Saturday, October 29, 2011

Angry Mob of Officers Defends Accused Cops

Few in New Orleans can forget the sight, in January of 2007, when New Orleans police officers involved in the killings on Danziger Bridge walked into Central Lockup on to be booked on murder and attempted-murder charges.

The accused were surrounded by two hundred or more other officers, who came to show their support, cheering and applauding and hugging the officers who had shot down unarmed civilians in cold blood.

Yesterday, a similar scene played out in New York City. According to the New York Times, hundreds of officers came out to applaud and support sixteen officers who faced a combined total of more 1,600 criminal counts. While the majority of the charges stemmed from widespread ticket-fixing, officers were also accused of drug offenses, grand larceny, attempted robbery, and more.

New York's Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union for NYPD officers, was deeply involved in the alleged crimes. According to the Times, "During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families." Similarly, PANO, the officer's union in New Orleans, was closely connected to the Danziger officers.

The hundreds of NYPD officers engaged in what the Times called, "a stunning display of vitriol," against prosecutors, and also displayed hostility towards the press, "blocking cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward." While there, officers also yelled insults at welfare recipients who were lined up at a facility across the street.

The lessons from New Orleans' struggle against police violence are relevant to today's scenes from New York City.

On September 4, 2005, two innocent civilians were killed and four were wounded. Seventeen-year-old James Brissette died from several bullets in his back, fired by NOPD officers. Lesha Bartholomew, also 17, was shot in the back while she lay on the ground, attempting to shield her mother's body with her own. NOPD officers were defending these actions.

The officers involved in the Danziger killings were finally convicted this year. If their fellow officers had not stood behind them and defended them, despite the evidence of their involvement in murder, they would no doubt have faced justice sooner.

At the Danziger trial this year, one of the NOPD officers who later plead guilty in the killings testified about the support they had received. "We were treated pretty much like heroes,” said officer Michael Hunter. “Nobody thought we did anything wrong,” he added. “They thought we were being persecuted.” Hunter also testified that his fellow officers involved in the shootings enjoyed the attention, saying that Officer Anthony Villavaso, another of the accused (and later convicted), “was reveling in it.”

As described in the Times, the officers' behavior showed they were not on the side of law, but on the side of their fellow officers, right or wrong.
Forming a wall four deep in the main foyer, they applauded as the defendants appeared. The indicted officers waved and pumped their fists. A court official who came out to calm the crowd drew insults...On the street outside the courthouse, some 350 officers massed behind barricades and brandished signs...When the defendants emerged, many in the crowd burst into raucous cheers. Once they had gone and the tide of officers had dispersed, the street was littered with refuse.
Despite the progress made in New Orleans, there are still no officers who have come forward proactively to report wrongdoing by their fellow officers. It's no wonder people in New Orleans, New York, and around the country are seeking alternatives to policing.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Orleans Activist Embraces Love and Forgiveness, Not Revenge

Yesterday, the racial justice website ColorLines paid tribute to New Orleans activist Rafael Delgadillo, who has chosen to forgive the men who shot him in the head last month. Below is an excerpt from the ColorLines report:
Last month, a random act of violence nearly took Rafael Delgadillo’s life. The 29-year old was at a stop sign in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans when two young men approached his vehicle in an attempted carjacking. As he drove off, they opened fire, shooting him in the head. Miraculously, he survived, although the bullet lodged in his brain still threatened to leave him without his eyesight.

Delgadillo, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, is an active community leader and youth mentor. He received both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in History from the University of New Orleans. His work with Puentes, a non-profit community development organization for Latinos in the Greater New Orleans area, has garnered him support, respect and many friends—which was evident when over 150 people came together at the vigil held for him days after the shooting. The crowd was relieved to hear from Delgadillo’s father that their beloved Rafa had regained his sight, though not entirely. It continues to improve, slowly but surely.

For the dedicated activist, this experience has fueled his passion to continue the important work of mentoring young men of color, fighting the systemic issues of youth violence. While it would be easy for a victim of such a violent crime to succumb to anger or to the pursuit of punishment for the teenagers who did this to him, Delgadillo is of a greater vision. “If I had them face to face, I mean, I’d…I’d embrace them, you know. I’d forgive them,” he said.

The wisdom in his compassion is not hard to understand when the loving network of friends and family is revealed. That his father sees the assailants, two black teenagers, as victims themselves is telling. That a close friend’s words implore others not to not seek retaliation is significant. And when Rafael insists that he is lucky to have had his father in his life, his African American college professor as a mentor, and the director of Puentes take him under his wing in his professional growth, he notes his blessing that the most influential people in his life have been people of color.

As Rafael wells up with emotion thinking about all the people that live him, he reflects: “I was raised to treat people right, and not look for nothing in return. And that’s what I’ve done. And I’ve been doing the right things, apparently.”

It is no wonder that the outpouring of love and support he received mirrors his own.
Photo from the Dear World Website.

Tulane Law Student Among Steering Committee for National Movement to End Discrimination Against Formerly Incarcerated

From a press release from the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement:
National Movement to End Human and Civil Rights Abuses Against Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Their Families Kicks Off Nov. 2 in Los Angeles, CA

Formerly incarcerated people from around the country will convene in Los Angeles on November 2 to ratify the National Platform of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement (FICPM) and discuss an agenda for action. Participants will discuss plans to register and mobilize one million formerly incarcerated people to vote in the 2012 elections and strategies to expand the “Ban the Box” employment rights campaign that has yielded legislation in six states easing discrimination against job seekers with a conviction history.

Key organizers of the gathering include Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children and the organizing project All of Us or None, based in San Francisco, CA, Susan Burton, Executive Director, A New Way of Life Reentry Project in South Central Los Angeles and Pastor Kenny Glasgow, Director of The Ordinary People’s Society (aka TOPS) in Dothan, Alabama.

