Monday, November 28, 2011

The Fault Lines of US Policy

Recently, Louisiana Justice Institute staffer Jordan Flaherty has been working with Al Jazeera English as one of the producers on their flagship documentary program Fault Lines. For several years, Fault Lines has offered in-depth explorations of the issues ignored by much of the media. Below is an announcement detailing the new season, which premieres tonight, airing at 5:30pm EST. You can watch Al Jazeera on your TV in several cities - including via Time Warner Cable in New York City and Comcast in Washington, DC - and wherever you live, you can watch it online.

After they air, episodes of Fault Lines are posted on YouTube and on the Al Jazeera website. You can also watch all of Al Jazeera's programming via their live stream, at
New Season of Fault Lines Premieres Tonight, Explores Drought in Horn of Africa, Unions' Declining Influence, Student Uprisings in Chile, and More

Al Jazeera’s latest season of Fault Lines premieres Monday November 28th, taking viewers beyond the daily headlines and holding the powerful to account, as the show examines the US role both at home and abroad. The new season launches as the 2012 Presidential election looms, and the fault lines in the US have never seemed deeper.

The award-winning Fault Lines will examine crises from the drought in the Horn of Africa to issues surrounding the upcoming US Presidential election. Subsequent episodes will examine America’s new approach to warfare, the decline of labor unions and the Chilean student uprising.

“The entire world is on edge and no one gets you closer to how the biggest crises are shaping up and what’s next than Fault Lines,” said Amjad Atallah, Al Jazeera English bureau chief of the Americas. “America’s role in how conflicts play out has never been greater and our correspondents take you inside the globe’s biggest movements. We’re very excited for the new season.”

Episodes include:

Crisis in the Horn of Africa: Warnings from the Drought Zone.- November 28th and December 5th
In a two-part series, Fault Lines asks how US policies intersect with drought, food insecurity and famine in the Horn of Africa. In part one, Fault Lines travels to Mogadishu to see the impact of Somalia’s famine, and asks if US policies have contributed to the disaster. In the second film, Fault Lines travels to Kenya to find out how US policies intersect with drought and hunger.

The Republican Race, the Religious Right, and the Tea Party- December 12th
Over 2 weeks, Fault lines followed Republican Presidential hopefuls as they campaigned in Iowa - to understand how the far-right Christian conservative movement is reshaping the American political debate.

The Decline of Unions in America- Dec 19th
America’s once powerful unions are locked in a battle for survival. Fault Lines examines the fight against organized labor, the fight back from the workers themselves, how it ties into the Occupy Wall Street movement and what it means for White House hopefuls in 2012.

Robot Wars- Dec 26th
The US Military has embraced robot technology to help it fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now pouring billions into developing potentially autonomous robots that will be able to kill without human approval. Fault Lines investigates this growing industry of killing machines, and asks the questions: How can this be ethical? Who is benefiting? And what will the battlefields of the future look like?

Chile Rising- Jan 2nd
And as Occupy protests grow across America, Fault Lines travels to Chile, where students have been taking to the streets for months. The country has been gripped by massive demonstrations calling for a more fair distribution of income – in the wealthiest, but also most unequal country in Latin America.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Houma Nation Fight for Recognition, By Adam Crepelle

The Bridge The Gulf Blog recently posted a powerful report from a citizen of the United Houma Nation, about the tribe’s history and its ongoing struggle to be officially recognized by the US government. Below are excerpts from the posting.
I am a citizen of the United Houma Nation (UHN), Louisiana’s largest Indian tribe with over 17,000 citizens. Residing along the Gulf Coast, Louisiana's wetlands are an integral part of the Houma's culture. Coastal erosion has plagued the UHN for decades, but the BP spill has placed the Houma's traditional way of life against the ropes.

The Houma Indians were originally located near present day Baton Rouge when famed French explorer Robert de La Salle first encountered the tribe in the 1680s; accordingly, the French named Baton Rouge for the red stick used to mark the Houma's border with a rival tribe. As Europeans continued to move into Louisiana, the Houma migrated south. Naturally, the city of Houma is named for the Houma Indian village located there. To this day, most Houma remain in the Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish area, and many continue to practice the tribe’s traditional way of life.

