Thursday, September 30, 2010

Honduran Coup Leader Meets With New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Tulane University President Scott Cowen, and Other Local Leaders

Civic and political leaders in New Orleans took steps this month towards support and recognition of the illegal and anti-democratic government of Honduran coup-supporter Porfirio Lobo Sosa. In a meeting reported in the Tulane University newspaper The Hullabaloo, local education leaders pledged cooperation with the illegal government, which violently overthrew the elected government of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. Sosa was installed in office in a 2009 election organized by coup leaders that is still not recognized by many Latin American countries.

According the report in the September 17 Hullabaloo, "President Sosa joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Tulane President Scott Cowen and representatives from University of New Orleans, Loyola University, Dillard University, Xavier University, Southern University of New Orleans and Louisiana State University in signing a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum formalizes their commitment to move forward by working together in three key areas: healthcare, public education and student exchange."

Coup leader Sosa - who's daughter is enrolled at UNO - seems especially interested in the privatization of health care and education, and in following the example of New Orleans in firing 7,500 public school employees and ceasing recognition of their union. “We’ve had a huge problem with teachers’ unions,” said Mayra Pineda, former Consul General and current liaison between the Honduran government and New Orleans city officials. “Charter schools are certainly one option to try to solve the union situation.”

Apparently, none of New Orleans' local leaders took the opportunity of the meeting to express concern over the charges that the coup government has assassinated journalists and other opposition leaders. “About 80 percent of our students are from New Orleans, and many, for financial reasons, can’t go abroad,” said outgoing UNO Chancellor Tim Ryan. “So to be exposed to Latin Americans in their classes provides a tremendous learning experience.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wishing for Reality, Not for Another Disaster, By Wadner Pierre

MSNBC announced that it will be hosting presentation entitled “Wishing for a Disaster” based on the recovery of New Orleans. It has been five years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. This natural and man-made disaster took away thousands of lives. Some folks see Hurricane Katrina as a blessing for New Orleans because it has brought to light many of the pre-existing social problems. But, the question is, if Katrina was a blessing for New Orleans, who really profited from this blessing?

Hurricane Katrina brought attention to New Orleans as many other natural disasters brought attention to other countries like Haiti. It seems as if our government has created a disastrous system- a system relies on disasters as motivation to take action. When many lives are lost in disaster like Katrina, we cannot wish for another disaster to happen before change is made in our city.

MSNBC’s title may be seen as an inappropriate title, and even as an attack on New Orleans’ existing rebuilding efforts. It is a disrespectful title to the communities struggling to rebuild every day in their city. Katrina took away many lives. By no means should Hurricane Katrina be seen as a blessing for New Orleans.

Reform in New Orleans, whether it be in education, social justice, etc. should not wait for another disaster. Natural disasters must not be the way for officials whether local, state or federal to think about the reform that needs to take place in our City.

Hurricane Katrina left behind tears and heartbreak. It is hard to hear some people talk about Hurricane Katrina as a blessing for people in New Orleans. Instead, Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath taught us where we failed to help our people. We should serve with this lesson to prevent another disaster in our city whether a natural one, or the disaster of political self-interest.

Education, healthcare, and shelter are basic human rights. Reform in New Orleans cannot wait for another disaster. The reform we need in our city needs to take place now with all people, rather than with a select group.

Wishing for another disaster to bring change in New Orleans is a wish to see the disappearance of poor minority neighborhoods, since they are the most vulnerable ones. The wish for another disaster sounds once again as an inappropriate title for those who lost their loved ones, and those who are trying to rebuild their city.

Wadner Pierre is a Haitian photojournalist who currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. Originally from the city of Gonaives in Haiti, he regularly writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and Haiti Liberte. Wadner is a co-founder and frequent contributor to, a media collective of young journalists. In 2007, he was a Project Censored Award recipient for his investigative journalism work on the impact of media and corruption in military policies.

You Must Show Your Work: NORD Reform and NOLA Civic Engagement

By Tracie L. Washington, Esq

For several weeks now, LJI has been wrangling with the NORD Charter change proposition issue. Whether NORD needs reform (we don't know if NORD needs "reform" as much as it needs to be a priority commitment of everyone in city government as well as all of us who care about all children and our future) is not in question, and truly is a non-starter to any informed conversation. Everyone understands NORD is not functioning adequately for our kids and for our community.

For LJI – a non-profit civil rights legal advocacy organization and law firm that fosters and supports social justice campaigns and issues for poor communities and communities of color – we needed a better understanding of how this proposed charter change would affect voting rights, race relations, stakeholder equity and the role of government for our clients. Those issues had not been addressed.

On Wednesday we convened a Kitchen Table conversation with proponents and opponents of the charter change, and other stakeholders from the community who were still struggling with how to vote. For the remainder of the week, we listened – at the barber shops, at schools and playgrounds, at council chambers, through our web and email and voicemail. Here’s what is clear: Folks are angry and frustrated that, once again, they weren’t included in the process that developed this proposition they have been asked to approve. Just telling this community you studied best practices, and researched models, and involved a select group of organizations to assist you wasn’t good enough, no matter how well intentioned.

