is scheduled to be heard by the Council this week.

The request comes on the heels of reports that the Sheriff misled the Mid-City Neighborhood Association (MCNO) during a recent meeting on the size of the proposed jail. In response to questions from Mid-City residents, the Sheriff informed the group that the new jail will have 4,500 beds; however, his filings with the City Planning Commission indicate that he plans to have 5,832 beds.

Additionally, the Sheriff has been unable or unwilling to reveal what types of crimes people in his jail are charged with. “The scary thing is that he can’t even tell us who he is housing in the jail. Public drunkenness? Marijuana possession? He simply won’t tell us or doesn’t know,” said Katie Schwartzmann, Legal Director for the ACLU of Louisiana.

What is known is that from January 2007 until June 2009, on average just 2.24% arrests in New Orleans were for violent felonies.3 86% of arrests were for misdemeanors, municipal, traffic violations, and other arrests. At the same time, roughly a third of the prisoners held at OPP are federal and state prisoners who have already been sentenced and should be held at state or federal facilities.

The size of the new jail would dwarf, per capita, the size of the largest jails in America. For example, compare the ratio of 1 bed for every 60 residents—Orleans Parish 2009 population of 354,850 with a jail with 5,862 beds—to:

“The Sheriff’s effort to increase the size of the jail is a classic power grab by a ‘good ole’ Louisiana politician.” says Marjorie Esman, Executive Director at the ACLU of Louisiana. “Having the largest jail in America has not made the city safer. Instead of helping the Sheriff build something that belongs in a totalitarian state, we hope the City will focus on violent crime and continue to create a pretrial detention policy that releases people who are not a threat to public safety.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

LJI INJUSTICE INDEX: BP Drilling Disaster Edition


$3,500,000,000: Cost of cleanup of Exxon Valdez spill, with another $5 billion in lawsuits and settlements.

$2,400,000,000: Estimated annual economic impact of Louisiana seafood production.

37,691,000: Gallons spilled (day 51) based on high range of government estimates.

11,000,000: Number of gallons spilled by Exxon Valdez.

3,645,000: Gallons collected from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill site as of June 9, 2010.

30,000: Number of claims made to BP (through contractor ECIS) by individuals and businesses for lost income or damages.

19,000: Number of claims paid by BP (through contractor ECIS) to individuals and businesses for lost income or damages.

19,000: Estimated barrels of oil per day (12,000 - 19,000) shooting out of 2 leaks the bent and broken pipes at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill site.

18,000: Number of checks issued by BP as of June 7, 2010, totaling $49 million. Average $2,720 per check.

1,900: Number of people employed in Louisiana in the frozen fish and seafood industries. 2,300 people are employed in the seafood canning industry. This totals 25% of the food manufacturing industry in Louisiana (17,000 people).

1,500: Number of Coast Guard reservists mobilized and moved to positions in Louisiana and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast as part of President Barack Obama’s promise to triple the manpower fighting the Deepwater Horizon oil release.

700: Number of individuals hired by ECIS operating in 25 offices on the Gulf Coast by BP contractor, ECIS to handle individual and business lost income or damages claims.

400: Number of species that live in the Louisiana’s islands and marshlands, including gulls, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, egrets, terns, and blue herons.

322: Number of sea turtles pulled out of the Gulf since the oil spill began. 50 were alive; 272 were dead, and 3 have been released, according to the Unified Area Command compilation from various sources.

134: Number of years P&J Oyster Company has been in business. As of June 10, 2010, company has shut down shucking operations.

80%: Business volume decrease at Bridge Side Marina in Grad Isle, Louisiana, owned by Buggie Vegas.

67: Number of oil spill workers treated since May 31, according to West Jefferson Medical Center, which has a first aid tent at Grand Isle. 98% of the workers seeking aid are because of the heat. 105 -110 is the Heat Index reported by the National Weather Service in Grand Isle.

42: Number of gallons in one barrel of oil.

21: Total number of payment of more than $5,000 paid by BP to Louisiana individuals or businesses.

17: Number of the deepwater drilling rigs in Louisiana waters that have pulled up their drills in the first week of the moratorium.