The modern Houma speak a variant of French long thought to be derived from the Cajuns; however, tribal leaders say linguists have recently proven the Houma language is a distinct language. Houma-Francais consists predominately of the version of French spoken in France circa-1700 blended with pieces of the original Houma language, a Muskegon dialect.

Consequently, the Houma learned French from the French explorers who initially encountered the tribe and not the Cajuns. This means the Houma were speaking French before the Cajuns ever set foot in Louisiana. Unsurprisingly, Louisiana and France recognize the present day UHN as the progeny of the Houma tribe of old.

Recognizing the UHN as a tribe makes sense to me. After all, what other logical explanation is there for a contemporary Indian tribe located where the historic Houma tribe was last located, and speaking the language the historic Houma tribe would have spoken, than the contemporary tribe is the descendant of the historic Houma tribe? Plus many Houma continue to use the tribe’s traditional healing practices and remain dependent on wetlands for harvesting their meals.

Inferences like this led renowned anthropologist Frank Speck to state, “I should rate the Houma as a people possessing Indian blood and cultural characters to a degree about equal to that of the Creek, Choctaw, Catawbe, and Seminoles.” The aforementioned tribes are recognized by the federal government as the ancestors of the existing tribes. However, the federal government has been unable to connect the dots between the Houma encountered by de La Salle and today’s UHN; in other words, the US does not consider the UHN a tribe.

When it came to discriminating against the Houma, their "Indianness" was never questioned. Houma Indian children were forced to attend a segregated Indian school until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nonetheless, the US government has yet to determine the UHN's status as a tribe despite receiving the UHN’s petition for federal recognition in 1985.

The UHN was bitterly reminded of its lack of federal recognition in the wake of the BP spill. Like the entire state, the UHN has been devastated by the spill, so the Houma filed a damages claim with BP. BP denied the UHN's claim because the tribe is not federally recognized.

Oil companies have long been the UHN's major nemesis. Oil was initially discovered on Houma Indian land in the early 1900s. As the Houma did not speak English, oilmen were able swindle the Houma out of their lands. A common tactic employed by oilers was to communicate the transaction was a land lease; however, the contract was actually a quit-claim. Resultantly, the Houma lost ownership rights to the lands that had fostered their culture.

Environmental damage soon came to the land the Houma no longer owned but still were dependent upon for their survival. Oil companies dug canals through the wetlands to facilitate the transport of oil field equipment. Unquestionably, moving massive drilling paraphernalia through water is easier than carting it across marsh, but most easy roads in life have high long term costs. In this case, the road's toll is accelerated wetland loss. A byproduct of digging is piles of whatever you may be digging, in this case marsh. These "mounds of marsh" were simply tossed aside blocking the natural water flow.

The manmade canals also enable saltwater from the Gulf to creep into the marsh. If you have taken a biology course, you will probably conjecture saltwater colliding with life forms accustomed to less salty water equals problems for that life, and you would be right. The freshwater vegetation dies from exposure to saltwater meaning the root systems holding the land together are gone; thus, coastal erosion occurs. Coastal erosion has already washed away much of the Houma’s traditional land. Like most, if not all, Native American tribes, the Houma cherish the graves of their ancestors. Sadly, many of the Houma gravesites have been swallowed by the ever encroaching sea.

If the UHN had been federally recognized when oil was first discovered on their land, many of these ecological and cultural tragedies could have been averted. Groups such as the NAACP have stated oil lobbies do not want the Houma recognized because the land would be protected under the federal designation.

Federal recognition gives a tribe status as a sovereign nation. If federally recognized, the UHN would have a strong damages claim against BP; furthermore, the tribe would be eligible for educational opportunities, healthcare, and a myriad of other benefits--including disaster relief. Disaster relief would be extremely valuable to the UHN, as the tribe has been pummeled by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and the BP spill all since 2005. Additionally, federal funds would likely be available to protect the tribe's land from coastal erosion.