The fact of the matter is, however, poor and a fair representation of black & brown folks were not seated at the table to (1) make the decision a charter change is necessary, and/or (2) hammer out the terms of a new NORD/quasi-NORD (private-public) structure, and/or (3) have an informed conversation about how this change affects their communities.

Stakeholders in this vast New Orleans community have begun screaming the Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund mantra: Nothing About Us, Without Us, Is For Us. These stakeholders are LJI’s clients, and they will no longer stand for the “urban laboratory” treatment that left them pushed out of decisions concerning public education, public health, public housing, and public works. For LJI, this is a beautiful thing. Public engagement and equity through full inclusion in public decision-making is often an arduous process; but the result – that is, when communities build consensus around a project/development/proposition – is nothing less than magnificent.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chicago Parents Hold Sit-In to Protest Privatization of Public Schools

New Orleans Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas, as well as US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, used to run the Chicago Public School system, and Chicago remains a battleground on the issue of school reform.

Last week, a new battle was joined, as parents from one Chicago school - Whittier Elementary - in the mostly-Latino neighborhood of Pilsen, learned that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had plans to sell off a building owned by their school to nearby private school. Parents took action, organizing a 24-hour-a-day sit-in, that is now in day 10. The parents are demanding that CPS turn the building into a much-needed library for Whittier students, rather than selling it off.

Yesterday, LJI visited the sit-in. We spoke with one of the parents who organized the protest, Araceli Gonzalez, and asked her what they are fighting for:

We’re fighting for a library. It’s as simple as that. A library. And we reached this point that we need to do a sit-in to get it.

CPS is not really doing a lot because they think they’re stronger than us, and we’re going to show that regular people are stronger. Today’s our 8th day and we will continue sitting here until they give us what we want, because a library is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

I've been trying to understand how (Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman) thinks, and why he wont listen. I’m trying to see: is it my nationality or is it because of where I live, or is it because he just wants to demonstrate, “This is what I said and this is what I’m going to do.” Is it because he thinks, "This is a bunch of Hispanic ladies," so why would he give in to us?

I’m very proud. I know I’m speaking for all the moms who are here, we had discussed that we needed to do this, it was our only choice left. And we did it. We just started this not knowing how hard it was going to be, but it’s making us stronger.

We’ve been learning so much, so much. The support there is in the city that I never knew. I don’t even have this support in my family, with my regular life, so it’s an amazing thing for me.

I hope that my kids, as they grow older, they get involved in struggles like this. If they hear that there’s something going on, and their support is needed to just to sit there, or go sign a paper, or whatever is needed, they will do it.

They will learn from what were going through here, because they’ve been part of the sit-in too. Theyr’re struggling here, they come here some nights and stay for a while. They go home to go to sleep late, because if it’s the night that I’m going to stay here, they want to stay as late as they can because I’m going to stay the night.

Little things like that are making them stronger. The nights that I’m there are making them stronger.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jackson City Council Passes Anti-Profiling Legislation

From our friends at the ACLU of Mississippi:

JACKSON - The ACLU of Mississippi announced today that it applauds the Jackson City Council 6-1 vote to pass an anti-racial profiling ordinance. The ordinance prohibits police officers from stopping or detaining people based on the person’s race, immigration status, perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits police officers from asking people about their immigration status solely to determine if they are in the United States illegally.

“I commend the council members for standing up for the protection of civil rights and civil liberties,” said Nsombi Lambright, ACLU-MS Executive Director. “A person’s race should never be grounds to suspect that someone has committed a crime. This ordinance declares that Mississippi’s capital city will not tolerate racial profiling.”

The ordinance also enforces basic Constitutional protections.

“The Constitution guarantees equal protection and prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement,” said Bear Atwood. “This ordinance underscores those protections and reminds police officers that they have a sworn duty to uphold them.”

Voters in Washington DC and New York City Reject Charter Schools

New Orleans, ground zero of the charter school movement, will soon face a decision on whether the city's public schools will return to local control. According to an article this week by Diane Ravitch in Education Week, recent elections in Washington DC and New York City - where well-funded charter advocates lost decisively at the polls - may carry important lessons. Speaking about the choice of voters in DC, where the mayor who had championed charter schools won with white voters (who generally do not have kids in the city's public schools) but decisively lost the Black vote, Ravitch wrote:

"Journalists attributed Fenty's loss to the power of the teachers' union, but such an explanation implies that black voters, even in the privacy of the voting booth, lack the capacity to make an informed choice. When the Tea Party wins a race, journalists don't write about who controlled their vote, but about a voter revolt; they acknowledge that those who turned out to vote had made a conscious decision. Yet when black voters, by large margins, chose Vincent Gray over Adrian Fenty, journalists found it difficult to accept that the voters were acting on their own, not as puppets of the teachers' union."