11: Number of men who died in the explosion on April 20, 2010 at the BP.

5: Species of Gulf sea turtles that face grave danger due to oil spill. All of the gulf sea-turtle species are already endangered because the oil spill threatens their population at every state of life, according to Oceana, an international organization for ocean conservation.

3: Number of the 6,100 claims paid by BP in Louisiana larger than $5,000, according to Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

0: Number of the 6,100 claims paid by BP in Louisiana larger than 10,000, according to Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Letter to Admiral Thad Allen from Advocates for Environmental Human Rights

June 9, 2010

Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander
2100 Second Street, SW
Washington DC 20593
Via Facsimile: 202.372.1710

Dear Admiral Allen:

As a public interest law firm, we are deeply concerned that our government is not protecting the interest of those affected by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms, we have learned that inadequate support for recovery destabilizes communities and debilitates environmental conditions, all of which undermine basic human rights.

For this reason, we are deeply concerned that your June 8, 2010 letter to British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward requesting information regarding BP’s handling of claims related to its Gulf of Mexico oil disaster fails to address the fact that BP’s goal is to minimize the amount of money it pays to claimants. This goal is in direct contradiction to the recent BP advertisement in which Tony Hayward pledges to honor claims. The BP website refers claimants to ESIS, Inc. However, the “Recovery Services Fact Sheet” on the ESIS website, states that the goal of its services is “reducing our clients’ loss dollar pay-outs." BP has praised its 15-year contractual relationship with the ESIS Claims Team. In the May 27, 2010 Congressional testimony of Mr. Darryl Willis, BP America Vice President of Resources, ESIS is lauded for “providing the backbone of our claims process."

As the National Incident Commander, you have the responsibility to ensure that the people of the Gulf Region harmed by the BP oil disaster are fully compensated by BP for all of their losses. This responsibility entails investigating and preventing any efforts by BP and ESIS that provide or attempt to provide insufficient compensation to any claimant. This responsibility also requires ensuring that the compensation plan is designed and implemented to meet the unique needs of Gulf Coast fishers, seafood industry workers, and maritime communities, whose members have already developed a compensation plan in response to the BP oil disaster .

We look forward to hearing from you regarding this critical matter.

Very truly yours,
Monique Harden
Co-Director & Attorney

Nathalie Walker
Co-Director & Attorney
Advocates for Environmental Human Rights


We Are a Unified Community. Gulf Coast fishermen, seafood workers, and maritime communities from Florida to Texas will not be divided by nefarious, unscrupulous corporate tactics.

This Disaster Has Been Devastating. As residents of the Gulf Coast, many of us have not fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms. There are still unmet needs in housing, healthcare, economic development and community restoration, almost five years since Katrina’s landfall in this same area. Many of the fishing cooperatives that formed since Katrina have not received adequate support and funding; many families still have not received housing assistance to rebuild (in south Mobile County, Alabama for instance, more than 450 families that qualified for Federal housing rebuilding support, will not receive it because funds are insufficient); and many communities, community services and eroded shorelines across the Gulf Coast region have not been fully rebuilt or restored. See,

Notwithstanding, we returned to rebuild. Now, our prime fishing areas are closed, at the very beginning of the commercial fishing season. Many fishermen and seafood industry workers are small business owners or seasonal workers who are not covered by unemployment compensation and other worker benefits. We have made significant investments in preparing our boats and equipment for the 2010 season, with the expectation of a good year – finally. That expectation has been shattered.

We Are Entitled to Accurate Information. Since the BP oil drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, people in the fishing and maritime communities across the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas have received misleading, factually inaccurate, and sometime deceptive information about the extent and impact of the disaster. We do not know when this disaster will end nor how its impacts on the ocean, estuaries, marshes, bays, bayous, beaches and communities that are our home and source of livelihood. We also do not know how the wide scale use of chemical dispersants will impact the long term health of our seafood resources and communities. At the very least, those responsible for this man-made disaster must be held accountable by the federal government, and fully transparent in their disclosure of information and documentation.