I think justice demands the UHN be recognized as a tribe by the federal government. If the federal government allows a group of people to be oppressed because they are Native American, I think it is reasonable for the government to acknowledge the people as Native American. Accordingly, I think it is only fair for the federal government to recognize the people who were discriminated against because they were descended from the Houma tribe of old as the progeny of the Houma tribe.

The UHN currently has a petition before the U.S. government for federal recognition. More information can be found at this link. You can also get more information at UHN's Facebook page.

Adam Crepelle is a citizen of the United Houma Nation. He serves on the tribe’s Tribal Security and Community Services Committee and the tribe’s Diabetes’s Coalition. Adam received his degree in exercise science from the University of Louisiana Lafayette in 2009. He is currently in his second year at Southern University Law Center.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ethics Issues Raised Regarding Chas Roemer and Kira Orange-Jones

A recent blog post from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers highlights some of the issues that have recently been raised around candidates for the upcoming Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) election. Below are excerpts from the blog:
Two candidates strongly supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal, big business and even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are facing ethics issues in the waning days of the 2011 election season.

Kira Orange-Jones, candidate for the District 2 seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, is the subject of a cease-and-desist order signed by a New Orleans judge.

According to the online publication New Orleans Agenda, "Orange Jones had claimed in her campaign advertising that she had voted for President Obama in November, 2008, but the plaintiffs provided the court with a sworn statement signed by Orange Jones on August 17, 2011, that she had never before been registered to vote in Louisiana or any other place."

The order says that Orange-Jones must "cease and desist from misrepresenting her voting record or her registration in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1463." It is illegal for candidates to make statements that they know to be false or misleading, according to the article.

Chas Roemer, in a runoff for re-election to his District 6 BESE seat, has run afoul of the Louisiana ethics code and must return some $10,000 worth of contributions, according to this article by Mikhail Zinshteyn in The American Independent.

It seems that when the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry pumped $20,000 into Roemer's campaign, the cash infusion lifted him way over the legal limit for PAC contributions.

Gov. Jindal recently sent a fund-raising letter on Roemer's behalf, and his campaign fund for the District 6 seat - which pays no salary - now holds over $220,000. His opponent, former Ascension Parish Superintendent of School Donald Songy, has raised less than $14,000.

Songy's campaign chest is about par for BESE elections. The really curious question is why all the big money is pouring into Roemer's campaign. It is an unprecedented expenditure for the state school board.

But that's not the only ethics question dogging Roemer. His sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. Because of her relationship with Chas, she is prohibited from speaking at BESE meetings, and does not do so.

As this article by Louisiana Voice reporter Tom Aswell points out, ethics laws also prohibit elected officials from voting "on any matter in which a member or his immediate family has a substantial economic interest."

The ethics board has never made a specific ruling in his case, but it would seem that Chas Roemer should abstain from any vote involving one of his sister's schools.

Instead, Aswell writes, "In December of 2010 alone, he made motions to approve charter school contracts of $50,000 and under, made motions to approve Crescent City School, the NET Charter High School, the Collegiate Academy Charter School, the Sarah T. Reed Charter Middle School, the ReNEW K-8 Charter School, The ReNEW Alternative High School, and in one case, made the motion to deny an application to commence operation of Joseph A. Craig Charter School in New Orleans."

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Orleans Is No Education 'Miracle' By Linda Tran

An article recently posted on the Education Week website offers an important perspective on New Orleans' schools:
As a recent graduate of a New Orleans public high school, I find it very troubling that the national conversation about post-Katrina education amounts to little more than talking points about charter schools and test scores. The most telling indication of how we’re doing in the classroom actually comes from a youth-led research project showing the hard realities students continue to face every day. As New Orleans moves to become the first all-charter district in the country, students here must be heard.

The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, or VAYLA, surveyed a cross section of 450 students from six different public high schools among the schools overseen by the Orleans Parish school board and those in the state’s Recovery School District, or RSD, asking students for their opinions on everything from counselor availability and teacher effectiveness to school lunches and safety. Published this September, the surveys and testimony that VAYLA gathered contain more than 25,000 student observations. These student voices echo the feelings of many of us yearning to be heard by policymakers.

Louisiana education officials promised to build a world-class public school system after Katrina. But the survey shows that the historic inequalities faced by students of color and those from low-income communities were not washed away by the floodwaters.