A Small, Good Week, By Tom Lowenstein

From Innocence Project New Orleans Policy Director Tom Lowenstein, via Friends of Justice:

The strangest thing about the work we do at Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) is how our greatest accomplishments seem at once enormous and tiny: enormous in the lives of the innocent men we are able to free from prison, and tiny in the context of the criminal justice system as a whole. Enormous in the good that is done when an innocent person is set free; tiny in the fact that the “good” resolution of the legal case has taken far too long, the innocent man has lost 10 or 20 or 30 years of his life and now has been set free without a dime to his name or a job or anything that might help him rebuild his life. It’s hard to imagine there is anything more important, or “bigger,” than saving an innocent life. Until you look at our criminal justice system as a whole, and think about how many lives stuck in it need to be saved. Then you can’t help but feel very small.

This week, IPNO got good news in seven cases: three men were exonerated by DNA evidence, and four other men who had been set free years ago were officially told, once and for all, that they would not be re-prosecuted. Seven exonerations. What a week.

But one of the men newly proven innocent won’t get a chance to enjoy it: he died eight years ago, in prison, having proclaimed his innocence at every opportunity over his 22 years of incarceration. And another of those men has very advanced cancer; he made it out of prison and will, it seems, at least have the chance to die with his family. The third man has no family around to help him, no money to his name, nowhere to stay. So he came to New Orleans with us, and is being helped by Resurrection After Exoneration, a group founded by an exoneree precisely to help other exonerees. Thank god for RAE—otherwise, who knows what would happen to that man. Thirty years in prison for something he didn’t do, then released with a laundry bag holding all his things—the judge even had to order the sheriff’s department to give him some new clothes because all he had was his prison jumpsuit.

The other four men have been out for a while, proven innocent years ago and released, only to have the authorities hang the threat of re-trying them over their heads for years. Now they are, finally, free.

This morning, at staff meeting, we were back to work: every case is a fight, every case takes years, every good ending is really just a slight correction to a decades-long injustice that the wrongfully convicted will live with until they die.

But seven exonerations in a week is a lot. Seven exonerations in a week will hopefully make people who never think about our justice system think about it. Maybe a few more people will realize that, with 2 million or so people incarcerated in our country, even if our error rate is 1% or .5%, that’s a lot of innocent people in prison. And maybe then they’ll realize that our justice system isn’t as good as it could or should be. That there are lots of ways to make it better, which is to say, lots of ways to create a safer, more just society.

Seven exonerations in a week. Our work can feel like pushing and pushing against a big boulder that never moves—but it just moved a tiny bit. So it’s time to push harder.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Haitian Women Struggle to Keep Hope Alive, By Wadner Pierre

GONAIVES, Sep 20, 2010 (IPS) - "I'm going to do everything possible to raise my daughter. My daughter is my future. And I can see my future in her," says Mirlene Saint Juste, a rice merchant in the Opoto market of Gonaives in northern Haiti.

Haitian women like Saint Juste who work as street vendors are widely viewed as one of the country's main economic engines. Their loud sales pitch on busy market days has earned them the affectionate nickname "Madame Sara", after a type of yellow bird in the countryside that loves to sing.

Cetoute Sadila, now middle-aged, has worked since she was 15 at the Lester market in the valley of Artibonite, Haiti's largest department.

"I have been selling rice here since I was little girl," she says. "I used to sell a medium-sized can of rice for 30 gourdes (74 cents). Now, I have to sell it for 105 gourdes (about 2.60 U.S. dollars) because the fertiliser is very expensive." Still, Sadila said she is able to send her children to school and university.

Not all are so lucky. While Artibonite, and its capital, Gonaives, were largely spared by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, Port-au-Prince and its surrounds suffered colossal damage.

The slow pace of recovery has pushed women who were already on the brink of destitution over the edge.

Rosemene Mondesir is a single mother of seven children who has lived in a displaced persons camp for the last eight months. "I have always been the mother and father of my children - before and after the earthquake," she says. "I need assistance to feed and send them to school."

The filthy, ramshackle camp is situated about a 40-minute drive north of Port-au-Prince. Residents have dubbed it "the desert of Canaan" because there are so few trees and no potable water. The area used to be a dumpsite for the victims of death squads, particularly following the first coup against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.

But in Haiti, women are always well-organised, whether in the marketplace or the camps. As the dust from the quake settled, they have joined hands to combat rapists and opportunistic thieves.

Stephanie Henry, a 28-year-old civil engineer, is the leader of Ann Kore Yo/Let's Support Them, a grassroots women's group based in Cersal camp in the Delmas district. "A group of women and I decided to found this organisation to help other young women," she told IPS. "The young are more vulnerable."

"Some of them lost their parents in the earthquake. They have to sell their bodies to get some money to live. It is very sad," Henry says.

Teen pregnancy is also much more visible than before the earthquake. Dr. Magalita Lajoie, a general practitioner who specialises in community health, told IPS, "I was working in a camp where I registered six cases of 13-year-old girls who became pregnant after Jan. 12."