We Are the Gulf Coast Experts. Our lifelong experience and environmental knowledge have not been utilized to mitigate and solve the impacts of this catastrophic ecological, economic and social disaster. Still, most of us have not yet been employed as “first responders” to protect our fishing grounds, shore lines, wildlife, and our communities. This is nonsense.

We as commercial fishermen, seafood workers and residents of maritime communities in the Gulf Coast are demanding:

1. Responsibility and Accountability: The President of the United States and the U.S. Congress must ensure British Petroleum (BP) and its subcontractors are held financially responsible for the full immediate, short-term, and long-term impact of this disaster. Further, BP, its subcontractors, and any other corporate entities deemed responsible parties for this disaster, must provide all appropriate assistance to fishermen, seafood workers and maritime communities dealing with the long term impacts of this disaster and its yet unforeseen impacts on the fishing, seafood, recreation, and culture in Gulf Coast communities;

2. Oversight: The President and the U.S. Congress must provide public oversight, information, and administration of support to assist fishermen, seafood workers and Gulf Coast communities in this disaster. The federal government must have complete oversight over the BP oil drilling claims process, and BP must relinquish this control immediately;

3. Compensation:
The President and the U.S. Congress must ensure that immediate compensation is paid to fishermen, fishing crews, seafood processing workers, seafood industry related workers and others, to provide for income replacement and family living expenses. The lack of federal or state income returns must not preclude any fisherman, fishing crew member, seafood processing worker, and seafood industry related workers and others from receiving compensation. This claims compensation protocol must include:
a. A system for classification of claimants;
b. Immediate compensation for six (6) months of lost income that is equivalent to at least an annual income of $24,000. Fishermen, fishing crews, seafood processing workers, seafood industry related workers and others who can substantiate higher annual income from fishing will receive higher payments;
c. In 6 months (October 2010) a sum equal to one half of one year's lost earnings (and no less than $12,000 per worker) shall be paid to every fisherman, seafood processing workers, seafood industry related workers and others remaining out of work as a result of this disaster;
d. Within 12 months of the initial payment, the President of the United States must make a final assessment of full damages for lost earnings to be made to fishermen fishing crews, seafood processing workers, seafood industry related workers and others and seafood workers. This determination should include evaluation of other long term losses beyond loss of earnings such as damage to boats and equipment, damage to oyster beds and fishing grounds, and other longer term losses.
e. All other workers along the Gulf Coast, directly or indirectly connected to the seafood industry, must receive emergency unemployment compensation, retroactive to the beginning of this disaster, from the appropriate state agencies, reimbursed by BP and other responsible parties.
4. Forbearance of Loan Re-Payments: A consequence of the BP oil disaster is the indefinite interruption of income for people whose livelihood is based on the fishing and seafood industries. Therefore, the President must provide a mechanism whereby payment obligations for home and business related loans are placed in forbearance.

5. Prioritizing Local Communities: Priority in contracting and hiring must be given to local fishermen and firms along the Gulf Coast; and that firms that use workers receiving substandard pay be excluded from contracting.

6. Language Access: All information and documents related to providing information and instruction to fishermen and seafood workers must be translated, into Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Spanish, and other languages so that the residents of the multicultural maritime communities across the Gulf Coast will be able to read and understand the information provided.

7. Access to Funds: That there are significant unspent Federal funds for Katrina Hurricane relief and rebuilding that are unspent which must be re-programmed and utilized to meet these un-met needs so vulnerable Gulf Coast people and communities can better deal and respond to the current oil drilling catastrophe.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

African American Mississippi Man Starts Record Sixth Murder Trial

By Bill Quigley, Audrey Stewart and Davida Finger

An African American man, Curtis Flowers, made history this week when he became the first person in U.S. history to ever go on trial for murder six times for the same crime. Mr. Flowers has been in jail in Mississippi since 1996, accused of the murder of four people at a furniture store. Jury selection started this week in tiny Winona Mississippi, population 5,482.

Mr. Flowers has been in jail since 1996 awaiting trial and was previously tried for these murders in 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2008. All either ended in hung juries or overturned convictions. The five previous trials have already cost the State of Mississippi over $300,000.