An Orleans Parish charter school with a significant white population received high marks across the board, while the remaining five schools averaged what amounts to a C or D in areas like safety, academic rigor, counselor accessibility, classroom management, physical environment, and affordability. I can personally attest to how much these challenges impact a student’s ability to learn, grow, and earn the right to walk across that stage on graduation day.

Even though math and reading scores have improved in New Orleans, the challenge that traps so many people my age is the lack of a high school diploma or at least one that truly represents the education necessary to succeed in life. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, one of every six New Orleans high schools fails to graduate at least 40 percent of its students. By 2018, about 3 million US jobs will be available without enough college educated workers to apply, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Our economic future demands more from our education system and so should we. A majority of the high school students who responded to the VAYLA survey said they did not feel their school was preparing them for college; over 60 percent of students said they complete less than one hour of homework each night; and 20 percent of students also said they have never visited an academic counselor. Schools must find a way to support students with after-school study halls, Advanced Placement course offerings, accessible counselors, and other services that prepare them for college and careers.

As a student-advocacy organization, VAYLA recognizes that teachers and administrators cannot do it all on their own. Parents need to be engaged in the education process. One of the major barriers is language, with 50 percent of limited-English-proficient parents having never even met their kids’ teachers. Bilingual school staff and translation services would enable limited-English families to get involved and stay involved. Furthermore, an online parent portal would give working parents the chance to monitor their children’s progress.

Like many others, the schools VAYLA studied are in desperate need of new models that support English-language learners. The results indicate that nearly 70 percent of Asian and Latino students responding reported having been placed in an English-as-a-second-language class that did not fit their needs. Each of these students has a different level of proficiency, requiring tailored instruction. We must do more to ensure that every ESL class has a teacher who is certified in this field.

Hopefully, we can also agree to do something about the one in four students who report that they feel “unsafe” at school. We would know so much more about the dangers that exist if schools reported incidents of harassment and bullying. Without spending a penny, students and security-staff members could create a safety commission at each school to develop better solutions that do not rely on punishments and harsh discipline. Providing more counseling options would give students with emotional or social challenges the support they need to prevent dangerous behavior.

Other issues continue to hold students back, but no one looking at New Orleans’ schools seems to see what is actually happening on the ground: Sixty percent of students surveyed don’t use the restrooms at their schools; 70 percent of students say their classes do not have enough textbooks for every student; and half of students do not eat lunch every day. These are basic problems that still exist.

Six years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ public high schools are still plagued by severe inequities. Just talk to the students.

Linda Tran was the Abramson Science and Technology Charter School's class of 2011 salutatorian. She was also a youth lead organizer and researcher for the VAYLA survey. She is now a freshman at the University of New Orleans.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

“There’s Too Much Misinformation About Us Out Here" An Interview With Norris Henderson by Parnell Herbert

Parnell Herbert sat with Norris Henderson, Co-Director of V.O.T.E. NOLA to discuss the fact and fiction about Black-on-Black crime in New Orleans.

While sitting with Norris Henderson upstairs at the RAE House, I couldn’t help but marvel at his calm, composed demeanor. Here is a man who served many years of his life at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola, a place that was once known as the Bloodiest and Most Brutal Penitentiary in the United States. And here he was talking to me about what we can do to try to stop our young African American males from killing each other. Norris is a selfless man and a giving individual who wants nothing more than to find ways to help others and to make the world a better place for us all.

Parnell Herbert: Norris, tell us a little about yourself and your organization.

Norris Henderson: I am a native New Orleanian and Director of VOTE “Voice Of The Ex-offender.” We work with the base population of people reentering society. Originally our focus was to organize Formerly Incarcerated People (FIP) around their right to vote. In this state FIPs do have a right to vote, and VOTE made that our rallying call. When people are civically engaged, they believe they are a part of something. They feel more involved.

PH: Sure, you mean you have something to say about what goes on in your life.