The new movement emerges at a time when the US has the largest incarceration rate in the world and approximately two million children under the age of 18 with at least one parent behind bars. An estimated 600,000 will be released from prison per year over the next five years. According to the latest US Bureau of Justice statistics, over four million people were on parole and over 800,000 were on probation.

“The abuse of my rights as a formerly incarcerated person is not just an individual issue. Sure, my right to vote, my right to work is important to me, but discrimination against our voting and employment rights has a huge impact on civic engagement and the economic well-being of Black and brown communities in general,” said convening co-organizer, Dorsey Nunn.

“The War on Drugs is the biggest cause of disenfranchisement” said co-organizer Pastor Kenny Glasgow. In 2008 Glasgow won a groundbreaking lawsuit restoring the voting rights of the currently incarcerated and those convicted of drug crimes in Alabama. “As formerly incarcerated people we are hindered from becoming the productive people in society we actually want to be. With this work we are serving our country after serving our time. We want to create harm reduction and public safety for all.”

“There are 60 million people who are struggling with the quality of their lives as the result of mass incarceration in this country. This meeting will allow us to come together as formerly incarcerated people in a way that’s never been done before. It will connect us and strengthen us so that we can push forward with a common agenda and a common goal. Our goal is to end the discrimination against us,” said co-organizer and Los Angeles host, Susan Burton, Executive Director of the New Way of Life Reentry Project.

According to Dorsey Nunn, the convening is open to the public but only participants who identify themselves as formerly incarcerated or convicted people will be allowed to vote to ratify the National Platform. “Where else has anyone asked us what we wanted? Everyone else has always prescribed what we needed. We’re more than somebody else’s client-base, more than somebody else’s patient. The process to develop a national platform represents the first time we’ve asked ourselves, what do we want?”

The gathering will include workshops for youth and family members and trainings on how to overcome growing barriers to voter registration and “Get Out The Vote” and how to “Ban the Box” that appears on employment forms asking for felony conviction history.

The FICPM gathering is scheduled to coincide with the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles, November 2-5. The conference hosts, Drug Policy Alliance, will honor Dorsey Nunn, key organizer for the FICPM gathering, with the Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action at an awards reception on Saturday Nov. 5 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.

Participants are attending from around the country. The Steering Committee includes:

Malik Aziz, Men United for a Better Philadelphia: Founder and Chairman of the National Exodus Council, with a presence in 24 cities across the nation. He began organizing while incarcerated in Graterford Prison, and eventually found a role in the Philadelphia mayor’s office developing alternatives to incarceration and recidivism.

Susan Burton, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles: After cycling in an out of the criminal justice system for nearly fifteen years, Susan gained freedom and sobriety and founded A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 1998. Dedicating her life to helping other women break the cycle of incarceration, homelessness, addiction and despair, Susan becoming a recognized leader in the criminal justice reform and reentry rights movements, and was recently nominated as a CNN hero in the category of “community crusader.” She has been a Soros Justice Fellow, a Women’s Policy Institute Fellow, and a former Community Fellow under the Violence Prevention Initiative of The California Wellness Foundation.

Pastor Kenny Glasgow, The Ordinary People Society, Dothan, AL: Since his release from prison, Pastor Glasgow has remained committed to ensuring that redemption is in the lives of those who have served their debts to society. He is Executive Director/Founder of TOPS, an organization providing numerous rehabilitation and prevention programs for youth and adults involved, or at risk of involvement, in the criminal justice system. A longtime leader of state and region-wide voter registration and restoration efforts, Pastor Glasgow led the successful campaign resulting in restoration of voting rights for people currently incarcerated in Alabama state prisons-- a first. In 2008, he was awarded the Lyndon B. Johnson Political Freedom Award.

Arthur League, All of Us or None/Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, San Francisco: Arthur has a 40-year history as a community activist involved in social and criminal justice work. In the 70’s & 80’s, during a time of political unrest, Arthur was an active member of the Black Panther Party, and served a seven- year prison term for his political beliefs and actions. Arthur is a former Director of the Concord Re-Ed Project, a non-profit organization working with adolescents in a group home setting, and serves on the board of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. A Journeyman Plumber, he assists many young people coming out of prison to join the building trades unions and apprenticeships.

Aaliyah Muhammad, All of Us or None/LSPC, San Francisco: Aaliyah is a former prisoner and organizer who has worked with diverse groups of people inside prison and in the community. Her organizing abilities have increased the presence of formerly incarcerated people in the State Capitol, allowing her to supervise contingents of students and advocates in legislative arenas. Her efforts have resulted in creating avenues for former prisoners to take part in policy work in a variety of ways, from organizing community summits in Sacramento regarding legal expungement remedies to grassroots fundraising efforts to support the children of incarcerated people. She speaks widely on the conditions and struggles for women inside of prison.

Dorsey Nunn, All of Us or None/ LSPC, San Francisco: Dorsey is a co-founder of All of Us or None, a civil and human rights organization comprised of formerly incarcerated people, prisoners and their allies. He is also formerly incarcerated, and Executive Director for LSPC, a 30 year old San Francisco based organization dedicated to advocating for the human and civil rights of incarcerated parents, children, family members and people at risk for incarceration. Awarded nationally for his work, he was a 1996-1998 California Wellness Fellow and was recently awarded the prestigious Fannie Lou Hamer award from the African American Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley.

Bruce Reilly, Direct Action for Rights & Equality, Providence, RI: After a decade as a Jailhouse Lawyer, Bruce hit the ground running in 2005. He served as the Volunteer Coordinator for the RI Right to Vote Campaign and drafted the final language of a state constitutional amendment that re-enfranchised felons on probation and parole. He wrote a probation reform bill that became law after four years of organizing. He is a former board member and organizer with DARE, and entered Tulane Law School in Fall of 2011. A successful writer, Bruce has produced a play of prisoners’ writings and his blog on criminal justice has over 200,000 hits in 2010.