Winona, known as the “Crossroads of Mississippi,” is a small town in a small poor rural county 120 miles south of Memphis and about 100 miles north of Jackson Mississippi. Winona is in Montgomery County. The total population of the county is just over 12,000. The county is 45 percent African American. The median home value in Winona is $51,000.

A 1997 conviction of Mr. Flowers was reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court because the prosecution improperly used theatrics and irrelevant evidence of other crimes to inflame and prejudice the jury. A 1999 conviction was reversed because the prosecution used hearsay evidence and twisted the facts before the jury.

A 2004 conviction was reversed after the prosecutor exercised all fifteen of his peremptory strikes on African Americans. The Mississippi Supreme Court said that trial “presents us with as strong a prima facie case of racial discrimination as we have ever seen…”

The fourth and fifth trials ended in mistrials when the juries were not able to reach a unanimous verdict.

In the 2007 trial, five African American jurors voted to acquit and the seven white jurors voted to convict. In the 2008 trial, a retired African American teacher held out for acquittal. The prosecutor later charged that juror with perjury, only to drop the charge.

On Monday, because the trial is in such a small county, nearly all the prospective jurors had some relationship to the case through family, school or work. Four white prospective jurors were law enforcement officers and admitted they had guarded or transported Mr. Flowers - but they said they could consider the case impartially. Prospective African American jurors spoke about their association with the Flower’s family through work, family, church, and a popular gospel group headed by Curtis’ father Archie Flowers. One juror spoke of his moving experiences with Curtis Flowers after meeting him through his church group’s prison ministry.

On Tuesday, Lajuanda Williams, an African American law student from the Mississippi College of Law, was followed and then stopped by Montgomery County law enforcement as she drove to Mr. Flowers’ trial.

Ms. Williams drove from Jackson Mississippi to Winona to start her first day observing the murder trial. She is spending the summer as an intern in the Mississippi Office for Capital Defense. As she was approaching Winona, a Montgomery County police car followed her for about a mile then turned on his lights and pulled her over.

When she rolled down her window, the officer instructed Ms. Williams to place her hands on the steering wheel and not look at him, look directly ahead. She complied. She knew she had not been speeding and had broken no laws.

He asked Ms. Williams where she was going. She asked him, “Have I broken any laws?” He responded, that’s not the question I asked you. What I asked is where are you going? Ms. Williams said “There should be some reason why you pulled me over.” The deputy said, I’m going to ask you again. Where are you going? She told him, “I’m going to the courthouse.” He then asked her, what is your business in Winona? She told him, “It is not any of your business why I am here in Winona.” He said, if that’s where you’re going, you need to drive straight to the courthouse and stay out of trouble.

The police car then followed Ms. Williams for about 500 feet and then turned off.

During the entire exchange, Ms. Williams recalled many stories from African Americans in her home state of Mississippi who had been tasered and injured by officers during stops just as this. She fully complied with deputy’s order to look directly ahead. The deputy never gave her any reason for the stop. She was not asked for her license. She was not warned. She was not ticketed. Unfortunately, because she was ordered to look straight ahead, Ms. Williams was not able to identify the deputy.

Ms. Williams then drove to the courthouse to begin the first day of her internship. She was angry but not surprised. “I know the reality of being African American in a place like Winona,” she said. Two white interns, second year law students at the University of San Francisco, were not stopped when they drove into Winona on Wednesday.

In court on Wednesday, defense counsel sought to bring up the incident with law enforcement to the attention of the judge. The prosecutor angrily objected. Defense counsel asked permission to put Ms. Williams on the stand. The Judge said “We’re entering the theater of the absurd here” and that he was not interested in hearing about what happened to Ms. Williams. He said that he could not control everything and the stop, if it occurred, which he did not believe, didn’t have anything to do with the case. He ordered the jury questioning to continue and refused to take any evidence of the stop of Ms. Williams.

Ms. Williams told Alan Bean of Friends of Justice why she thought she was stopped. “I think it came from the trial and the injustice that has been permeating this town for years. You can cut the tension in Winona with a knife.” Why bring it up and risk the anger of the judge and prosecutor? “I could not sleep last night,” she explained, “I kept thinking about my daughter, she’s three years old. I kept thinking I had to do something so that she doesn’t have to go through what I just went through.”