Norris Henderson: Yes. We have learned throughout this nine year process that there are collateral consequences that come with being formerly incarcerated, such as limited employment opportunities, lack of decent affordable housing, inadequate health care… For the past ten years Louisiana has led the nation in per-capita incarceration and New Orleans leads the state. Question is “Do we have bad boys or do we have a bad system?” Socio-economically the largest numbers of people of color to come out of that system are worse off than they were when they went in. We have created a vicious cycle. People can’t find a way to get off of it or out of it. Retaliation is Perpetuation applies not only to young Black males killing each other it, also applies to the system.

PH: You mean a perpetual cycle of poverty?

Norris Henderson: Exactly! Louisiana is first where we want to be last and last where we want to be first. We are on a parallel track with our crime rate and our incarceration rate. We should be first or last in one or the other. If incarceration is high then crime should be low. High incarceration could explain low crime. We could be high in one or the other. Not both. Prison is a growth industry and these young brothers are becoming the commodity.

PH: We know that prison perpetuates itself. While it does nothing to prepare inmates for their release, prisons remain prepared for their anticipated return. Our Governor Piyush Jindal is trying to sell a couple of prisons. We know that prisons are more than brick and mortar and bars. It is also people. When you sell a prison you sell the inmates, you sell human beings and that is called slavery.

Norris Henderson: In theory they say “You have paid your debt to society.” In this state “Revised Statue 37” addresses professions and occupations. It prohibits FIPs from getting 70 types of licenses. You could have been the best barber in the pen but when you come home you can’t get a license. They have complicated the process of expungement and made it cost prohibitive.

PH: You mentioned registering FIPs, but don’t you also register people while they are incarcerated?

Norris Henderson: Yes. That is one of the best kept secrets. A pre-trial detainee remains eligible to vote. As long as you are not under conviction, probation or parole you maintain your voting rights.

PH: Let’s talk about the census. Inmates are counted where they are incarcerated, not where they are from. In the military you are counted under your home address, not where you are stationed.

Norris Henderson: Large inmate populations are counted as residents of that community. West Feliciana Parish has a population of 10,000. Angola’s population of 5,000 is added to that so it appears that West Feliciana has 15,000 residents. And funds are allocated thusly.

PH: That also explains the hospice program in Angola. When asked why they don’t release these harmless, dying old men to go home and die with their families, it is because the prison and their parish continue to benefit from that inmates physical presence.

Norris Henderson: The program itself is a good one. It was needed because people were not getting out. They were dying in there and the quality of care was deplorable. We have some of the harshest laws and sentences in this country. When they increased the sentencing in Louisiana, crime increased. Because sentences were so harsh people did everything they could to avoid capture, which includes killing people to avoid conviction.

PH: I have read that over 85% of Angola’s inmates will die there, so there is little rehabilitation.

Norris Henderson: There is rehabilitation but its self- rehabilitation. Guys are rehabilitating themselves.

PH: Wow, I love that term “Self- rehabilitation.” Will you explain to us what that means?

Norris Henderson: Well it’s like “Each One Reach One. Each One Teach One.” Academically challenged individuals are encouraged by older inmates to get their GED and use this time to advance themselves in preparation for release.

PH: One of the things we want to discuss is how the system is set up for young Black males to do something dumb in the streets so they can take you off of the streets and benefit from your presence while incarcerated. Many of these young men depend on their weapons and their boys in the streets. What happens when the boys are not around and weapons are no longer available behind those prison doors?

Norris Henderson: Attitudes change immediately because you realize, this is a different playing field. No AK, no Uzi, no Mac… You are now in an environment where no one is afraid of you because they have done what you have done and worse. They realize very quickly I have given up so much for so little in return. If they have no kids there is no legacy. The world will never even know you were here. Your girlfriend drops off, your boys drop off there is no one to call no one answers your letters. You are alone and will someday just cease to exist. Retaliation is Perpetuation is so true. It’s like you kill my dog, I kill your cat. At the end of the day no one has a pet.

PH: Why do you think these young brothers are killing each other and what do you think we can do about it?

