Monday, December 30, 2013

Race, History, and Revolution in the Year's Best Films

(A version of this article originally appeared in the New Orleans Data News Newspaper)

We live in the era of Hollywood mega-budget sequels, where theaters are filled with stories based on comic books, children’s books, or a line of toys. Originality is rarely rewarded: this year, the top five grossing films, taking in about a billion dollar each in ticket sales, were all sequels. Even among award fare, there were major disappointments. Of these, the worst was The Wolf of Wall Street. Director Martin Scorsese delivered a film that was promoted as a critique of Wall Street excesses, but ended up celebrating and glamorizing some of the world's worst people, as star Leonardo DiCaprio seemed dedicated to making rape, misogyny, greed, and robbery seem charming and humorous. 

But a few filmmakers still dared to fight the trends. The most powerful films of the year were personal visions that explored themes of racism, imperialism, prisons, and revolution. Below are ten films (and a few more) released this year that you should see if you’re sick of watching the same stories again and again.

10. The We and the I – French director Michel Gondry creats fantastical worlds that feel handmade, from the near-future of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to the love song to the end of the VHS era Be Kind Rewind. But for The We and The I, Gondry goes for realism. Working with a diverse group of New York City high school students recruited from a community center in the Bronx, the filmmaker follows a day in the life of working class youth, filled with bullying, friendships, love, and most importantly a real portrait of lives rarely seen on screen.

9. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – In this beautiful experimental film that blends animation with fiction and documentary, director Terence Nance tells a love story between two young Black bohemian artists. Nance plays himself (or a version of himself) in the film, while the object of his affection plays herself. The two of them shape the story of a budding romance from their perspectives. Brought to theaters with the help of a-list celebrities including Jay-Z and dream hampton, the film shows that it’s still possible to tell a love story in a new way.

8. The Punk Singer – In telling the story of musician Kathleen Hanna, a founder of the Riot Grrrl movement and an important figure in 90s alternative music, director Sini Anderson captures a moment of feminist uprising and consciousness-raising. Told through archive footage, present-day interviews, and lots of music, the film captures the energy of a moment that changed popular culture.

7. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners – With stunning archival footage, filmmaker Shola Lynch brilliantly recreates the 1972 trial of Angela Davis and its context within the early Black power movement. Any audience, whether they lived through the era or were born decades later, will be gripped by this thrilling documentary. Lynch, who also directed the 2005 film Chisholm ‘72: Unbought & Unbossed, finds rare footage and photos of key moments from Angela Davis’ early lectures to Jonathan Jackson’s ill-fated attempt to free his brother George Jackson.

6. Dirty Wars – Every American should know the stories of civilians killed in our name. Filmmakers Rick Rowley, David Riker and Jeremy Scahill take audiences into the US’ hidden wars, from drone attacks to special forces operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond. Combining investigative reporting with thrilling filmmaking, this may be the most politically important film of the year.

5. 12 Years a Slave – British/West Indian filmmaker Steve McQueen made history with the powerful story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man kidnapped from the north and sold into slavery in Louisiana in 1841. McQueen never shies away from showing the torture and cruelty of American slavery, and has created a modern classic that makes clear the legacy of white supremacy in this nation. Appearing in nearly every minute of the film, Chiwetel Ejiofor is riveting.

4. Her – Director Spike Jonze is the most original filmmaker in the US. Through his films, he creates worlds that are at once totally different from our world, and also deeply connected. With Her, the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation brings us a world that seems five minutes in our future, and also deeply connected to fundamental human truths about love, jealousy, desire, polyamory, and trust.

3. Upstream Color – Multi-talented (and perhaps obsessive) filmmaker Shane Carruth wrote, directed, produced, cast the actors, filmed, acted, edited, composed the music, and distributed this film. While having a crew to collaborate with might help other filmmakers, Carruth seems to thrive on control. In his second film (after Primer, a 2004 low-budget science fiction mindbender), he creates a beautiful mystery about memory, love, madness, addiction and loss that demands to be seen multiple times to unravel its secrets.

2. Something in the Air  - 1968 was a time of global revolutionary uprising, and Olivier Assayas beautiful film captures the moment in the lives of a group of anarchic French youth living at the barricades, fighting authority while also deciding what direction their lives will take. Assayas, who also directed 2010’s Carlos, a recreation of the life of controversial armed fighter Carlos the Jackal, (a revolutionary-to-some and terrorist-to-others), has created a film that feels as fresh and alive as the protests still gripping the world, from Tunisia to Brazil.

1. Fruitvale Station –Henry Glover, James Brissette, Ronald Madison, Adolph Grimes III, Raymond Robair, Kim Groves, Justin Sipp, Wendell Allen…The names of the young Black men and women killed by police goes on and on. But Hollywood and our media rarely explore these lives cut short by violence. By telling the story of Oscar Grant, a young man killed by transit officers on New Year’s Day 2009, first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler and rising star Michael B. Jordan give weight to a life that was brutally cut short.