"Rape is a big problem in the camps," she said. "We have trainings for 14-year-old girls living in the camps we work at. We teach them what to do in case someone rapes them. We also teach them how to protect themselves from getting pregnant. In turn, they teach the other girls."

Those who work with women in the camps say that the authorities are often indifferent to crimes against women and rapists are rarely brought to justice.

"The Haitian government and MINUSTAH [the U.N. peacekeeping force] have to take responsibility to provide security for the camps. They have to protect the women and children from being abused or raped by the predators," said Mario Joseph, a lead attorney with the Bureaux des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), at a press conference last month with Blaine Bookey, a U.S. lawyer working with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

A report published in July by human rights groups including Madre, IJDH and BAI called "Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women's Fight against Rape" detailed ongoing sexual violence in the camps and criticised the Haitian president and U.N. mission in Haiti for not providing security or electricity.

Komisyon Fanm Viktim Pou Viktim, or KOFAVIV/Committee of Women Victims for Victims, has worked with survivors of sexual violence since 2004. In a report published Jul. 18, KOFAVIV contradicted U.N. claims that security has been provided in problem areas. "People living in many camps are forced to provide their own security, with little resources, through informal security patrols or 'brigades'," the group said.

In the first two months after the earthquake, KOFAVIV tracked 230 incidents of rape in just 15 camps in Port‐au‐ Prince.

While the government and the international community work on a reconstruction plan, many feel that the immediate problems facing Haitian women have slipped under the radar – even though they must play a key role in putting Haiti back on its feet.

Besides personal safety issues, there are no child support laws to protect single mothers, who comprise the majority of homeless seen on the street.

Marie Benjami, a mother of three, is among the more fortunate ones. She has a job at the Zanmi Agrikol farm, a project of Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health, located in Bas- Plateau Central.

"I have been working with Zanmi Agrikol/Friends of Agriculture for two years. I can only help my children by coming here. If I didn't work here, I don't know what I would do to support them," she said.

This Nov. 28, Haitians will head to the polls to choose a new president, 10 senators and 99 members of parliament. Fanmi Lavalas, widely seen as the most popular political party in the country, has again been excluded from the election on technical grounds.

But women may still have something to cheer about. Despite their many hardships and a culture of discrimination, at least two - Mirland H. Manigat and Claire-Lydie Parent – have registered to run for president.

Wadner Pierre is a Haitian photojournalist who currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. Originally from the city of Gonaives in Haiti, he regularly writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and Haiti Liberte. Wadner is a co-founder and frequent contributor to, a media collective of young journalists. In 2007, he was a Project Censored Award recipient for his investigative journalism work on the impact of media and corruption in military policies.

Photo above by Wadner Pierre.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Struggle for New Orleans Public Schools

The struggle over the fate of New Orleans' Public Schools is heating up.

On Tuesday, September 21, a coalition of organizations; including Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Young Adult Striving for Success and Southern Poverty Law Center; will be hosting a meeting on Changing School Security, part of a campaign to change the way school security operates in New Orleans Public Schools. The meeting will be at 6:00pm at 1600 O.C. Haley Blvd.

Next month, a coalition that includes Deep South Environmental Justice Institute, Louisiana Association of Educators, and Research on Reforms, with Co-Sponsors New Orleans Educational Equity Roundtable and The Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, will be bringing former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch to speak at Dillard University. Ravitch has made a lot of waves recently as a former Charter School advocate who has changed her opinion on charters.

The event is called The Sad State of Education Reform Today and it will be held at 7:00pm on October 27th in the Professional Science Building at Dillard University.

For more information on the Diane Ravitch event, contact Dr. Raynard Sanders at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force Sponsors Ceasefire March

From our friends at the New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force:

New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force and SilenceIsViolence are hosting the first of this season's Peace Walks, undertaken through a partnership between the two organizations and coordinated by Ms. Tamara Jackson.

The proposed Peace Walk will be held today and is a direct response to the recent shootings at the intersection of St. Bernard and St. Claude avenues, following the Black Men of Labor annual parade. The walk will mobilize the social aid and pleasure club community and is being termed a "ceasefire march."

The Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force and SilenceIsViolence intend to send a message of support to the Black Men of Labor as well as the family of the deceased through this Ceasefire March. The assault on our community and our culture will not be tolerated by the club memberships.

The route for this walk will begin and end at the intersection of St. Bernard and St. Claude avenues, the point where Kaamila Muhammad lost her life in shootings that occurred a little over a week ago on Sunday evening. In the media. these shootings were portrayed as associated with the Black Men of Labor second-line parade that had passed by that point earlier in the day.

Despite media suggestions, violence near second-line parades is rare. Until last Sunday, there had not been a shooting in the vicinity of a parade since 2006. Violence is an evil that hurts us all in New Orleans. This week's walk asks that we not allow cultural differences to impose false divisions among us: The struggle for peace must be unified to be successful. Social Aid and Pleasure Club members participating in this Thursday's walk will wear club attire, and brass band musicians will participate and play music during a portion of the walk, as a reminder that the clubs are dedicated to healing and peace in our communities, and as a show of support for the Black Men of Labor.