Norris Henderson: We have to create opportunities. Crime is about economics. Murder is the most serious. We have to get them to stop trying to come up on each other. In the game the hunter becomes the hunted. When you are out there hustling you have nothing. But the minute you come up you become the hunted. I know this personally because I lost a son to it. The people directly impacted will have to step up. When my son died his boys said “The streets are going to run red.” Standing in front of my sons casket dressed in prison garb and shackles I said “No. It stops here.” His friends had to respect that. God is the best planner. Everything happens for a reason. Someone directly impacted has to make that statement “It stops here” and others have to respect that.

PH: We discussed the use of the word “Madness” and I agree with you. Our kids are not mad. They are not insane or crazy but they do some dumb stuff. The most dangerous man alive is the one without hope. He feels he has nothing to lose and basically nothing to live for. We have to show them there is hope. Norris you and I came from the same place many of them are from and we are still here living proud and productive lives. We need young people to get that feeling of hopelessness out of their minds. As long as you are alive there is hope. “Don’t give up - you are not hopeless and this is not a hopeless world in which we live."

Norris Henderson: Seeing something better about you is hope. Hope is a good thing. You’ve got to have hope. If you don’t have hope you are just giving up on yourself. You have to be hopeful that you can achieve your objective in life.

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

Confederate Flag in Caddo Parish to Come Down

From The Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty:
After more than sixty years since it was raised, the Confederate Flag outside the Caddo Parish Courthouse will come down.

The decision comes after two hearings at the Caddo Parish Commission (2002 and 2011), one hearing in the Louisiana Supreme Court, a visit from Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute on Race and Justice, and national and international attention in the media. In a 11‐1 vote, the Caddo Parish Commission authorized the flag’s removal from the grounds of the Caddo Parish Courthouse, where it has been raised each day for 61 years.

“Taking down the Confederate Flag from our Courthouse removes a significant barrier to full participation," said NAACP President Lloyd Thompson during the Commission meeting, "It gives our communities confidence to work together for the benefit of Caddo Parish as whole."

“It is the first step in the right direction,” said Reverend Mary Richard of The Church of the Holy Cross at the meeting. “The cost of the flag has been mistrust in the fair and equal meting out of justice in the Courthouse; this decision means we can finally begin to move forward and work to restore that trust.”

The Confederate Flag was erected in 1951 during a time of deep civil unrest and resistance to the advancement of African‐American citizens in Caddo Parish. The Shreveport Journal reported: “Caddo Parish police jurors voted unanimously in their meeting Wednesday to erect a Confederate flag on the statute of the courthouse building. The approved motion… brought the remark: ‘Harry Truman isn’t going to like this.’”

In a submission to the Caddo Parish Commission in 2002, social and architectural historian Eric Brock explained: “During this time, many southern cities and towns hoisted Confederate banners in reaction to federal legislation dealing… with civil rights, integration, and African‐American voting rights.“ Brock noted that the Flag was the symbol of “Shreveport’s own role in resistance” to civil rights and equality under the law.

Since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976, fourteen African‐American men have been sentenced to death in proceedings that took place under the Confederate Flag. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently recognized in State versus Felton Dorsey that the Flag was a symbol of endemic racism but declined to address the issue based upon the defense lawyer’s failure to object. Carl Staples, an African‐American juror, was removed from service in the Dorsey case when he asserted that real justice could not be administered under the Confederate Flag.

The vote to remove the Flag signals an endorsement of Mr. Staples’ observation, and movement in favor of full and equal participation of African‐Americans in the democratic process.

A recording of the commission meeting is online at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NOPD Lieutenant Who Testified in Danziger Trial Sentenced to Four Years

Michael Lohman, the NOPD Lieutenant who conspired with other officers to cover-up the police killings on Danziger Bridge, and later became a key early witness against his fellow officers, was sentenced today. From the US Department of Justice press release:

A former lieutenant with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), was sentenced today for his role in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and for misprision of a felony (for concealing a known crime), in connection with a federal investigation of two police-involved shootings that left two civilians dead and four others seriously wounded in the area of the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Lohman, 41, of Terrytown, La., was sentenced in federal court to serve four years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. During the first year of supervised release, Mr. Lohman is to perform 300 hours of community service. Additionally, he has been ordered to meet with NOPD recruit classes to serve as a warning to officers tempted to disobey the law. The court also imposed a $2500 fine. On Feb. 24, 2010, Lohman pleaded guilty in federal court in New Orleans before U. S. District Court Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle.