While jury selection continues, the U.S. Department of Justice has been asked to investigate the Mississippi law enforcement harassment of Ms. Williams.

Despite all this, when asked how Curtis Flowers was holding up during the trial, his mother Lola Flowers replied “Well, he’s got the faith.”

For the criminal justice system in Winona Mississippi, as in many other places, William Faulkner said it best. Faulkner, Mississippi native, author, and Nobel Prize winner, wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

For more information and updates on the case of Curtis Flowers, see

Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Audrey Stewart is a Mississippi native and a public school teacher in New Orleans. Davida Finger and Bill are professors at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Books Challenge Education Privatization and Inequality

Students at the Center, the remarkable program directed by legendary poet writer and producer Kalamu ya Salaam and veteran public school teacher and executive vice president of United Teachers of New Orleans Jim Randels has just released two new books.

One of the books, Next Steps is self-published and available for purchase or free download from their website. Next Steps contains writings from the class of 2010 at McMain, McDonogh 35, and Reed High Schools. The second book, Pedagogy, Policy, and the Privatized City: Stories of Dispossession and Defiance from New Orleans, has been published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University, and is written by Jim Randels, Kalamu ya Salaam, and Students at the Center in collaboration with Emory University professor Kristen L. Buras.

From the publishers description:

In cities across the nation, communities of color find themselves resisting state disinvestment and the politics of dispossession. Students at the Center—a writing initiative based in several New Orleans high schools—takes on this struggle through a close examination of race and schools. The book builds on the powerful stories of marginalized youth and their teachers who contest the policies that are destructive to their communities: decentralization, charter schools, market-based educational choice, teachers union-busting, mixed-income housing, and urban redevelopment. Striking commentaries from the foremost scholars of the day explore the wider implications of these stories for pedagogy and educational policy in schools across the United States and the globe. Most importantly, this book reveals what must be done to challenge oppressive conditions and democratize our schools by troubling the vision of city elites who seek to elide students’ histories, privatize their schools, and reinvent their neighborhoods.
In his foreword to the book, University of Southern California Professor Robin D. G. Kelley writes, "This book is more than a compelling, inspiring read. It is one of the most radical works of collaboration I’ve seen...It was forged in the wake of capitalist dreams to expropriate poor black folk, eliminate public housing, privatize public schools, and turn New Orleans into neoliberalism’s model city. We need more challenges to the policies of privatization and more spaces where young people can be agents in their education and architects of our future—a future we can glimpse in this book.”

There will be a release event for both books today, Wednesday, June 9 at 6:00pm at Community Book Center, at 2523 Bayou Road. We hope to see you there.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Justice Denied is Justice Denied: Please Support Curtis Flowers

By Audrey Stewart and Davida Finger, Esq.

Curtis Flowers has been incarcerated in Mississippi for almost 15 years without ever being fairly convicted of any crime. Facing capital charges, his sixth trial for the same alleged crimes began today in Winona, MS. Curtis Flowers sat peacefully as jury selection began in the quadruple murder case against him. Family members of some of the victims held detailed, printed information about the prospective jurors including jurors’ employment, family and residential information, criminal backgrounds, facebook postings, and comments such as “justice court says good.”

Curtis Flowers has been tried on the same related murders charges in: 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007, and 2008. Witnesses eventually came forward only after a $30,000 award was offered by the prosecutor’s office. The Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned the first two decisions against Mr. Flowers due to prosecutorial misconduct and errors. After the second trial, the court opined, “. . . the prosecution went far beyond the realm of admissible evidence in this case in order to improperly enhance the likelihood of Flowers for [sic] capital murder . . . ." (State v. Flowers, Ms. S. Ct. (April 3, 2003), at 49).

Following the third trial, the high court vacated the decision to convict and the death sentence based on the prosecutor’s evident racial bias in using all fifteen jury strikes to eliminate only African Americans from the jury pool; only one African American ultimately sat on the jury that voted to convict. “The continuous striking of African-American jurors, whose views on the death penalty are virtually indistinguishable from those of similarly situated white jurors who went unchallenged by the State, does raise an inference of racial discrimination.” (State v. Flowers, 947 So. 2d 910, 921, 2007).