Ceasefire March: The Campaign to Stop the Shooting - Route:
Thursday, September 16, 2010, 6:30pm
Start: Sidney Saloon (1200 St. Bernard Ave) at the corner of St. Claude. Turn Left on St. Bernard Ave; proceed out St. Bernard Ave to Galvez St. Turn right on Galvez. Proceed out Galvez to Aubry St. Turn left on Aubry St.
Stop: 2169 Aubry St.( Seals Class Act)- Moment of Silence
Continue out Aubry St to Miro St. Turn left on Miro St. Out Miro to St. Bernard Ave. Turn Left back onto St. Bernard Ave. Continue out St. Bernard Ave. to St. Claude
End: 1200 St. Bernard Ave.( Sidney Saloon)

We invite all concerned New Orleans citizens, government officials, and law enforcement representatives to participate.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Funding for HIV Prevention in New Orleans

From our friends at the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES) and Brotherhood, Incorporated:

Please join IWES and Brotherhood at our Press Conference as we announce three million dollars for minority-focused HIV prevention in New Orleans!
CDC has awarded over $3 Million to the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies(IWES) and Brotherhood, Inc, two minority-focused Community-Based Organizations, to Support HIV Prevention Efforts in the New Orleans Metro Area Over the Next Five Years

The Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES) and Brotherhood, Inc, are holding a press conference to announce the award of over $3 Million over five years from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to provide services to at-risk communities. The two CBOs are located in Mid-City at Carrollton and Canal, bringing significant economic and social impact to this area and to the City of New Orleans.

Brotherhood and IWES, collaborative partners, are funded to provide an array of culturally proficient, HIV prevention and risk reduction services. Brotherhood provides anonymous & confidential rapid HIV testing services, small group sessions to same gender loving men of color and Transgender women, and comprehensive risk counseling services. IWES provides HIV prevention education to youth of color ages 12-18, through programs that include media development, peer education, risk reduction, referral for HIV testing, and community engagement. Brotherhood and IWES plan to make over 5,000 contacts each year through outreach activities.

More History Denial on Katrina Recovery, By Lance Hill

In the days before the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published their first full story on the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (BNOBC) "greenspace" plan. Predictably, it revises the history of the plan that they editorially endorsed and that Brown University researcher John Logan said would eliminate 80% of the black population.

One popular misconception reiterated in the article is that the only areas slated for demolition were those under the "green dots" on the planning map. In truth, the BNOBC plan, first proposed by the Urban Land Institute in November 2005, was designed to demolish all homes that flooded--and using that flood criteria, the result would have been the demolition of virtually all Black neighborhoods. Race was a key factor in given that the white Lakefront area was explicitly exempted from demolition (see attached map). The homes under the green dots were simply reserved for conversion to parks and retention ponds--"greenspace." In the end, under the BNOBC plan, most of New Orleans residential neighborhoods would have reverted to woodlands and swamps.

Granted, the BNOBC plan did contain a 120 day "planning period" in which neighborhoods had to prove they could recover or face demolition, but given that the residents of these neighborhoods were scattered to 5,500 cities in 48 states and most had no jobs, no means of returning, and it was illegal for residents to stay overnight even in their gutted homes in New Orleans East, the BNOBC planners knew that no neighborhood could re-convene and meet the criteria or deadline.

The best evidence of that the "neighborhood planning process" was a charade is found in the plan budget on page 57 of the BNOBC report below ( which allocates $12.7 billion for "heavily flooded/damaged home acquisition" and "demolition and site remediation." The budget was sufficient to ensure that virtually all homes in the flooded residential areas would be demolished. In addition, although over 40% of blacks rented pre-Katrina, not one penny was budgeted to rebuild rentals.

More than simply a "green dot" problem, the fear that blacks had was of a vastly greater removal policy. As the Brown University report found: "The city of New Orleans could lose up to 80 percent of its black population if people displaced by Hurricane Katrina are not able to return to damaged neighborhoods, according to an analysis by a Brown University sociologist. Professor John R. Logan, in findings released Thursday, determined that if the city's returning population was limited to neighborhoods undamaged by Katrina, half of the white population would not return and 80 percent of the black population would not return."

Finally, the current level of blight is not, as the Times-Picayune suggests, the result of the failure to demolish homes and relocate residents. Since the plan was never to rebuild the city in its entirety, the city never requested funding to rebuild the damaged roads, water lines, and sewerage system for the entire city. Entergy, the local electric company, asked for and received $400 million in a federal bailout funds to rebuild the electrical grid for the entire city. New Orleans would have adequate infrastructure today if the elite planners had not been preoccupied with keeping most of the population out of the city. Most of the current blighted homes are a result of the failure of the planners to request any funds to restore rentals and then subsequently the state's policy of allocating home-owner rebuilding funds in a racially discriminatory way, according to a recent federal court ruling.

All of these injustices can be remedied and all neighborhoods restored if the political leadership, locally and nationally has the will to make people whole again.