Tina Reynolds, Women On the Rise Telling HerStory, New York City: Tina is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH), an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women. Tina Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Psychology Department teaching the “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children”. She has published pieces on the abolition of prisons, the impact of incarceration on women and children, formerly incarcerated women and policy change and is an editor of an anthology “Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Letter of Solidarity to OccupyWallStreet from Tahrir

As the Occupy Movement has taken root in New Orleans and other cities, messages of solidarity - and advice - have arrived from around the world. Below, we republish a message from activists in Egypt, whose revolution inspired many of those who initiated OccupyWallStreet.

To all those in the United States currently occupying parks, squares and other spaces, your comrades in Cairo are watching you in solidarity. Having received so much advice from you about transitioning to democracy, we thought it’s our turn to pass on some advice.

Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call “The Arab Spring” has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking place all around the world, its foundations lie in years­-long struggles by people and popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a System that has made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants. As the interests of government increasingly cater to the interests and comforts of private, transnational capital, our cities and homes have become progressively more abstract and violent places, subject to the casual ravages of the next economic development or urban renewal scheme.

An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment policies and the supposed expertise of international organizations like the World Bank and IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and dismantled as the “free market” pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even. The profits and benefits of those freed markets went elsewhere, while Egypt and other countries in the South found their immiseration reinforced by a massive increase in police repression and torture.

The current crisis in America and Western Europe has begun to bring this reality home to you as well: that as things stand we will all work ourselves raw, our backs broken by personal debt and public austerity. Not content with carving out the remnants of the public sphere and the welfare state, capitalism and the austerity­-state now even attack the private realm and people’s right to decent dwelling as thousands of foreclosed­-upon homeowners find themselves both homeless and indebted to the banks who have forced them on to the streets.

So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatized and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy , real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labor made them real and livable? Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined? Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy.

In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the Square every day in tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces for gathering, leisure, meeting, and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the marginalized, excluded and for those groups who have suffered the worst.

What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as “real democracy”; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy has come to represent. And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait for.

But the ideologies of property and propriety will manifest themselves again. Whether through the overt opposition of property owners or municipalities to your encampments or the more subtle attempts to control space through traffic regulations, anti­camping laws or health and safety rules. There is a direct conflict between what we seek to make of our cities and our spaces and what the law and the systems of policing standing behind it would have us do.

We faced such direct and indirect violence, and continue to face it. Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government’s own admission; 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and all of the ruling party’s offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on the 28th of January they retreated, and we had won our cities.

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted “peaceful” with fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured, and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious.

By way of concluding then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy. Discover new ways to use these spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never give them up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but other wise take pleasure in what you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are doing.

Comrades from Cairo
24th of October, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

No One Listens to Poor People, By Derwyn Bunton

No one listens to poor people. They listen to attorneys. As a child, I believed those two statements because I watched how people treated my family and others in our situation. It is why I became a public defender. The place of the public defender is to protect justice and fairness for those who cannot afford to purchase that protection. The mission of the Orleans Public Defenders is to provide high quality defense to people who qualify and it is my honor to be responsible for upholding that mission.

My office represents poor people. The definition of poor is not a mystery, and the process of a public defender being assigned to a case is likewise easy to describe because Louisiana took the time to define it in the law. Judges assign us after they determine a person is too poor to afford an attorney on their own. We do not shop for these cases.

When law and fairness demand it, we do fight – not to keep cases, but to insure justice. We fought for our client whose mother pawned her wedding ring so our client could get out and keep working. We fought for a man thrown in jail for not being able to afford a private attorney. We keep these cases and fight for our clients not because we make money for such a fight, but because it is the just and fair thing to do and the law tells us to do it. The amount of justice one receives should not depend on the amount of money in their pocket.

Our criminal justice system has made tremendous progress since hurricane Katrina brought justice to a standstill in New Orleans and highlighted deep systemic problems that existed for decades. The Orleans Public Defenders continues to play a central role in making sure fairness and balance are a part of justice in New Orleans.

We ask for resources so we can win the freedom of innocent men like Eugene Thomas, who spent eight years incarcerated before he had his day in court. We ask for resources to we can get children who are being assaulted out of jail and back into school and on the right track for making changes in their lives. We ask for resources so the mentally ill are not punished for their disabilities, but sent to receive the services they need. This is the daily work of a public defender in New Orleans and we do not have to look for opportunities to continue this good work; they are presented daily by an overburdened system.

When my family was being evicted and our belongings were destroyed – cut into pieces – as they were thrown onto the street, I wanted someone to fight for us the way my staff fights for poor people today. I want every person in New Orleans, regardless of income, to know there is an office taking its responsibility to serve them seriously.

The enormous size of the justice system in New Orleans has created a funding crisis for my office. Even so, I promise the people of New Orleans we will not shirk our responsibility because unscrupulous individuals want us to break the law. We operate openly according to the law and we will not be intimidated into sacrificing our mission so people can try to make more money off of poor people. The Orleans Public Defenders will continue to meet that mission and protect justice and fairness in New Orleans to the best of our ability.

Derwyn Bunton is the Chief District Defender for Orleans Parish. He can be reached at

Reflections on Organizing Towards Collective Liberation at Occupy NOLA, by Lydia Pelot-Hobbs

Over the past few weeks, I have been invigorated and moved by the energy surrounding Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots across the nation. Yet, at the same time I've been faced with the tensions being articulated by so many folks on the Left: how can this energy be connected to and further long-standing organizing work for social and economic justice?

Here at Occupy NOLA, I have been excited about the potential of making these bridges through the project of the anti-racism working group. In less than two weeks, this working group has been developing a collective analysis and strategy that I think has the possibility of contributing towards long-term movement building.