The fourth trial resulted in a hung jury; five African American jurors voted to acquit while seven White jurors voted to convict. According to the Clarion-Ledger, those first four trials cost the State of Mississippi no small sum: approximately $283,000. (See Jimmy Gates, Jurors Give Up; Fifth Trial Awaits, Clarion Ledger, Dec. 6, 2007).

The fifth trial also resulted in a hung jury. Following that trial, the prosecutor charged the only juror who held out for an acquittal with perjury: a retired, African American teacher. However, following both the judge and prosecutor’s recusals from that case, the Mississippi Attorney General’s office dropped the perjury charges due simply to the lack of evidence. The cost of the fifth trial brought the total state spending on its case against Mr. Flowers to over $300,000. (See Charlie Smith, Flowers Defense Attacks Photo Line-up, Greenwood Commonwealth, June 2, 2010).

Nearly of the prospective jurors had some relationship to the case through family relationship, school or work. Four white prospective jurors were law enforcement officers who testified that they had guarded or transported Flowers but felt prepared to consider the case impartially. One after another, prospective African American jurors spoke about their association with the Flower’s family through work, family, church, and a popular gospel group headed by Archie Flowers (Curtis’s father). One juror spoke of his moving experiences with Curtis Flowers after meeting him through his church group’s prison ministry. Asked how Flowers was holding up at the end of the first day, his mother Lola Flowers replied “Well, he’s got the faith.”

For more information:

Mississippi Supreme Court Decisions, at:

Friends of Justice (Curtis Flowers link).

Audrey Stewart is a community activist as soon to be teacher. She is originally from the Mississippi Delta and lives in New Orleans.

Davida Finger is an attorney and Assistant Professor of Law at Loyola Law School. She teaches the Community Justice Clinic and the Law & Poverty course. In collaboration with community organizations, Professor Finger has worked extensively on disaster-related cases and policy matters to improve government accountability in rebuilding and on distribution of disaster funds. Prior to joining the clinical faculty at Loyola, she practiced law in Seattle focusing on consumer, land use, and human rights cases.

ACLU of Louisiana Releases Report on NOPD's Lack of Respect for First Amendment

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:

In response to reports of widespread interference with the right to observe and record police activity in New Orleans, today the ACLU of Louisiana released a report outlining the problem and calling on the New Orleans Police Department to conduct training in First Amendment rights. The report recounts fifteen episodes in which police stopped, and sometimes arrested, people simply for observing and recording what the police were doing. The incidents are those of a wide range of people, including Times-Picayune City Editor Gordon Russell, faith-based organization director Don Everard, filmmaker Rick Rowley, lawyers and law students, and ordinary people simply seeking to record what they saw.

Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said: “For years, people have told us that the New Orleans Police Department has stopped them from recording police activity and misconduct. The police simply cannot be allowed to abuse their authority by denying observers the fundamental right to watch or to record what they see. A free society demands that private individuals must have the right to record police activity.”

The stories, many of which were part of in-court testimony or sworn statements in the recent litigation involving the arrest of two men who filmed police officers, reflect a variety of fact situations in many different neighborhoods. They share a common pattern of police obstruction without provocation or justification.

Esman continued: “With a new Chief of Police, an independent Police Monitor, and impending oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice, now is the time to ensure that the police be trained on the public's First Amendment rights.”

The report, entitled Observing, photographing, and filming the New Orleans Police Department, asks the police department to explain to officers the First Amendment right to observe, photograph, and film police officers; to include training in the police academy; and to impose discipline on officers who do not respect that fundamental right. It was prepared in conjunction with the Tulane Civil Litigation Clinic, which partnered with the ACLU in recent litigation about this serious problem.

The report is available online here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

New Orleans Protest in Response to Killings of Human Rights Workers

Louisiana Justice Institute is among the sponsors of a mass march tomorrow demanding justice for the human rights volunteers killed by Israeli soldiers on the early hours of Memorial Day.