Above Map: Revised Times-Picayune Map published August 23, 2010 (leaves out "flood-damaged" neighborhoods targeted for demolition. See map originally published).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Save The Date: BESE Announces Meeting on the Fate of New Orleans Public Schools and the Recovery School District

Louisiana Justice Institute, Children's Defense Fund, and other partners will convene a “Meeting before the Meeting” in early October and invite our education advocate friends to discuss these important issues.

From the Louisiana Department of Education Website:

State law authorizes the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to transfer chronically low-performing schools to the jurisdiction of the Recovery School District (RSD) for an initial five year period. That initial period will expire at the end of the 2010-2011 school year for Orleans Parish public schools transferred to the RSD in 2004 and 2005. On Tuesday, BESE will receive a recommendation from State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek on the future governance of 68 of these schools, currently operating as RSD direct-run schools or independently-managed charter schools. However, BESE will not act on Superintendent Pastorek's decision until its December Board Meeting. And today the state's education policy making board announced the details of an October public hearing on the matter.

BESE Member Chas Roemer, who chairs BESE's RSD Committee, said the meeting, which will be held October 14 in the auditorium of McDonogh #35 High School in New Orleans, is required by legislation. He emphasized the Board's commitment to a format that will allow ample input and feedback from the communities impacted by this decision.

"While the focus of Tuesday's BESE Committee meeting is to hear a report on the progress of RSD schools and to receive Superintendent Pastorek's recommendation, it is of critical importance to us that we hear from students, parents, educators, groups and the citizens of New Orleans prior to making a decision. While we're anticipating that individuals and groups will attend the committee meeting on Tuesday to voice their opinions, we want to devote adequate time - and set a convenient time and place -- to ensure that everybody who wants to be heard is heard. We want to assure the community that the BESE meeting tomorrow is not the only time we will hear comment, and we encourage citizens to attend the October meeting," Roemer said.

The RSD was created by legislation in 2003 for the purpose of transforming the state’s chronically low-performing schools. Five New Orleans schools were transferred to the RSD in 2004 and 2005, prior to Hurricane Katrina. In November 2005, legislation extended the designation of a failed school to include schools scoring below the state average, if the school operates within a district in academic crisis. The New Orleans School System fell within this definition. Thus 107 schools were transferred to the RSD in 2005, although not all these schools remained open.

Currently, the RSD oversees 68 schools in New Orleans and 16 schools outside of New Orleans - either directly or indirectly in the case of charter schools. The RSD has also entered into Memorandums of Understanding or Management Contracts with another 25 schools.

Meeting Details:

Date: Thursday, October 14
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: McDonogh #35 High School Auditorium
1331 Kerlerec Street, New Orleans, LA 70116

One Year After Justice Department Letter, No Changes at Orleans Parish Prison

From our friends at ACLU of Louisiana:

ACLU Urges Sheriff Gusman and Justice Department to Report Progress

One year after the U.S. Department of Justice notified Sheriff Marlin Gusman of multiple Constitutional violations at Orleans Parish Prison, the Sheriff remains silent about what, if any, changes he has made to comply with Justice Department orders. On September 11, 2009, the Justice Department sent Sheriff Gusman a letter, based on an inquiry made at the request of the ACLU, outlining inadequate supervision of staff and of prisoners, inadequate medical screening, unsanitary conditions including overflowing toilets and moldy food service utensils, overcrowding, and improper classification of inmates. Sheriff Gusman was given a deadline of October 30, 2009 to remedy these deficiencies.

“Sheriff Gusman has refused to tell the public what, if anything, he has done to comply with the Justice Department's deadline,” said Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. “While he maintains his secrecy, we know that several people have died in the past year at his prison, which means that problems still remain. The public has the right to know whether Sheriff Gusman is in compliance with orders from the federal government, and he refuses to say.”

While maintaining his silence about the Justice Department inquiry, Sheriff Gusman seeks to build a new jail that would, per capita, be the largest jail in the country with the capacity to house one of 60 New Orleans residents. Esman continued: “We need a new jail, but we know that Sheriff Gusman cannot protect the 3,200 human beings already in his custody. He wants to incarcerate a higher rate of the population than anyone else in the United States, but he won't tell us whether he's still in violation of the Constitution. New Orleans residents have the right to know that their sheriff is obeying the law before shelling out millions of dollars for a new jail.”

Today the ACLU of Louisiana sent a follow-up letter to the Justice Department asking them to update the people of New Orleans on the status of their investigation, and to finally take action to ensure that the elected Sheriff meets his Constitutional obligations. “Enough is enough,” said Esman. “It's been a year, nobody will give the public any information, but we know that deaths continue, and we are entitled to some answers.”

A copy of the ACLU's letter to the Justice Department can be found at this link.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Taser Incident Raises Questions of Student Treatment at Jackson High School

By Titus Lin and Pat Bryant
The police tasing of 17 year old black male Timothy Mack inside his classroom has tensions rising in the sleepy southern town of Jackson, Louisiana, fifteen minutes north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capitol.