From Difficult Moments to Moments of Promise

This is not to say this work has been easy. Many of these conversations are painful and difficult. At the second General Assembly (GA), a debate emerged regarding the use of the livestream at the GA. Since the initial planning meeting, Occupy NOLA had been posting photos and videos on Facebook without those in attendance's permission. Myself alongside several others from the anti-racism working group raised the concern that having the entire area videotaped led to the space not being safe or secure for a variety of folks: immigrants, trans folks, queer folks, etc. and offered the proposal that 1/3 of the space not be included in the livestream.

In response, several white men got up and declared the purpose of the movement was to be recorded and that having folks on video couldn't possibly have the ramifications that we had explained such as immigration sweeps or people losing employment or housing. Listening to these responses I was frustrated by concrete concerns being seemingly disregarded, but even more so at how privilege operates to convince individuals that their experiences within society are universal -- how security for some makes the lack of safety for others invisible.

Following the GA's inability to reach consensus on this subject, those of us on both sides of the debate were tasked with further discussing the issue. Cynically, I found myself assuming the people we had been debating weren't actually committed enough to the process to enter into further conversation. However, immediately after the meeting, one guy came over to continue the discussion. Within a few moments, a group of a dozen people were talking about how power functions, how Latin@ folks are racially profiled as undocumented immigrants, the policing of trans folks (especially transwomen of color), the precariousness of service industry workers employment, and so much more. Here we were, mostly strangers, spending our Friday night standing in Duncan Plaza engaged in political debate.

Did we end up agreeing on everything? No. Did we make steps together? Yes.

Making these steps together is why I'm involved in the Occupy movement. I recalled that my political analysis was not developed over night; rather it took investment from other activists. I've had years of guidance and mentorship within movements for social justice that has gotten me to the place I am today. Now is the time to offer the constructive encouragement to others that was offered to me when I was first becoming politicized.

But I also know about the rapid politicization folks can go through during moments like this -- moments that radicalize people's understanding of power, systems of oppression, the state, global capitalism, and empire. These moments can literally transform people's understandings of not just what we are struggling against but also what we are dreaming about: what collective liberation can potentially be.

Building Strategies for Collective Liberation

For me, this is why it's so crucial to organize with the anti-racism working group to build a structural analysis within Occupy NOLA of how we got to this period of advanced capitalism. Luckily, I think we have more resources to draw on for this than in pervious periods. Even before the first GA to plan Occupy NOLA, white anti-racist folks here were reaching out to one another to discuss how to critically engage this moment. Many of us had been moved by the writing coming out of OWS by activists of color on their struggles to build an anti-racist and anti-oppressive politic in New York. Several of us were also encouraged by the conversations happening within the national US for All of US network of white anti-racists about the potential for catalyzing this moment. Others of us were calling on our knowledge gained from our participation, both as local New Orleanians and outside volunteers, in anti-racist organizing at Common Relief following the storm. Looking around the space of Occupy NOLA, instead of feeling lost and overwhelmed as I have so many times before in these spaces, I felt hopeful and inspired.

By the second day of Occupy NOLA, a multiracial crew of folks had come together for the first meeting of the anti-racism working group. Gathered together was a group of people with a range of backgrounds: long-term organizers, folks new to activism, people who already knew and trusted one another, and individuals who came knowing no one but believing in the purpose of the group.

Over the course of our first meetings, we strategized together what the purpose and goals of our anti-racism working group would be. Drawing on our collective knowledge gain from previous activism as well as our initial involvement with Occupy NOLA, we solidified together that our goals are based in the belief that this is a moment of possibility and potential.

We committed to working towards: Occupy NOLA being accountable to local community organizing and acting in solidarity with their local struggles; fostering an intersectional structural analysis of power through political education projects; encouraging both Occupy NOLA and the broader #Occupy movement to center both the US South and the Global South; deepening our analysis of how US financial power has been built off the ravages of slavery and colonialism; and continuing to build off the momentum of this moment over the next year regardless of the outcome of this occupation.

We have also committed as an anti-racist working group to be actively participating in other working groups and building with other potential allies. Also, by participating in other working groups, we are able to share our skills in areas such as facilitation, media, and direct action. For me, this is us moving beyond a critique from the sidelines to a structure that is focusing our efforts towards the success of other working groups.

Central to our strategy has also been the ongoing dialogue and discussion with long-time New Orleans organizers of color. Folks from a range of organizations affiliated with the Greater New Orleans Organizers' Roundtable have generously entered into conversations with the anti-racism working group about how Occupy NOLA can be pushed in a strategic direction that furthers the aims of local economic and social justice movements. This work has the potential to strengthen both Occupy NOLA and the work of already existing organizing by building a united front on the social justice issues in New Orleans.

It's also been incredible to be organizing collectively with folks who are dealing with the reality that we need to move quickly since we don't know how long this occupation will last while also thinking through how this work can make a long-term impact on movements for justice. Instead of organizing in crisis, we are organizing for the long haul.

Moving Forward

We're still grappling with a lot of questions: How do we actively engage and support other working groups? What are strategies for building an accountable Occupy movement here in New Orleans that supports and strengthens the long-term community organizing in the city around housing, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and immigration? Is our goal to build Occupy NOLA as a multiracial, multiclass movement or is there a benefit in leveraging the white and class privilege of the current formation in solidarity with community organizations? How do we both embrace the spirit of participatory democracy while also recognizing how these processes can be alienating?

These are complicated questions for a complicated moment. While I am sure that both the anti-racism working group and the broader Occupy NOLA will make mistakes along the way, I am just as sure of the necessity in critically engaging in this movement. We're in the middle of a powerful opening to connect fresh new activists to radical political analysis, to develop their leadership skills, and to introduce them to the ongoing social and economic struggles here in New Orleans, across the US, and around the globe. Getting down in this messy process is more than just a commitment to the present Occupy moment; it's an investment in our future movements for justice.