Mr. Lohman admitted to helping with the Sept. 4, 2005, cover up and also admitted – first during his guilty plea and later when he testified at the trial of five fellow officers -- that he knew that the shootings on the bridge were unjustified, and that he helped other officers cover up what had happened on the bridge.

Lohman arrived on the scene shortly after the shootings, he noticed that there were no guns on or near the dead and wounded civilians. After determining that the involved officers could not come up with any evidence to justify the shooting, he concluded that they had been involved in a “bad shoot.” Rather than reporting the shooting as a bad shoot, Lohman, a well-respected lieutenant with NOPD, participated in a conspiracy that involved, among other things, writing false reports about the incident, planting a gun and making up false witness statements.

Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein, a prosecutor on the case, said in court that Lohman’s crimes were reprehensible, and that he needed to be punished with prison time. However, she also asked the judge to sentence Mr. Lohman to less than the five years called for by sentencing guidelines, in recognition of the fact that he provided cooperation that was critical to the prosecution of others. Ms. Bernstein noted that the victims of the Danziger Bridge shooting have been “an inspiration” for the prosecution, and that every recommendation the government has made for sentencing – including any requests the government has made for leniency for cooperating police officers – has been with the blessing of those victims.

“I’m pleased with today’s sentence,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Mr. Lohman owes a serious debt to society for betraying the badge he had been trusted to wear. But he also deserves some leniency for the critical role he played in allowing other offenders to be brought to justice. The government is outraged by Mr. Lohman’s crimes, but grateful for his cooperation in this case.”

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten stated: “The sentencing of former New Orleans Police Officer Michael Lohman today was the product of his important admission of guilt, his essential and truthful testimony at trial, and the government’s request to the court for leniency by appropriately recognizing his substantial and even critical assistance. Such tremendously important cases and the just results they produce can often only be brought with such cooperation. Moreover, our request that Mr. Lohman’s sentence require his conducting outreach to future NOPD officers was not only appropriate but essential in ensuring that such violations of public trust are not repeated. As United States Attorney and as a citizen, I—along with the prosecution team—believe that our resolution of this case and our request for consideration in sentencing Mr. Lohman is the right course to take.”

David Welker, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI New Orleans field office stated, “The law must be respected by those that are entrusted to enforce it. If the law is to be honored, it must first be respected by those who enforce it. Unfortunately, Lt. Lohman failed to remain faithful to the oath he took as a police officer and as a result tarnished the badge that many wear so proudly.”

This case was investigated by the New Orleans Field Office of the FBI, and was prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Cindy Chung of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Carter of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

What Will It Take to Stop The Murders? By Parnell Herbert

“We can save ourselves”
For many years New Orleans has maintained one of the highest per capita death rates in the United States. Crimes of violence and murder in the Black community is not only a social justice problem, it is a public health issue. This is a designation none of us wants, and our bureaucrats appear powerless to change. One wonders if they really care. Certainly they do not want this distinction – it frightens their tourists. But do they really care?

Some would say Black self-hatred is the cause of this statistic; others would say fear. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and police chief Ronal Serpas say it is our culture. How ridiculous! Crime has no culture - just victims. Although mass murder and serial killing is commonly attributed to white perpetrators we don’t label it as white culture.

We can save ourselves when we learn what it will take to stop the madness. First, we must understand why young Black men kill other young brothers. Second, we must provide a way out; the easy answer is jobs and education. So what else is new?

The Diagnosis

We were conditioned to take the law into our own hands. The African American community in New Orleans was taught decades ago that we could not depend on law enforcement. If we wanted justice we would have to handle it ourselves. We also learned that consequences for murdering a Black man would never be as grave as consequences for killing a Caucasian.
Internalized Racial Oppression Inferiority “A Multi-generational Process” developed to teach us to believe that we are inferior. To believe that Black life is dispensable and white life holds greater value.

There is nothing more dangerous than a man without hope. When there is no hope there is no reason to live. There is nothing to live for. No consequence is greater than that hopelessness.