Even in this new era of digital distribution, from Netflix to Amazon, it's still hard for truly independent voices to be heard. Two of the best films I saw this year haven’t yet gotten US distribution. When I Saw You is a brilliant film by director Annemarie Jacir about a young boy displaced along with his mother from Palestine in 1967. Capturing both the pain of refugees and the steadfastness of liberation fighters, the film is a stunning accomplishment and needs to be seen widely. It's the best film I saw in 2013. I'm hoping it will gain distribution in 2014, so I can add it to my official top ten list next year. 

Bayou Maharajah is filmmaker Lily Keber’s loving and thorough documentary about the man who has been called “the best Black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” The film is a gift for those that love New Orleans music, and a revelation for those less familiar. A brilliant film that I hope will be seen in theaters across the US in the coming year.

Some other great films that nearly made the list: David Riker (co-writer of Dirty Wars) also released The Girl, a film about the relationship that develops between a white girl in her 20s from south Texas and a young Mexican girl who’s mother died while attempting to cross the border. Stephen Vittoria’s film Long Distance Revolutionary, about imprisoned freedom fighter Mumia Abu-Jamal, explores the context of Abu-Jamal’s life through an all-star cast of interviews that includes Ruby Dee, Dick Gregory, Giancarlo Esposito, Cornel West, Alice Walker, Pam Africa, and many others. Blackfish is a moving expose of animal cruelty at Sea World amusement parks. Act of Killing is a devastating documentary about Indonesian torturers and killers who remain free from consequences for their actions. Side Effects is a smart and original conspiracy-thriller from director Steven Soderbergh. Gimme the Loot is a disarmingly sweet tale of two youths and a dream involving the best graffiti tag a New York kid could imagine. Park Chan-wook's film Oldboy was faithfully remade by Spike Lee this year, but the Korean director also made his English language debut with the disturbing Stoker, a dark thriller about murder and sex. Park's new film is better than Lee's remake. Fans of Danai Gurira (who plays Michonne in the show The Walking Dead) saw a more vulnerable side to the actor in her starring role in Andrew Dosunmu's Mother of George, a heartbreaking and visually powerful drama about Nigerian immigrants living in Brooklyn. Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity melds great storytelling with the latest in filmmaking technology.

There were too many excellent performances to mention here - many already mentioned above, such as Chiwetel Ejiofor's powerful lead performance. Among the big Hollywood award winners, American Hustle featured some of the best acting and design of the year, as it vividly recreated its late 70s/early 80s era in director David O. Russel's based-on-truth story of small time hustlers becoming entangled in a involving with the FBI, the mafia and several high-ranking politicians. Christian Bale (who costarred with Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper) once again proved he is one of the most versatile actors alive, bringing the scent of desperation and sleaze to his character. Bale also starred in Scott Cooper's Out of The Furnace, an under-recognized film about white working class despair in the Rust Belt. The film also features Casey Affleck, whose burning hopelessness gives the film its power. Affleck also brought this despair and sadness to another of the year's best performances, as a Clyde Barrow-type trying to reunite with a woman he loves in David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Director Denis Villeneuve, whose 2010 film Incendies was among my favorite films of the decade, brought to life a drama about violence and obsession n the film Prisoners. Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal gave some of their best work in this brutal film.

Not enough international films see distribution in the US, but among those that did were several classics. Cristian Mungiu's Beyond The Hills is an immersive drama of two young women caught between desire and the lives forced on them by class, social pressure, and religion. Cannes award winner Blue Is the Warmest Color also explores a relationship between two young women, but in a graphic, intimate and intense form that divided critics and audiences. Angels’ Share is a working class Scottish comedy from socialist filmmaker Ken Loach. The Grandmaster, combines the stunningly beautiful imagery Honk Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai is known for with an epic action film. After years of exploring love and desire in his films, The Grandmaster in some ways is a more mature return to 1994's Ashes of Time, one of the director's first films.

Finally, this year saw two truly bizarre but unforgettable films see relatively wide release. Spring Breakers is a delirious and deranged exploitation film starring James Franco and former Disney starlets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens and directed by experimental filmmaker Harmony Korine. Depending on your taste, it's either the year's strangest film or the worst. I choose strangest. Also deeply weird is cult filmmaker Don Coscarelli's John Dies At The End, a surreal supernatural horror comedy thriller that is never predictable and often hilarious.

The only way for these films to continue to get made and seen is for viewers to support them. For every Thor or Iron Man you see, make the time for films that challenge the status quo.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Victory at Last! Louisiana has Removed Hundreds of Individuals Unconstitutionally Placed on Sex Offender Registry

From our friends at Women With A Vision.

Today, all of us at WWAV celebrate a huge victory not only for those who have been criminalized through the Crime Against Nature by Solicitation statute, but for all women and LGBTQ people who have been criminalized across the globe.  The class action lawsuit we filed with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., and the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, Law Clinic challenging the CANS statute finally wrapped up.  Over 800 individuals with CANS convictions have officially been removed from the Louisiana sex offender registry.

When WWAV started this fight five years ago, we were told that we couldn’t win – that a small, black-led organization in the South couldn’t win a victory on this scale.  But we pressed on.  We came together, using a grassroots framework to engage community to affect change.

To quote Ms. Michelle, one of our NO Justice clients who has been on the Sex Offender Registry since 1980, ” I can taste my FREEDOM!”  All of us can.