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs is a member of and trainer at AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance). Thanks to Evan Casper-Futterman and DrewChristopher Joy for their feedback and guidance on this piece.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Organization Trains Community Members to Advocate for Local Youth

From Our Friends at Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana:
SUFEO! Trains Legal Advocates: New Orleans Recovery School District Out of School Suspension Rates Surpass National Averages

On Friday, September 16, 2011, Stand Up for Each Other! (SUFEO!) trained 40 students from Tulane University Law School, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, members of Young Adults Striving for Success (YASS), community members, and former teachers to become youth advocates. Under the legal supervision of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), these advocates are prepared to directly represent public and charter school students in suspension appeals and expulsion hearings. Additionally, advocates will outreach to the community, work collaboratively with school administrators and teachers and educate students and parents about their rights.

SUFEO!, founded in September 2010, is a collaboration of JJPL, law students from Loyola University New Orleans and Tulane University and YASS that has stepped up to help kids stay in school. SUFEO! addresses the disproportionate impact of suspensions and expulsions on students by teaching youth ways to exercise their statutory right to administrative hearings. Through SUFEO!, law students, young adults, and parents learn how the juvenile administrative hearing process and student representation work within the school system. This collaboration presents a great opportunity for law and pre-law students interested in trial, advocacy and public interest work to serve the community.

Currently, rates of suspension and expulsion in Louisiana schools are several times the national average. According to "Pushed Out: Harsh Discipline in Louisiana Schools Denies the Right to Education", Louisiana's expulsion rate is five times the national rate, more than 18,000 middle and high school students drop out each year, and public schools in the state dole out over 300,000 out-of-school suspensions every year. In at least ten schools in New Orleans, the out of schools suspension rate during the 2009-2010 school year exceeded 30%. Moreover, the overuse of harsh discipline disproportionately affects some Louisiana school children over others. African American students make up 44% of the statewide public school population, but 68% of suspensions and 72.5% of expulsions.

Schools with the highest rates of suspension and expulsion are overwhelmingly under-resourced, overcrowded and attended by low-income students of color. Many of these students are not receiving the services they are entitled to under the law. When students are suspended or expelled they are not allowed to make up the work they miss or receive grades for the work that they miss, which may lead to students being held back and eventually, dropping out of school. Youth who are suspended, expelled or pushed out of school are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, a journey which is aptly called the School to Prison Pipeline. SUFEO! is our contribution in combating the pipeline.

To reach a member of SUFEO!, contact our hotline at 504-410-KIDS. We return calls within 24 hours to youth, parents, as well as respond to other inquiries.

Photo above from Young Adults Striving for Success.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Poverty Skyrockets in New Orleans: 65% of Black Children Under Age of Five Living in Poverty, By Lance Hill

On September 22 the Census Bureau released information from their 2010 annual American Community Survey based on a poll of 2,500 people in New Orleans. Not surprisingly, the report was ignored by the local mainstream media since it speaks volumes about the inequality of the Katrina recovery. Despite the billions in post-Katrina federal dollars for building schools, streets and bridges, and homes, the New Orleans poverty rate has actually increased back to the highest level since 1999. The survey revealed that 27% of New Orleans adults now live in poverty and 42% of children.

This recent development reverses the temporary decline in poverty rates reported in 2007 and 2008 surveys when the poverty rate was nearly cut in half compared to pre-Katrina numbers. Those early declines in poverty were probably the result of large numbers of low-income African Americans who could not afford to return or lacked housing and employment. The new spike in poverty, despite the increase in overall education levels in the city, may signal that blacks are not sharing equally in the employment benefits of recovery dollars. Indeed, the city may be creating a new generation of chronically unemployed poor who were previously part of the low-wage working poor.

When President George Bush waived the prevailing wage provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act following Katrina, he provided employers with a financial incentive to hire low-wage outside temporary workers. State contracts to rebuild storm-damaged schools have provided little employment for black storm victims. The new rise in poverty can be attributed in part to the exclusion of local blacks from recovery jobs, including rebuilding school facilities and school operations. It is self-defeating to attempt to solve the long-term public education problems while children and their parents are pushed deeper into poverty by education agency employment and contracting policies.

Separating out the numbers by race shows a profound and growing racial inequality. While the overall adult poverty rate is 27%, black poverty is nearly double the white poverty rate: 34% compared to 14%. The child poverty rate of black children under five years old is an appalling 65% compared to less than 1% for whites. The Census Bureau data indicate that there are 9,649 black children under the age of five living in poverty in New Orleans in contrast to only 203 white children.

But what is truly stunningly is that the survey indicates that that while there are several thousand African American males ages 12 to 15 years old living in poverty, the survey could not find a single white male in the same age bracket in poverty.

With all the triumphal rhetoric of New Orleans as a city rising from the dead, the Census Bureau data offers the harsh truth that that some have risen while others have fallen. We act at our own peril if we ignore these troubling developments; the problems of education and youth crime and violence cannot be solved as long as local blacks are unfairly deprived the economic benefits of the recovery and the recovery jobs for rebuilding the city.

Sources: Racial breakout data from U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2010 1-year Estimates (Fact Finder files); for general non-racial 1999 and 2007 data, Greater New Orleans Community Data Center which used Census Bureau reports, Numbers Talk Newsletter September 26, 2011. For spread-sheets of poverty by race in 2010, see this link for Black percentages and this link for white percentages. For GNODC report see this link.

Dr. Lance Hill is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, a tolerance education and race relations research center based at Tulane University in New Orleans. He is the author of The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and The Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti: Students Praise Education and Voice It for All

By Wadner Pierre
Part I
Jean-Juste died two years ago from Leukemia because he was jailed for his political views and was not allowed by the 2004-2006 U.S deposed Gerard Latortue to travel to US to receive early treatment. Jean-Juste's legacy endures amongst the young and old in Haiti. He was [is] like an adoptive father for some people and a mentor to others.