On August 12, 2010, Jackson Deputy Marshall Robert Sanders was called to Jackson High School as a result of a heated verbal exchange between Mack and school principal Bobby Washington, also black. The argument centered on whether or not Mack had been smoking on school grounds, and Mack’s refusal to go to the principal’s office to be disciplined.

Upon arriving at the school, Sanders, a fifty or so white male, ordered Mack to come outside of the classroom, and said that he was taking the student to jail. When Mack refused to cooperate and turned to reenter the classroom, Sanders deployed his taser on Mack in full view of the other students. Mack was rendered unconscious and transported by emergency medics to a hospital, treated, and had taser probes removed from his body. He was then jailed.

The tasing policy for the Jackson Police Department states a taser may be used by an officer "to defend him or herself from what is reasonably believed an immediate threat of physical injury or death, to prevent suicide or self injury or to deter vicious animals." According to eyewitness accounts as well as Sanders’ police report, Sanders’ taser struck the teen in the back, as he was reentering his classroom. Despite this, no apology has been issued to Mack for the excessive force used in his arrest. Instead, he has been charged with resisting arrest and disturbing the peace and has been expelled from school.

The preliminary court hearing for Mack’s case will be on October 10. He will be represented by lawyer Winston DeCuir of the Baton Rouge firm DeCuir and Adams. In addition, Timothy Mack’s family is considering seeking a public hearing to appeal his expulsion, and allege that the school has thus far failed to follow proper expulsion procedure.

The tasering incident has drawn criticism and concern from civil rights organizations and local community members alike. Both the Louisiana NAACP and the Feliciana Chapter of the NAACP are monitoring the matter. Otis Bee, Mack’s father, stated that the police were “absolutely wrong shooting a student in school when no one was in danger.” Bee also claims that the incident began from “false accusations by Mr. Washington and his way of “railroading students from the school to Jackson’s alternative school.” Bee also says his son’s expulsion is unfair.

The use of tasers by police has had a controversial past. Although considered a ‘nonlethal’ weapon, their use has been linked with numerous incidents of serious injury and death; According to Amnesty International, over 350 taser-related deaths have occurred since 2001. In 2007, the U.N. Committee Against Torture issued a statement saying that the use tasers results in acute pain or death, can constitute a form of torture, and can even cause death. In a tragic incident last year, a 15 year old boy in Michigan died after being stunned by a taser by police.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cultural Traditions Continue to Face Unjust Linkage to Violence in New Orleans’ Streets

By Alison McCrary
Louisiana television and print media continue to falsely link the violence in New Orleans to its rich cultural traditions.

Fox news and numerous other media outlets inaccuratley report that a shooting at the corner of St. Bernard Ave. and St. Claude took place at Sunday’s secondline and as a result of the secondline. In one article, Fox news writes, “The shootings have once again raised questions as to whether the [secondline] tradition, is worth continuing.”

Local cultural artist legend and co-founder of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club., Fred Johnson, says, “We were long gone when the shooting took place. It was nearly an hour after the parade had passed. We were already at Sweet Lorraine’s when the shooting took place. This is unfair reporting.”

Sustaining Rich Cultural Traditions

The Black Men of Labor parade annually on Labor Day Weekend and are the first secondline parade at the start of each new season. They intentionally request that their members and musicians come to the parade dressed respectfully and play only traditional secondline music to keep the parade peaceful.

Johnson explains, “The parade is well-attended by all races and all nationalities. We treat the parade with the same respect as the culture that is comes out of.”

“We’re not about violence. We’re about being certain that we can maintain and sustain the culture of New Orleans.”

Inaccurate and Unfair Reporting

The inaccurancies in reporting perpetrate a system that criminalizes New Orleans’ backstreet cultural traditions.

“If the journalists claim to be ‘equitable,’ then they need to get both sides of the story,” argues Mr. Johnson. “We need fair and equitable reporting about the situation.”

“The media needs to get the facts straight. For 16 years, we have been parading with no problem. I explained to Channel 4 News that they can check the record. We put the music on the streets that makes New Orleans known all over the world.”

“The reporters need to be more diligent in getting the facts,” argues Mr. Johnson. “Our culture can’t be miscontrued by the media.”

“When there’s an incident, we’re all sorry for it but you can’t blame it on the parade when there’s an act of violence.”

Media Attacks Local Music Venues

In addition to falsely linking the shooting to the secondline parade, the media has attacked the local nearby bar, Sidney's Saloon, advocating for its closure. The shooting took place on the streets near the bar.

“These smaller community bars are the places where musicians gather and bands first start” says attorney and cultural rights advocate, Carol Kolinchak.

“The little neighborhood bars nurture the development of the music in New Orleans. When crimes happen in clubs on Bourbon Street, no one argues for those bars to close.”

Getting to the Root of the Problem

“We live in a high crime area,” says Kolinchak. Mr. Johnson agrees, “Violence is a societal problem. When men and women get killed on our streets, it’s a societal problem not a Black Men of Labor or secondline problem.”