We also know that this is but one step in realizing the healing that our community needs.  The women and LGBTQ people that WWAV supports continue to bear the scars of the war on drugs, mass incarceration, systemic poverty, HIV/AIDS and domestic violence.

So today we celebrate.  And still we rise.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Police Harassment and Violence Against the Transgender Community

A shorter version of this article originally appeared on the Al Jazeera America website.
The modern gay rights movement was born on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, on Christopher Street in New York City’s West Village. Resistance broke out in response to a violent police raid against the gay community, and riots continued for several days. Many of the key leaders were transgender women, such as Sylvia Rivera, who had started her activism during the 1950s civil rights movement and continued until her death in 2002.

More than 40 years later, even in a place long considered a haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, many LGBT individuals are still living in fear of police violence. 

Advocates say the issues that ignited the Stonewall riots still are relevant today. Mitchyll Mora, a young activist, said police had harassed him for dressing feminine, and his friends for not fitting into narrow gender roles.

“Christopher Street is an historic location, and it's always been a haven for queer folks, especially young folks of color. But with gentrification, there's been aggressive policing here, and that's a really scary thing,” Mora told us. “It's scary when safe spaces are taken away from us.”

It’s not just in New York City. A 2012 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender people across the U.S. experience three times as much police violence as non-transgender individuals. Those numbers are even higher for transgender people of color. Even when transgender people were the victims of hate crimes, 48 percent reportedreceiving mistreatment from the police when they went for help.

Andrea Ritchie, an attorney specializing in police misconduct, told us that law enforcement sees policing gender roles as part of their work.

“I think most people are familiar with racial profiling,” she told us. “But I think people are less familiar with how gender is really central to policing in the United States. That includes expectations in terms of how women are supposed to look, how men are supposed to look, how women are supposed to act and how men are supposed to act. And when they see someone who isn't acting in a way that they think they should be acting around gender, or isn't expressing gender in a particular way, or who is visibly someone who is queer or gender or sexually nonconforming, they often read that as disorder and they often perceive that person as already disorderly, as already suspicious, as already prone to violence.”

Andrea told us of a recent of a transgender woman Oklahoma who had been charged with disorderly conduct just for standing in public, demonstrating the idea that officers often find people who undermine expectations of gender to be intrinsically disorderly.

Ritchie says this tendency goes back to the roots of policing. “The first police forces in the United States were colonial armies,” says Ritchie. “And their mission was to seize land and control the people who were inhabiting the land, the indigenous peoples of this land. Scholars like Andrea Smith talk about how obviously policing of race, and controlling where a native people could and couldn't go was central to that project. She also talks about how policing gender was central to that project. And to communities who didn't necessarily have the kinds of hierarchies and social power relations, that colonizers had, there was a necessity of creating hierarchies in order to rationalize colonization. If you created these lines between male and female, and then you said that the male should have power over the females, then it made it easier to introduce the idea that there's a great white father somewhere else who should have power over indigenous populations.”

Dean Spade, a law professor and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a poverty law center that represents transgender people, agrees. “That's part of what policing is – is this kind of generalized suspicion,” he said. “Does something look out of place? And transgender people are often that thing that looks out of place.”

Transgender Americans are also more likely to be poor and homeless, because of discrimination in jobs, housing and access to social services.

“If we want to understand why trans people face such high rates of criminalization and incarceration, it helps to see how poverty feeds that," adds Spade. "So people are already more likely to be poor because of job discrimination, because of not being able to access social services or homeless shelters. If you are poor and you can't access those things you're more likely to be poor and on the street which puts you in the path of the police."
For transgender Americans, this cycle of poverty, homelessness and prison can start early, since many are rejected by their families as teenagers, and end up in foster care and the juvenile justice system. “Those systems are predictors for the adult punishment systems,” Spade said. “Let's say a young trans girl is placed in a boys' group home, and she doesn't feel safe there. She leaves, so she's possibly living on the street, doing whatever she can to get by. Then she ends up in the criminal justice system.”

More hate crime laws might seem like one way to better protect transgender Americans. But advocates point out that much of the violence trans communities face is at the hands of the police itself. “And so the notion that expanding that system’s power to punish will somehow save us is really harmful,” Spade explained.

Advocacy organizations are working to change the discrimination LGBT people face. The group TransJustice, for example, trains transgender New Yorkers on their on their rights in interactions with police.

But it isn’t just the police who have attitudes that hurt the LGBT community, advocates told us. The media is guilty too. One example advocates gave was the case of the Jersey Four.

In 2006, a group of black lesbians from New Jersey were arrested for stabbing a man on Sixth Avenue in the West Village.

The women said a man, Dwayne Buckle, made crude sexual advances that they rejected, telling him they were lesbians. In response, they said, he spat at them and tried to choke two of the women. The women say they fought back in self-defense.

“The police responded to the scene and read the women not as people who were survivors of a violent attack, but as perpetrators of violence,” Ritchie told America Tonight. “This was because they were young, because they were black, because they were gender nonconforming.”

In 2007, four of the women were convicted of gang assault. The following year, two of those convictions were overturned.