Over eleven years ago, Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste and Margaret Trost, founder of the What If? Foundation, partnered in an effort to bring food and education to children in the Petite Place Cazeau neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Through funds provided by the What If? Foundation, thousands of young people have been supported over the years through the community-based food and education programs that Fr. Jean-Juste created.

Today, over two hundred children receive school scholarships, with some going to vocational school, and one thousand meals are served every Monday through Friday. Children are the priority. In the past three years the What If? Foundation has also funded an after school program to help students with their homework and provide an opportunity to learn income-producing skills. It has also sponsored a Summer Camp for the past nine years in the area. Five hundred students have attended. “All this is only possible because of our wonderful Haitian partners who run the programs with such dedication, courage, and faith,” says Trost.

Many people sent donations to What If? to support these programs after the January 2010 earthquake. 91 percent of these contributions went directly to Haiti, 5 percent were used for administration and 4 percent for Donor Relations. The organization’s budget for 2011 is $600,000. Although donors are contributing less than they did in 2010, What If? is hoping to raise enough money to not only fund the programs, but to build a school and cafeteria in Petite Place Cazeau, on land they purchased after the earthquake.

Every year I make a summer reporting trip back home. Last summer I spent a couple of days following the work of the young people at the What If? office in Haiti.

During my summer trip this year, I met with eleven students of the What If? Foundation Education Program. They told their stories in a more wonderful and perfect way than anyone else could have done. Keep in mind that a new page in the history of Haiti is being written after the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

It was 6:05 p.m. when I started with my first interviewee, Thierry Sterphenson St. Louis, a 12 year-old high school student. St. Louis is a strong and determined student and he speaks with confidence. He has two brothers. His mother is a merchant in the Petite Place Cazeau area, and his father works at the National Archive in downtown Port-au-Prince. St. Louis joined the education program in 2009 and wants to become an accountant. St Louis said, “The program helps me a lot. If I can take time to explain to you, I could take the entire day because he helps me a lot and my parents to pay my school.”

I asked Thierry about the effect of the education program in his life after the earthquake. "After January 12, my mom did not have money to pay for school. It is with the aid of this program that I go to school. If it was not for this program I would not go to school,” he told me. St. Louis added that many students wish to see a school built at the propriety of What If Foundation. “I would like they build a school in the land, I can come to school here.”

Nathalie Jeonnat, 23 who goes to medical school at the prestigious university Quisqueya told me, "I always dreamed to study medicine. I think it is a good profession, I can help people.” She explained that “Education is the best way to help Haiti. My parents cannot afford to pay for medical school, and my country did not offer me this opportunity… but thanks to What If I can go. After the earthquake it would be almost impossible… I would say it would be impossible.” She thanks those who contribute to her studies through What If Foundation, “I thank all who help me and What If from the bottom of my heart. I ask them to continue helping, they will not regret. They can count on me." Jeonnat is going into her third year.

Kenson Charles is a third year high school student who survived the January 12 earthquake said he would not be in school if the program did not exist. Charles is the older child of his single mother's two sons. He said, “Without this program, I would not able to go school.” Charles suffers from headaches because stones fell on his head during the earthquake. As many young Haitians of his generation, Charles has a dream. He wants to become a civil or computer engineer.

Wilnide Etienne is a 9 year-old middle school student. She joined the education program in 2007. She is going into fourth grade this year. Although, Etienne believes she could go to school if the program was not there, she acknowledges that the program means a lot for her. She remembers Father Jean-Juste. One can see in Etienne’s eyes that she really misses her pastor.

Jean Michelda is a timid but brilliant 16 year-old student who would like to become a doctor when she finishes high school. Michelda is the unique child of her family. Her mother ran a little business before the earthquake and her father works as a carpenter. Jean said, "it would be very difficult for me to go to school it was not for the program. After the earthquake, my mother is not working and my papa could barely find a job.”

Two weeks ago the Haitian both chambers voted Dr. Garry Conille as the new Prime Minister of the country. On Friday 14, 16 Senators voted Conille political declaration, four voted against it and five abstained. On Saturday 15, 81 Deputies voted for Conille’s political declaration, 7 abstained. Dr. Conille was a former UN employee and senior aid of former U.S. President Bill Clinton at the UN Special Envoy office in Haiti.

One of the obligations that Dr. Conille will have is to follow through on the main campaign promise of President Michel J. Martelly - to educate all Haitian children for free. Education is supposed to be a right according to the Haitian Constitution.

Wadner Pierre is a Haitian photojournalist who currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. Wadner is also a 2010 Justice Revius Ortique, Jr. Louisiana Justice Institute Internship Award recipient. 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: Left: Dorgilles Wichmie, Melissa Jeonnat. Right: Nathalie Jonnat and Jean Michelda.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Organizations “Come Out” Against ICE’s “Secure Communities” Deportation Program

From our friends at Streetwise & Safe:
LGBT Immigrants At Risk of Deportation, Violence as a Result of Police/ICE Collaboration

Dozens of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) organizations across the country are adding their voices to the growing national movement to end ICE‘s controversial fingerprint-sharing ―Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. By forcing local law enforcement to share fingerprint data for every person arrested – no matter how valid or minor the charge - with federal immigration authorities, S-Comm has contributed to skyrocketing numbers of detentions and deportations.

Prompted by ICE‘s unilateral move to make the highly debated program mandatory, national, regional, and local LGBTQ organizations—including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) — felt compelled to mark National Coming Out Day by adding their voices to the national upsurge of opposition to S-Comm today.

"NCAVP is concerned by the impact of police/ICE collaboration on LGBTQ survivors of violence. It is not uncommon for LGBTQ survivors of violence to be arrested when they call police for help. NCAVP member programs know that many LGBTQ survivors do not access police for safety when they experience violence, and the Secure Communities program may increase fear, barriers to safety, and risk of detention and deportation for LGBTQ immigrant communities," said Chai Jindasurat, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) Coordinator at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. "In honor of this year‘s National Coming Out Day, NCAVP calls for an end to a program that has severe consequences for LGBTQ people."