More than 600 international volunteers joined a Freedom Flotilla of ships that set sail from Cyprus to deliver 10,000 tons of aid to the besieged people of Gaza. They were attacked in international waters by Israeli warships and helicopters. At least 9 international human rights activists were killed and more than 30 have been injured by live Israeli munitions, as Israeli commandos dropped down onto the ships from helicopters and opened fire on the unarmed peace activists.

The mission was begun as a response to the Israeli military blockade of Gaza, which has left 1.5 million people - more than 50% of whom are children - with restrictions on basic food items, medicine. and almost all forms of building materials.

The march and rally begins on Saturday, June 5, at 2:00pm at the World Trade Center Building, Canal and Poydras, across from Harrah's Casino.

In addition to Louisiana Justice Institute, sponsors include New Orleans Palestine Solidarity, General Union of Palestine Students - UNO Chapter, Women's Health & Justice Initiative, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of New Orleans, Mayday New Orleans, Critical Resistance New Orleans, Pax Christi, and others.

Saturday is part of an international day of action in response to the siege and the Israeli military actions. Hundreds of thousands will be joining protests in cities across the US and around the world. Among the demands are: 1) An end to the Israeli Siege on Gaza, 2) An independent investigation of this act of Israeli piracy and killing, and 3) An end to Louisiana and US investment in Israeli Apartheid.

Photo: Jackson Square, January 2009. By Abdul Aziz.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NOPD SWAT Team Arrests Activist in Retaliation for Her Leadership in Struggle for Affordable Housing

From our friends at Survivors Village and Take Back the Land:

Sharon Jasper, member of Survivors Village and Mayday New Orleans, was arrested by New Orleans police, who brought in a SWAT team to apprehend this Black woman elder from her home.

Ms. Sharon is being charged with assaulting a rental agent during an action last week, organized by Survivors Village and MayDay New Orleans as part of the Take Back the Land Movement May 2010 Month of Action. On Friday, May 28th, a group entered the Columbia Parc rental office and held a sit-in demanding the right of former St. Bernard Housing Project residents to return to their homes.

Columbia Parc replaced the St. Bernard Housing Development after the City of New Orleans voted to demolish the 1,500 units of public housing and replace them with so-called "mixed-income" market housing. To date, almost none of the former residents of St Bernard have been provided with replacement housing in the new development.

Last weekend's protest was part of the Right to Return Weekend in New Orleans. The Right of Return Weekend was organized in conjunction with the May month of actions called by Take Back the Land Movement (TBLM). TBLM is a network of autonomous organizations affiliated with the US Human Rights Network (USHRN) dedicated to realizing the human right to adequate housing and community control over land.

Police say Ms. Sharon assaulted a Columbia Parc rental agent during her entrance into the building as part of last week's action. The rental agent did not complain about an assault and continued to work in the office the entire time of the occupation, including when police arrived. While there, police made no mention of an assault when explaining to the group why they should end their protest.

The truth is that the City of New Orleans did not arrest Sharon Jasper for assault, they arrested her because she dared to tell that truth and demand that public housing residents of New Orleans have the right to return to their homes. The arrest represents a clear effort by the City of New Orleans to represent the interests of the developers of the Columbia Parc while actively working against the displaced former residents of New Orleans.

As we write this, Survivors Village organizer Endesha Juakali and others are currently at Orleans Parish Prison seeking Ms. Sharon's release. The Take Back the Land Movement has arranged for legal assistance for Sharon Jasper through the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York city and local New Orleans attorneys.

The Take Back the Land Movement condemns this politically-motivated use of the public police in order to protect private developers from protests.

Survivors Village has announced that they will hold a protest in front of Columbia Parc on Monday, June 7, at noon. Columbia Parc is on the 3600 block of St. Bernard Ave. in New Orleans.

Survivors Village is asking supporters to call Columbia Parc and demand 1). drop all charges against Sharon Jasper; and 2) Allow for the unconditional return of former St. Bernard Housing residents.

To contact Columbia Parc directly, call (504) 284-4769, or see

Video of Sharon Jasper's arrest, as well as updates on her legal situation, can be found by visiting Videos of the arrest are expected to be up on June 4.