We spoke to two members of the Jersey Four, Patreese Johnson, who served almost eight years in prison, and Renata Hill, whose assault conviction was vacated. Looking at these women, it was hard to imagine the severe sentences they had received. Patreese is under five feet tall hardly seems threatening. They described a legal system stacked against them from the beginning. They said the police immediately profiled them as criminals, a newspaper called them “killer lesbians,” Fox News called them a lesbian gang, and the prosecutor called them animals.

“Now this is a group of girls who never had any criminal history,” said Hill. “Who was in school and college, working, family, with our own apartments, everything. And none of that was spoken about.”

No reporter tried to reach out to their attorneys to try to get their story, according to Johnson. “What they had was off of assumptions in the police reports,” she said. “None of our statements were considered, so we were automatically found guilty throughout the media.”

“Good girls don't defend themselves. Good girls don't walk on the streets at night,” says Ritchie. “Those are the kinds of perceptions and gender norms that are being policed in those moments.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Alasia Farell, a young woman interviewed as part of this story.

Friday, October 4, 2013

RIP Herman Wallace - The Muhammad Ali of the Criminal Justice System

From the Angola 3 Newsletter.

This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest, and brashest personality in the political prisoner world.  It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace's passing.

Herman never did anything half way.  He embraced his many quests and adventures in life with a tenacious gusto and fearless determination that will absolutely never be rivaled.  He was exceptionally loyal and loving to those he considered friends, and always went out of his way to stand up for those causes and individuals in need of a strong voice or fierce advocate, no matter the consequences.

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time with Herman knows that his indomitable spirit will live on through his work and the example he left behind.  May each of us aspire to be as dedicated to something as Herman was to life, and to justice.

Below is a short obituary/press statement for those who didn't know him well in case you wish to circulate something.  Tributes from those who were closest to Herman and more information on how to help preserve his legacy by keeping his struggle alive will soon follow.

On October 4th, 2013, Herman Wallace, an icon of the modern prison reform movement and an innocent man, died a free man after spending an unimaginable 41 years in solitary confinement.

Herman spent the last four decades of his life fighting against all that is unjust in the criminal justice system, making international the inhuman plight that is long term solitary confinement, and struggling to prove that he was an innocent man.

Just 3 days before his passing, he succeeded, his conviction was overturned, and he was released to spend his final hours surrounded by loved ones.  Despite his brief moments of freedom, his case will now forever serve as a tragic example that justice delayed is justice denied.

Herman Wallace's early life in New Orleans during the heyday of an unforgiving and unjust Jim Crow south often found him on the wrong side of the law and eventually he was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery.  While there, he was introduced to the Black Panther's powerful message of self determination and collective community action and quickly became one of its most persuasive and ardent practitioners.

Not long after he began to organize hunger and work strikes to protest the continued segregation, endemic corruption, and horrific abuse rampant at the prison, he and his fellow panther comrades Albert Woodfox and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown in solitary.

Robert was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary but Herman remained there for an unprecedented 41 years, and Albert is still in a 6x9 solitary cell.

Herman's criminal case ended with his passing, but his legacy will live on through a civil lawsuit he filed jointly with Robert and Albert that seeks to define and abolish long term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment, and through his comrade Albert Woodfox's still active and promising bid for freedom from the wrongful conviction they both shared.

Herman was only 9 days shy of 72 years old.

Services will be held in New Orleans. The date and location will be forthcoming.

For more information visit and

Monday, September 23, 2013

Half Ounce of Pot Gets Louisiana Man Twenty Years in Prison, By Bill Quigley

While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.

Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.” 

Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner.  A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”  

Nationwide, the latest numbers from the FBI report that over 762,000 arrests per year are for marijuana, almost exactly half of all drug arrests. 

For example, Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans.  Over 84 percent were for possession only.   While Louisiana’s population is 32 percent black, 60 percent of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide.  In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.   

Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) argues that “the “war on drugs” has been, is, and forever will be, a total and abject failure.  This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on people, our own people, our children, our parents, ourselves.” LEAP, which is made up of thousands of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities, has been advocating for the de-criminalization of drugs and replacing it with regulation and control since 2002.

Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it.  National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana.   Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana. 

Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said "A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice.  Limited prison space and prosecutors' time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used."

Defense lawyers are appealing the twenty year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year.   This insanity must be stopped.

Bill teaches at Loyola University New Orleans and volunteers with the Center for Constitutional Rights. You can reach Bill at

Image above from New Orleans Indymedia.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Women With A Vision and BreakOUT! Respond to Times-Picayune’s “Uneasy Street”

The Times-Picayune/’s six articles and one video (and counting) about Tulane Avenue, dubbed “Uneasy Street,” are an unfortunate example of glorified and sensationalized media reporting that leads to increased criminalization of marginalized communities, rather than solutions.

As staff of Women With a Vision and BreakOUT!, two organizations that work to promote safer, healthier communities in New Orleans for women and LGBTQ communities, including youth and transgender women, we hope that the Times-Picayune will consider releasing another video with a more humane approach to people involved in (or assumed to be involved in) street economies along Tulane Avenue.