The Cure

We must teach young people to believe that there is hope. As long as there is life there is hope and consequences are more severe than they can imagine. This can best be explained to them by someone who has lived it. Many incarcerated and formerly incarnated persons are begging for the opportunity to teach our young people through their experiences. They do not want to see young lives wasted. They want to tell them the horror of being locked in a cell and haunted by the spirit of their murder victims. They speak of the arrogance and defiance they felt when they received life sentences. Reality doesn’t always sink in with the clang of prison gates behind them. But some day sometime years later the reality sets in and they wake up to a nightmare.

Protesters marching on City Hall will not solve this problem; murderers don’t read protest signs. Pep Rallies at UNO Arena won’t solve this problem; murderers don’t listen to this rhetoric. Young people must be addressed directly and made to realize there is value to their lives and that all human life holds value. Revenge is not the solution – it simply contributes to the problem. What was the plan? Has the strategy backfired? When flooding us out did not work, starving us out would not. Survivors will find ways to survive. Rather than hiring New Orleans natives to rebuild their own city the local elite chose to recruit impoverished people from south of our borders and others who say they are here to help us rebuild. A starving man will steal, rob and yes kill to survive. Self preservation is the first law of nature.

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

Culture of Violence or Culture of Poverty? By Dr. Lance Hill

The culture of violence is a product of a culture of poverty. How can we talk about 16 shootings in one day and not mention 65% of black children under the age of five now live in poverty in New Orleans—that poverty rate for black adults has regressed to the 1999 level?

Systematic discrimination against Blacks in Katrina recovery jobs has created poverty where it did not exist before. Children growing up in families where there appears to be no prospect for work are likely to turn to the drug trade. In the drug trade, business conflicts are settled with weapons. As weapons spread through the drug subculture, law-abiding citizens in low-income communities live in fear and come to believe they need to arm themselves to protect themselves from attack.

Ordinary conflicts between law-abiding people occur in situations in which everyone is armed. As much as the authorities would like us to believe these are primarily drug-related violence, the fact is that the violent drug subculture affects ordinary citizens. Reports are that the wealthy and privileged are arming themselves and they too risk becoming part of the trigger-happy culture of violence.

The “culture of violence” has its roots in the “culture of poverty” which has its roots in the “culture of indifference” displayed by the elites who control employment and housing. We will never change the culture of poverty until we change the culture of indifference.

Imagine if those in power demanded that all of the $20 billion in recovery contracts—schools, hospitals, roads, etc.) required 50% of the jobs to go to New Orleans residents instead of outside itinerant workers? Would that lift families out of poverty and provide children with a belief that there is a future for them?

We can’t solve a culture of behavior until we recognize that all maladaptive destructive behaviors develop because people are trying to fulfill basic human needs such as employment and decent housing. If we don’t satisfy those human needs, we can never change the culture of violence.

While we can’t take guns out of people’s hands, we can take the people out of poverty.

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).

Acclaimed Author Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts to Appear at Community Book Center

Among the many great artists and writers living in New Orleans, we are truly fortunate that the author Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts has made her home here. Her new book Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, has already brought rave reviews in the New York Times, NPR, Salon, and many others. The film also has inspired a short trailer by Arthur Jafa, the acclaimed cinematographer behind Daughters of the Dust and Crooklyn, and an excellent mixtape, available for free online.

New Orleanians will get a chance to here from the author, this Thursday at 6:00pm, at Community Book Center, 2523 Bayou Road.

From the book's website:
For a century Harlem has been celebrated as the capital of black America, a thriving center of cultural achievement and political action. At a crucial moment in Harlem’s history, as gentrification encroaches, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts untangles the myth and meaning of Harlem’s legacy. Examining the epic Harlem of official history and the personal Harlem that begins at her front door, Rhodes-Pitts introduces us to a wide variety of characters, past and present. At the heart of their stories, and her own, is the hope carried over many generations, hope that Harlem would be the ground from which blacks fully entered America’s democracy.

Rhodes-Pitts is a brilliant new voice who, like other significant chroniclers of places-Joan Didion on California, or Jamaica Kincaid on Antigua-captures the very essence of her subject.