Teach In Tonight on Gulf Coast Oil Catastrophe

Tonight at 6:00pm, Holy Angels Chapel, 3500 St Claude Ave, will host a teach-in on the tragedy unfolding in the gulf. Speakers include Kerry St. Pé, a fisheries biologist, wetlands expert and director of the Barataria-Terrebone National Estuary Program; and Davey Thonn, a commercial fisherman from St. Bernard Parish.

The organizers hope that through knowledge about what is happening in the gulf we can make the best decisions and act more effectively.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Don't 'Sperse Me Bro!, by Tracie Washington

Is it me, or does it seem like every time the people of Louisiana are imperiled by a disaster, the Feds’ “fix” is dispersants? I think we have a dispersants problem.

Hear me out. Remember Katrina?

The Feds sprayed charter school dispersants on and dismantled our public schools system, and expected that would make failing schools and undereducated kids disappear.

The Feds sprayed affordable housing dispersants on and demolished our public housing, and expected that would make dilapidated housing and concentrated poverty disappear.

The Feds sprayed private care dispersants on and shuttered our pubic hospital, and expected that would make indigent healthcare disappear.

Now, the Feds have sprayed chemical dispersants on and further contaminated our gulf waters, and expect that will make the oil spill disappear.

Hmmm...let’s see: We still have failed schools and undereducated kids and, because of the charter-school dispersants, we now have a juvenile crime crisis. We still have dilapidated housing and concentrated poverty and, because of the affordable housing dispersants, we now have a homeless population crisis. We still have second-rate healthcare and, because of your healthcare dispersants, we’ve lost our regional public hospital.

We still have an oil problem in the gulf and, because of the chemical dispersants, we now have a looming public health crisis.

Hey, Feds – NEWS FLASH: There is no magical elixir for the man-made problems that ail us. No matter how much you spray, these problems don’t disappear, they simply resurface, with unintended consequences.

So don’t ‘sperse me, bro! Ask us folks directly affected by these problems how to solve them. Hell, we can’t do worse than DOE, HUD, DHH, or EPA/BP. Seriously.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Activists Plan Protest and Further Actions Against Abuse by NOPD

Pressure continues to rise against Ronal Serpas, Mayor Landrieu's new police chief. Activists protested outside Serpas's swearing in ceremony on May 11, and have continued to hold protests, with more than fifty people gathered outside city hall at the most recent demonstration.

The members of Community United for Change, a new coalition that has formed to struggle on issues of police accountability, are continuing to organize responses to law enforcement violence. Organizers report that they have received "numerous complaints concerning the Sixth District Police Officers and the manner in which they are handling the citizens and residents of New Orleans. Beatings and evidence tampering are constant complaints." CUC members say it is time to respond with action.

Community United for Change has sent out a notice that they are calling for "Direct Action by way of an informational picket line" at the Sixth District station. Activists add that "A clear message must be delivered to the new administration that abuse and misuse will not be tolerated by the 'boys in blue.' The culture of corruption that has been the earmark of the NOPD must end."

The protest is today, Tuesday, June 1, at 4:00pm. It will be followed by a 5:00pm press conference to "call attention to the abuse and misuse of police authority." Both events will be at the Sixth District station, 1930 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, in Central City.

Community United for Change has also scheduled a series of public hearings to give the community an opportunity to testify about violence they or their family members or community have received or witnessed from the NOPD. Testimonies will be handed over to the Department of Justice to encourage further investigations of police corruption. The CUC is asking for "all social justice advocates, concerned citizens, and organizations that deplore injustice and the dehumanization of the New Orleans people" to attend these hearings.

The next public hearing is scheduled for Craige Culture Center, this Thursday, June 3rd at 6:00pm. The schedule for all upcoming CUC hearings is:

Thursday, June 3: West Bank - Craige Cultural Center, 1800 Newton Street.
Thursday, June 17: New Orleans East - Mosque 46, 4201 Downman Road.
Thursday, July 1: Central City - Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 1823 Washington Avenue.
Thursday, July 15: Hollygrove - Evening Star Baptist Church, 8926 Hickory Street.
Thursday, August 5: Treme - Treme Community Center, 900 N. Villere.

All hearings are from 6:00pm-9:00pm. For more information on the hearings or protests, call Community United for Change at 504-251-2201.