The video we are referencing claims that once sun sets along Tulane Avenue, “An even darker world emerges.” We agree. There is a darker side to Tulane Avenue. But it’s not the one shown.

It’s the stories of mothers, daughters, friends, and wives struggling to survive in a city that has offered them little resources. It’s women dealing with substance abuse or addiction. It’s women who cannot be hired by traditional employers simply because they are transgender. It’s the women who have been too busy struggling to be able to get a formal education to make them employable. It’s the stories of human beings, worthy of dignity, respect, and far more than this series of articles has afforded them.

This kind of sensationalized reporting has put these women at even greater risk for harm. Did you ever consider what might happen to the women whose faces you showed? Did it ever occur to you that one might be working 2 or more jobs, and still have to turn to the streets just to provide for their families? Did it ever occur to you that some may have children at home? Did it ever occur to you that others may be fleeing a violent relationship or have been kicked out of the home at a young age for being transgender? We ask these questions not so that you feel sorry for these women, but that you might recognize and see their humanity.

Rather than blaming the women struggling to survive in our city, we want the businesses along Tulane Avenue to afford our communities the same respect and decency they are asking for. To do so requires that we imagine more creative and restorative solutions to this “darker world.” The Director ofBreakOUT! attended a meeting of the Mid-City Business Association just recently, where store owners were discussing the problems they see along Tulane Avenue. During the question and answer period he asked, “Has anyone considered offering any of these women a job or any sort of job training at your business?” Not one person in the room could tell us the thought had ever crossed their minds. When media articles like this continue to give voice to the mischaracterization of transgender women as “men in dresses,” it should come as no surprise that transgender people feel marginalized and unwelcome in their own city.

To be clear: this problem is not unique to New Orleans. Nationally, transgender people have double the rate of unemployment and poverty, while also being disproportionately represented among homeless populations and those without access to healthcare (National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce.) Similarly, for black women, underemployment and employment discrimination remain core structural issue that contribute to systemic poverty, homelessness, and an array of health disparities, including HIV to cervical cancer. Nationally, women of color earn just 70 cents for every dollar paid to men and just 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men (US Census Bureau).

The articles admit that many of those who stay in the motels along Tulane Avenue call them home. At Women With a Vision and BreakOUT! we understand that many of these individuals are young people who have left their homes and now live, the best they are able, in motels with up to 10 other girls at a time. Not all are engaged in the sex trade, however. Many have found a sense of community with one another, formed their own tightly-knit chosen families, and are doing more with their lives.

For the past two years, BreakOUT! has been working to stop discriminatory policing practices, particularly among LGBTQ youth of color and transgender young women, that prevents many of our young people from doing just that. We have made great strides in our campaign, called “We Deserve Better” and recently celebrated a victory in our campaign when the NOPD adopted a LGBTQ policy just last month. The policy states, among other things, that police officers cannot use gender identity or gender expression as probable cause or reasonable suspicion for a police stop or arrest. And yet in this video, we see our neighbors doing the exact same kind of profiling familiar to the NOPD when a young woman crosses the street in the middle of the afternoon.

And for the past five years, Women With a Vision has been working hard on the NO Justice! Campaign to combat the criminalization of women who have engaged in street-based survival sex work and, because of a Solicitation for Crimes Against Nature conviction, were required to register as sex offenders for periods of fifteen years to life. This campaign emerged from our more than twenty-year commitment to advancing the wellbeing of New Orleans’ most marginalized women and their families by challenging the policies and structures that make women have to choose between their daily survival and their long-term health. We made great strides – getting the law declared unconstitutional, removing women from the registry, and ensuring that the public understood how women’s lives had been destroyed by disproportionate sentencing. And yet, with this video and these articles, you have turned back the clock once again.

Increased criminalization of women, including transgender women, increased policing, increased use of surveillance equipment and security cameras, and increased demonification of women in the street economies will not make our City any safer. And it is putting our most vulnerable citizens at even greater risk. We continue to need increased access to employment, housing, education, and healthcare, including substance abuse treatment.

Even the NOPD recognizes the limitations of criminalization as Officer Ricky Jackson is quoted in the article, “You can’t arrest your way out of this situation.” Finally, the NOPD gets something right.

Women With a Vision and BreakOUT! are providing much-needed services and organizing for a better City. What then, is your role in this, Will you now leverage your resources to help solve this problem in our city by reporting on novel community-led solutions for fostering economic justice, or will you continue to exasperate it by running sensationalist stories like this?

Deon Haywood, Women With a Vision 504.301.0428
Wesley Ware, BreakOUT! 504.473.2651

Monday, August 5, 2013

Dream Defenders Florida Take Over Enters Week Four, By Bill Quigley

Packed into the small reception area of the Florida Governor’s office in Tallahassee, a couple dozen determined Dream Defenders conducted a people’s hearing on racial profiling.  Black and brown college and high school youth took turns giving compelling testimony of being profiled at school, in public and by the police.  In one corner was a court reporter.  A camera was live streaming the proceedings.

On the coffee table, a can of iced tea and a bag of skittles.  On the floor were strips of tape to keep an aisle clear so the Governor’s people could find get in and out of their offices.  Over the couch was a hand lettered sign of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

These are the Dream Defenders.  They are an inspiring and organized black and brown student movement going into week four of their sit in and occupation of the Florida Governor’s office.  They are demanding changes in Florida laws which criminalize young black and brown people.