In a statement released on National Coming Out Day, over sixty LGBTQ groups call on President Obama to take immediate action to eliminate this destructive program. California Assemblymember and longtime LGBTQ rights activist Tom Ammiano echoed this call: "Every day LGBTQ Californians are being unfairly deported leading to tragic consequences for communities both here and across the country. I am urging the Obama Administration to end the deception around S-Comm and suspend this damaging program."

"The LGBTQ movement has often been an example of how to hold your head high with pride in the face of discrimination. As migrants, we're inspired by National Coming Out Day and strengthened by this show of solidarity," said Sarahi Uribe, Organizer of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

"We hear regular reports of LGBTQ people who find themselves in deportation proceedings after being profiled by their race, class, sexuality, and gender as they go about their daily lives or even as they navigate domestic violence," said Morgan Bassichis of the San Francisco-based Community United Against Violence (CUAV), the country’s oldest LGBTQ anti-violence organization. "Rather than making anyone more 'secure,' S-Comm endangers all communities by tearing at the fabric of family and support networks and creating a culture of fear."

The statement marks a historic confluence of movements for LGBTQ rights and migrant rights, and increased attention to migrant issues within LGBTQ communities. "On this National Coming Out Day, we recognize that LGBT immigrants need more than acceptance from family, schools, and neighbors to be 'out:' they need to be free from profiling, detention, and deportation," said Mónica Enriquez-Enriquez of Streetwise and Safe, an organization working with LGBTQ youth of color in New York City and signatory to the statement.

For background information on the Secure Communities program, read the report at “Restoring Community."

Streetwise and Safe (SAS) is a New York City-based organization create opportunities for LGBTQQ youth of color who experience homelessness, policing, and criminalization to claim a seat at policy discussion tables as full participants, speak out on their own behalf, act collectively to protect and advance their rights, and demand choices that allow them to maximize their safety, self-sufficiency, and self-determination.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Report from Haiti: Where’s the Money? By Bill Quigley

Broken and collapsed buildings remain in every neighborhood. Men pull oxcarts by hand through the street. Women carry 5 gallon plastic jugs of water on their heads, dipped from manhole covers in the street. Hundreds of thousands remain in gray sheet and tarp covered shelters in big public parks, in between houses and in any small pocket of land. Most of the people are unemployed or selling mangoes or food on the side of every main street. This was Port au Prince during my visit with a human rights delegation of School of Americas Watch – more than a year and a half after the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and made two million homeless.

What I did not see this week were bulldozers scooping up the mountains of concrete remaining from last January’s earthquake. No cranes lifting metal beams up to create new buildings. No public works projects. No housing developments. No public food or public water distribution centers.

Everywhere I went, the people of Haiti asked, “Where is the money the world promised Haitians?”

The world has moved on. Witness the rows of padlocked public port o lets stand on the sidewalk outside Camp St. Anne. The displacement camp covers a public park hard by the still hollow skeleton of the still devastated St. Anne church. The place is crowded with babies, small children, women, men, and the elderly. It smells of charcoal smoke, dust and humans. Sixty hundred fifty families live there without electricity, running water or security.

I talked with several young women inside the camp of shelters, most about eight feet by eight feet made from old gray tarps, branches, leftover wood, and pieces of rusty tin. When it rains, they stand up inside their leaky shelters and wait for it to stop. In a path in front of one home, crisscrossed with clotheslines full of tiny children’s clothes, a group of women from the grassroots women’s group KOFAVIV told us Oxfam used to help administer the camp but quit in May. When Oxfam left, the company that had been emptying the port-o-lets stopped getting paid and abandoned the toilets. Some people padlocked them and now charge a couple of cents to use the toilets, money most residents don’t have. There is no work to earn the money for pay for toilets. The Red Cross has just visited the camp that morning telling them they would be evicted October 17. Where will they go, we ask? We have no idea they told us. Jesus will provide, they told us.

Where has the money raised for Haiti gone? What about the Red Cross? What about the US government? What about the money raised in France, Canada and across the world? What about the pledges to the UN? Where is the money? The people of Haiti continue to be plagued by the earthquake of more than 20 months ago. They are our sisters and brothers. They deserve answers. They deserve help.

Bill is a law professor and human rights lawyer at Loyola University New Orleans and with the Center for Constitutional Rights. He volunteers with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Bureaux des Advocats in Port au Prince. You can reach him at

Monday, October 3, 2011

Apparently, It's Legal to Shoot at Black Civilians to Keep Them From Evacuating

The Times-Picayune announced on Friday that the US Department of Justice will not be pursuing charges against the Gretna police officers who fired at New Orleans civilians as they attempted to evacuate in the aftermath in Hurricane Katrina. From the article:
The US Department of Justice announced Friday that those law enforcement officers who barred pedestrians from crossing the Crescent City Connection in the hectic days after Hurricane Katrina will not face federal prosecution. After a review of Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti's investigation into the incident, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division found the bridge had been blocked for public safety reasons and that there was no sufficient evidence to prove that the officers intentionally broke the law...

Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson...said Friday that he felt vindicated by the Civil Rights Division's decision to end the investigation. "I'm certainly pleased that the Justice Department as well said that we didn't do anything wrong, because we've felt from the beginning that we didn't," Lawson said.
Photo above: Civil Rights marchers attacked at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The Broad Foundation's Influence on New Orleans Schools

An interesting feature on the ColorLines website maps out the national influence on the Broad Superintendents Academy, an organization that is not well-known to the general public, but has had a large influence on US education, policy, including here in New Orleans (Current RSD Superintendent John White is among their trainees). Below is an excerpt from the article. Go to this link to see more:
Who’s running your school district? If you live in a big city or urban area, chances are decisions have been influenced by someone who’s been groomed with a specific ideology of education policy. In 2002 the Broad Foundation, one of the largest and most influential philanthropies dedicated to school reform, established the Broad Superintendents Academy, a ten-month program to provide corporate-level management and skills development to folks they hoped would go on to decision makers in school districts across the country.