“When there’s a shooting at a Mardi Gras parade on St. Charles Avenue, the journalists don’t put it on Rex or other krewes. This is racism.”

“It’s a societal problem because the same killings happen on non-parade days” argues Johnson. “Who failed us? Our institutions? Our church? Our education? Our criminal justice system? Don’t try to take a culture that’s an economic engine for the city and mark it as something that is dark, ugly and bare. That’s very sinister for the media to do it like that.”

Photo by Abdul Aziz.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The United States of Fear – Ten Examples

By Bill Quigley
Since September 11, 2001, fear has been the main engine of change in the United States. Who would have thought that across the US, where people boast that it is the home of the free and the land of the brave, people would gladly surrender their freedom and liberty because they so fear terrorism?

Who would have thought that the US would allow, much less pay for, the National Security Agency to intercept and store 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other communications – every single day – and pay for 30,000 people to listen in on phone conversations in the name of fighting the fear of terrorism?

Who would have thought that people across New York City, where people are proud of their diversity, would fear construction of a mosque and community center downtown?

Who would have thought that people across the US, where people argue that they helped bring down the wall that separated East and West Germany, would so fear their neighbors to the South that they support construction of a wall of separation with Mexico?

Who would have thought that some of the highest lawyers in the land would write memos illegally authorizing the torture of people in the name of making the US safe?

Who would have thought that Democrats would compete with Republicans to try to keep the globally shameful Guantanamo prison open so that people inside the US would not have to fear having living near prisons with alleged terrorists in them?

Who would have thought that people in New York City, a place where people admire their own toughness, would fear having criminal trials of alleged terrorists in their city?

Who would have thought that in the US, where people take pride in the constitutional independence of the judiciary, those judges would turn down the case of Maher Arar, who was captured in the US and flown out to a Syrian prison to be tortured, because they fear that even looking at the case would interfere with national security?

Who would have thought that the people of the US would fear to have Uighurs, members of persecuted ethnic minority who struggled for their freedoms against China, allowed to live even temporarily in the US?

Who would have thought that the people of the US would so fear the possibility of the Taliban ruling Afghanistan and the false possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that we would send our sons and daughters to die by the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Who would have thought that there once was a US president who said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance…”?

You tell me what happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave since September 11, 2001.

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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Report on Youth Detention in New Orleans

From our friends at Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana:

As the Hurricane Katrina anniversary approaches, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana is re-releasing Treated Like Trash, a 2006 report that detailed the stories of youth detained during the botched evacuations of the Youth Study Center and the Orleans Parish Prison. The original report included stories including teenagers so hungry after days without food that they ate what floated by in the water, skin peeling from sunburn, and a mother who did not know where her son was for weeks. Its release led to a commitment by the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff to never again hold youth in the juvenile justice system at OPP.

The updated report, which details the five-year community campaign that followed the tragedy, is known as Trash to Triumph, and celebrates the major steps that have been taken to improve conditions at YSC. While the City still has much more to do to meet expectations, Thursday morning’s press conference focused on the sense of hope many feel at this moment given the dedication of the new administration to youth in the city, as well as the progress that has been made in this arena to date.

“Although the work is far from over, the anniversary gives us the chance to recognize those who have improved the lives of youth in New Orleans,” said Dana Kaplan, Director of JJPL. “Community organizations, citizens groups, families and friends of the youth, and the youth themselves have led a successful movement for a reformed juvenile justice system, persevering in the face of adversity. The new Administration of the City has joined with us in pledging a commitment to further reform. While there is much work left to be done, we are extremely hopeful that, five years after the storm exposed the problems endemic to our justice system, we can finally work together for real change and real public safety.”

Councilmember Susan Guidry, whose district includes YSC, and Seung Hong, the Interim Director of the city’s Human Services Department, will be present to express their commitment to reform. Further recommendations from advocates include completing construction on a new best practice facility within the next two years and fully implementing mandated reforms to staffing, health services, education, and policies and procedures that resulted from the settlement of the federal lawsuit JJPL filed against the City of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish School Board in 2007.

The full report is available online at

Photo above by Abdul Aziz.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Activists to March Across Danziger Bridge This Saturday

From the New Orleans Coalition for Change:

The New Orleans Coalition for Change will hold a march at 10:00am on Saturday, September 4th, across the Danzinger Bridge, where New Orleans Police Officers shot and killed unarmed civilians 5 days after Katrina. The group will hold a press release and wreath laying ceremony at the bottom of the bridge.

The march will begin at the intersection of Chef Mentuer Hwy and Dowman Road and will end on the west side of the bridge. If you would like more information about the march, or schedule an interview please contact Apostle Leonard Lucas at (504)908-0833 or Rev. Raymond Brown at (504)265-5472.

Organizers of the March are:
Apostle Leonard Lucas, Jr.
Rev. Raymond Brown
Rev. Aubry Wallace
Rev. Dr. Norwood Thompson, Jr.