Each night, as uniformed police lock the doors, dozens sprawl out on the marble floor to sleep until dawn.  Visits by Rev. Jesse Jackson, and singer activist Harry Belafonte inspired the students, energized older activists, and connected this campaign to the student-led part of the civil rights movement. 

Outside the reception area were many more determined young activists from seven universities in Florida as well as other students, parents and supporters from Baltimore, Brooklyn, Charlotte, DC, Miami and New Orleans.  Some were in suits and ties, most were wearing black t-shirts with white words CAN WE DREAM TOGETHER? in English, Haitian Kreyol, Spanish and Arabic. 

Friday night more than a dozen Florida religious leaders joined over 100 Dreamers for an interfaith service.  After joyful, powerful singing and chanting echoed off the marble, prayers were offered by a Rabbi, an Imam, and representatives from Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian communities.   Isaiah, Gandhi, Jesus, the Torah, the Bible and the Koran were all invoked as the crowd held hands around the Florida state seal.  Rev Brant Copeland prayed “for a person to be able to walk in their neighborhood and not be accosted by armed people who make judgments of them.  People of faith should stand here together because we are all pointed in the same direction.” 

The Dream Defenders are pushing for three changes in Florida law.  An end to racial profiling, ending the school to prison pipeline and repeal of stand your ground.  They call their three demands Trayvon’s Law

Behind the scenes is a determined team of young female and male college age leaders of many colors building power.  “We are bringing about social change by training and organizing youth and students in nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action.” 

This is not their first action.  A group marched from Sanford to Talahassee right after the Zimmerman verdict.  Others protested the omission of the “war on youth” at the 2012 presidential debate in Boca Raton.

“The media is not telling the full story,” said Dream Defender Steven Pargett of Florida A&M, who serves as communications director.  “This is not just about stand your ground.  This is a full legislative package to challenge the criminalization of our generation.  Because the Governor and the legislators are not working on this, Dream Defenders are doing the work.  We are conducting our own hearings, taking testimony from community and expert witnesses with court reporter transcription, and getting the word out.”

Repealing stand your ground is not enough, says Ciara Taylor also of Florida A&M, who serves as political director. “Ultimately you’re still ignoring the root of the issue…and that is the criminalization of our youth, the way that young people in Florida, black, white and brown, and that’s due to the school to prison pipeline and racial profiling that perpetuated throughout law enforcement.”

They are making progress.  The Florida Speaker of the House is calling for legislative hearings to review the stand your ground law.  “It’s an encouraging first step,” says Curtis Hierro of University of Central Florida, “but we know there is a lot of work to be done to stop the school to prison pipeline and racial profiling.”

One part of the sit-in is a teach-in. The testimony gathered by their three days of hearings is profound.  You can see it online at their website.  A Latino student from Tampa testified that he was profiled all the time.  “Sometimes I have to be invisible to survive.”  A young black student from Miami recalled how as a child he gave a friendly wave to a police car as it went by only to have the car stop and the officer scream at him and threaten to arrest him for flipping off the police.  “I was devastated,” he testified.  “I thought the police were super-heroes and now I was going to jail?”  His mom came out and stopped him from going to jail but the idea of Officer Friendly was gone forever.  Ten year old 5th grader Jamaya Peeples told me about her brother going to jail and how it made her mad and sad.  Jamaya said she is going to stay at the sit-in “until the Governor calls a session. If school starts before then, I will come back on weekends and breaks.” 

Dream Defenders have chapters at Florida A&M, Florida State, the Universities of Florida, Central Florida and South Florida.  They also have chapters at Florida International and Miami Dade College. But people all over the nation are joining in. They are on Twitter at #takeoverfl.

One woman who came from New York for several days said she is considering moving to Florida.  “I think what is happening down there could be the new SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).” 

We can always hope!  

Bill is human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and works with the Center for Constitutional Rights.  You can reach him at

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

“This Day, We Use Our Energy for Revolution”

Reprinted from our friends at Women With A Vision:

This past Sunday, WWAV gathered with friends, allies and fellow organizers in a Solidarity Rally for Trayvon Martin. We want to personally thank everyone who came out so that we could raise our voices in unison.  This is the beauty of New Orleans.  Every change that has happened in this city has arisen through the work of people coming together across issues to imagine the world we want to live in.  We can do it again.  All of us have the ability to make change.  We only need to be at the table, to create tables that are missing, to stay the course, and to do the hard work of revolutionary transformation.

Please see below for an excerpt from our Executive Director, Deon Haywood’s, call to action.  Our deepest thanks to Ada McMahon from Bridge the Gulf for recording and transcribing Deon’s speech.

“This Day, We Use Our Energy for Revolution”
By Deon Haywood, Executive Director, Women With A Vision, Inc.

Am I crying because yet again the Criminal Justice system, or the U.S. system of so-called justice, disappointed me again? I felt like a jilted lover because yet again, I looked for you to do something different, and you didn’t. And you hurt me again.