The Broad philosophy has become mainstream in the school reform landscape. The foundation advocates shutting down schools whose test scores have designated them as “failing;” instituting accountability mechanisms for teachers that tie their job evaluations to their students’ test scores; and advocates for more school choices outside the traditional public school through charter schools and vouchers. Former graduates from the Broad Academy have gone on to do just that in the cities they’ve arrived in, and not without a storm of controversy often following in their wake.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Activist Profile: Vernon Bolds of VOTE-NOLA

This profile is republished from our friends at VOTE-NOLA:
Like many others, Vernon Bolds was introduced to VOTE by an existing member. “Post Katrina I was trying to work on my case, and someone gave me Norris’ address,” Bolds said. “Norris told me about VOTE and I was immediately interested.”

Bolds appreciates both VOTE’s practical contribution to alleviating the hardships of Formerly Incarcerated Persons (FIPS) as well as its overall framework of positivity and civic engagement. Due to the negative societal perception of FIPS when they are released from prison and must rejoin the workforce, Vernon thinks that VOTE’s CEED campaign (Campaign to End Employment Discrimination) should be the organization’s focal point. “The FIPS that do get jobs, their employers fall in love with them because they appreciate the job,” Bolds said.

Though access to gainful employment is a key issue that draws Vernon to participate in VOTE, the overall mission of the organization is what inspires him the most. “Their aim is to wake up a sleeping giant so we can make a positive difference in society,” Bolds said, referring to the power of the formerly incarcerated vote. The civic education that VOTE provides gives Bolds motivation to engage in other social issues outside of the organization. He is especially interested in youth empowerment. “I’d like to be a big brother,” Bolds said, “It’s everyone’s responsibility to save at least one youngster.”

The civic lessons and resources that Bold has accessed through VOTE have opened his eyes to the structural problems of the criminal justice system. “VOTE takes you behind the scenes. You see the subterranean criminal justice system.” Bolds believes that the resources that VOTE provides to FIPs should be widely distributed in the community, through the VOTE website, in order to inform members and non-members alike about their legal options and their civic responsibilities. “I’d like to set up a FAQ on the website as it pertains to the law,” Bolds explained.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mary Howell and the Fight to Save Charity Hospital and Lower Midcity

Inside the Footprint, a local blog, has been documenting the struggle to save Charity Hospital and prevent the demolition of Lower Midcity for the past two years. As a closing note to the years of struggle, the blog has posted a series of profiles of some of the activists involved. Among those profiled (along with stunning photos) are Brad Ott, Jacques Morial, and several others. Below is an excerpt of one of the profiles, civil rights attorney Mary Howell.
Mary Howell, whose law office stands just a block outside the VA Footprint, was the chief figure who led to my involvement in the LSU/VA issue, drawing me into the broader effort several months after I began this blog.

Mary, who came to know the residents of the VA Footprint especially well after the storm, gave up a great deal of her time, effort, and more to stand up against the "bullying" that was so deeply interwoven into the push to destroy the VA Footprint neighborhood. She was also the prime mover on the effort to save the VA houses from demolition. Regardless of how the effort turned out due to other actors, it cannot be denied that 79 structures were ultimately relocated, avoiding total demolition and marking a sudden, major change in events in the hospitals saga. Mary was also a major presence at many of the VA neighborhood meetings, a relentless advocate for the residents being negatively affected by the project.

BV: What, originally, got you involved in the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA fight?

MH: I went to a neighborhood meeting, and I walked into that meeting. It was held in this sort of gutted out building in the neighborhood. And I looked around the room. And it was filled with predominantly African American, working people, but it was a really diverse group of people. Homeowners, people who struggled to come back, people who struggled to rebuild their homes, people who had formed a really deep community and fellowship - actually unlike anything that existed before the storm. The storm really brought this neighborhood together in a powerful, transformative way.

As I was listening to what was being said about what was getting ready to happen here...I realized they were all going to be annihilated. And that people just really didn't understand what was about to happen. The bulldozers were literally coming through. All these promises were being made about "what a nice process this is going to be" and "how fairly everyone was going to be treated" and I looked around. Many of the people in the room were older - there was a mix of people, including several newcomers - but I looked around at the longtimers who had been here and really struggled hard to come back. A number of them were tired, they were elderly. And I thought, "Oh my god." This is like the kiss of death. They're not just losing their homes, their losing their neighborhood, their community, their safety net, their network - everything.

I've often said, if I could have just sneaked out of there - and pretended that I hadn't seen this, hadn't realized what was happening here - it would have been a relief. Because I went down a major rabbit hole for about three years. I was rebuilding and trying to come back at the same time.

It was awful, what happened here. It was as ugly...a bullying kind of power I've ever seen. And it remains that way.

BV: What do you think of the current state of affairs of the LSU/VA project?

Oh, it's ridiculous. It's terrible. I can count on my hands, my fingers, the number of deaths that I believe are a direct result of the closing of Charity Hospital. And the financial waste of all of this is extraordinary. It's mind-boggling, especially given this economy. But the callous disregard of people's need for quality healthcare and particularly in the mental health area...shutting down that third floor of Charity Hospital. We've had terrible misfortune, a number of deaths as a direct result of that.

The terrible thing about it is that many of the people advocating for this have been doing it under the guise of bringing better healthcare to this city. It's the idea that we'll burn down the village to save the village. They've completely destroyed a community, they've destroyed lives.

You know, the Hippocratic Oath...that first line: First, do no harm? Massive harm has been done here in the name of promoting good healthcare. And it's a lie. This has never been about healthcare and the needs of the community, about what's right or just. It's always been about greed, about money, about power.