This morning when I thought about it, I just had this overwhelming feeling of, please please please, let people feel and move – and be reactionary, because that’s the first urge we get – but please can we move to revolution.

When I was in my early 20s, I used to go to meetings for the All People’s African Revolutionary Party. And I didn’t think it fit me as a Black queer woman, but it fit me in terms of what I felt needed to be done for my community. Remember I’m one of those people, always trying to decide what side I need to take.

I want a revolution. I want and I’m calling for a revolution, not in a very violent way. And I want to make sure people understand that. Sometimes when you say revolution, in this country, we fear that in some way that means violence. What it means is to have a plan.

You don’t have to join Women with A Vision. We get it all the time “y’all don’t talk enough about men”. But sometimes you don’t want to stand with me, because we do talk about queer people and women and their issues and criminalization.

What I’m asking for, is join somebody! I am almost pleading, and holding back the level of emotion I’m feeling. Do something!

I’ve been talking to people all day. I don’t want to hear one more person, in front of me – y’all can do it with each other, whoever you are, but not with me – tell me, “Well, young Black men kill each other all the time, so George Zimmerman couldn’t respect Trayvon.” Two separate issues!

I have no desire to change the minds of people like George Zimmerman. I will NOT waste my energy on that. Because I’ll be dead and gone and my grandchildren will be still trying. But what we all can do is lend our energy to [fighting] those systems and the ideology that makes us think a certain way.

That we work within our communities so young Black men value themselves. How can you value what other people do not?!  So if you hear somebody say that to you, challenge them. You tell them that what they are dealing with is oppression, and poverty, and lack of education, and lack of love for self, and internalized racism. You tell them that.

I am not a begging woman, but I am almost pleading, pleading for every one person who is not here, I do not want this moment to go away, like every historical moment goes away, until another one happens, and we’re talking about the last time, and remember, because it always happens!

I really want this time to be different. I want to figure out who we meet with this week, next week, once a week, once a month, and what community are we going in, what group are we going to work with, what conversations are we going to have within our community, with our families, about making things different?

I want to know next time OPPRC (Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition) is out there challenging the criminal justice system, or anybody in this city who is fighting for someone’s LIFE – We talk about rights, but sometimes there’s a thin line between rights and your LIFE – I want you to stand up. And I want you to be angry and frustrated enough that you can not longer sit down. That you get up in the morning, you say, “What am I gonna do today?”

And for those of you who feel like you can’t. If you feel like you cannot do it, then donate to those who will. Figure out how to support them. For somebody who runs a grassroots organization, I can tell you, the reason we exist, after an act of violence, was because of so many people out here. Whether it was a small party of $100, $500, it means another day for us to fight oppression and injustice in this city. So I ask you. Don’t let this moment end and feel like,”I went to the park! And I supported that event in the park!”

Tell me six months from now that you’re still supporting this event. Tell me a year from now you are still supporting this moment. That you wake up! I like putting things out in the universe: That you speak. That we speak.

This day, we use our energy for revolution.

These remarks have been edited slightly by Ada McMahon at Bridging the Gulf for clarity.

Photo by Sasha Matthews.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Open Letter From Curtis Muhammad on Upcoming Civil Rights Movement Anniversary Commemorations

Below we are reposting an open letter from civil rights movement veteran Curtis Muhammad, a founder of People's Hurricane Relief Fund and the International School for Bottom-Up Organizing, among many other projects and initiatives.

Dear friends and comrades,

We are fast approaching the time for the 50th anniversary of many important events and movements, including: Mississippi Freedom Summer; The murder of the three civil rights workers in Neshoba county Mississippi and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s challenge of the Democratic Party in Atlantic City New Jersey to name a few. The below pated document was written four years ago as we prepared to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). What was at stake then and now is whether or not these events being planned will honor the primary role of the poor southern black communities and individuals who made this history possible. It is my hope and my prayer that those of you who are planning these events will make it your mission and mandate to bring forward the true history of our great movements fifty years ago. I and my comrades encourage you to credit and honor where credit and honor is due: The poor black communities of the south should not be ignored in order to further promote the elite.

Curtis Muhammad
International Organizing Trainer and Veteran of the Civil Rights Movement

Please read below:

Dear friends and comrades,

Some of you know that I have been writing a book on my life experiences for a few years now (since 2003). I spent about six months in 2003 living in a black community in Mexico writing on my book and collecting stories from some 300 black communities along the Pacific Coast (called “Costa Chica”) covering three states. 

Last night I opened the manuscript to begin adding this dialogue we are having about our SNCC experience and the 50th Anniversary to the manuscript. I re-read something I had written in 2003 as a forward to my book. I found it informative and interesting and thought I would share it with you in the context of the discussion about the 50th Anniversary conference.

I copy it here, and have a few further comments below it.


I believe elitist, arrogant people who look down on those with little access to the goods and services of the society have motivated me the most to write this story. Mississippi, where I grew up, was and is the poorest state in the union. It has the highest rate of illiteracy in the country, then and now. The rate of college graduates is and was the lowest in the U.S. Mississippi has the lowest number of black professionals of any state in the country. At the time of my growing up we had three black lawyers and less than twenty black doctors in the whole state. Mississippi’s education system is and was the worst in all of the U.S.A. So when SNCC came to Mississippi, I think most of the Northern students considered those of us who had grown up in Mississippi as poor little dumb uneducated black youth. 

I remember thinking that the students that had come to Mississippi were the smartest, most intelligent folk in the world. They spoke so beautifully in “correct English”. They also seemed to know so many words I had never heard spoken. I, who had been one of the most outspoken young folk in my school and community, was muted by this fantastic display of “genius”. I soon found myself becoming part of the voiceless, not because someone demanded it, but because I did not think I knew enough words to match the “genius” of the other SNCC folk.

The Northern students bought into the European notion that “genius” is based on your ability to grasp the “King’s English” and body of knowledge. I don’t blame them any more because I realize that they too are a product of American white dominated culture. Or as we used to say, they were products of the “white power structure”. At the time, we didn’t understand that the long legacy of struggle and self-sufficiency we came from was an even more worthy body of knowledge that we had inherited.

I think most of us from Mississippi found our comfort zone singing freedom songs and telling stories about our work, but often we were very quiet and frequently absent from SNCC strategy sessions. I remember going on a trip with more educated SNCC staffers to Washington DC, New York, Hamilton College and Yale University. We spoke at large gatherings at all of these places. After each time I spoke, one of the SNCC staff would sit me down and talk to me about the way I needed to talk. He suggested that I was trying to be some kind of intellectual instead of being myself. Another organizer was his favorite spokesperson and he pointed out that what that person was doing was talking about Mississippi and the work we were doing while I was trying to explain why we were doing the work; that I was trying to explain the movement to people who knew more about it than I did. I remember getting so angry that I refused to talk anymore. I remember being very traumatized by this. I wondered, did this person talk to Julian Bond, Marion Barry, James Bevel, Diane Nash, Paul Brooks, Dionne Diamond, Chuck McDew, Tim Jenkins, Reggie Robinson, Ruby Doris or any of the others like this? I finally figured out that what he wanted was to put on display a stereotype of what young Mississippians looked, acted, and talked like. 

This feeling of voicelessness and inferiority would later compel me to drop out of Tougaloo College in Mississippi and go to school at Roosevelt University and Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago seeking the “genius” I thought was only to be found outside the South.

The books that have been written about SNCC mention my name in about four or five different stories: 
1.The Bob Moses letter from the Magnolia jail where others and I are “talking mostly about girls”
2. The student walkout at Higgins High in McComb, Mississippi 
3. Hollis and I are mentioned as being the first Mississippi students to join SNCC’s staff after all but Bob left following all the violence in McComb. 
4. There’s sometimes a one liner about Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
5. There is a girlfriend story in Greenville, Mississippi with Charlie Cobb. 
And that’s about it: nothing serious about the organizing work I was doing. I can’t be sure but I would guess the index of most SNCC books have similar numbers and kinds of statements about SNCC folk in Mississippi. Guyot may be an exception because of his Chairmanship of the MFDP and his ability to add prefixes and suffixes to simple words to make them sound big. Can you imagine what will happen to our stories if we don’t find our “voice” and tell them?

So by now you’ve guessed why I am writing this story. I am writing to give hope and confidence to my children and children’s children; to encourage others who have shared in this struggle for freedom, but heretofore not heard from because they have been convinced that they didn’t have words good enough to speak. I write to give confidence to those who believe they are not writers, not educated, not intellectuals, not scholars, not professionals, or whatever “box” that has been placed around them by the “white power structure”. I say here and now, I am a writer because I choose to be a writer. I will write my story on these pages because I believe my story is important to the freedom and justice movement. 

My story is about my struggle to contribute to the liberation of my people and I will not allow the society any longer to hold me in bondage with the thought that I am unqualified to tell my story in a book, written by my hand. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Thank you

I have reprinted this for you to read not because I think my own experience is so important, but because the voicelessness I felt as a youth in SNCC still afflicts our people and our telling of history. SNCC folk had different roles and experiences, all of which were necessary to the Movement. My particular experience was on the ground organizing in my own home state, and most of the people we were organizing felt the same lack of voice. Their experience, their thoughts and ideas, even their very humanity, were not and are not respected by the society at large. And yet, SNCC organizers went about the task of organizing with great respect and humility, guided by elders within the community who knew the legacy of the struggle of these descendants of slaves. We collectively found, cultivated and developed new leaders and spokespeople from amongst them, people like Fannie Lou Hamer and Victoria Gray, among many others.

It was the heroism and martyrdom of these grassroots people that is at the core of what’s valuable about SNCC history, not so much the heroism and martyrdom of the organizers. It was the “bottom”, the poorly clothed, the illiterate sharecroppers standing up in their thousands, refusing to be intimidated, and demanding to be heard and respected that truly changed history.

There was a SNCC organizing model. It was a model of organizers who lived extremely simply and relied on the people of the community for food, housing and protection, and who took nothing from the community for themselves. It was a model of recognizing, respecting and lifting up the genius of the people, contained in a legacy of struggle flowing forwards in an unbroken river from the days of slave rebellions and the Underground Railroad, from Black Reconstruction to resistance to Jim Crow. It was a model of patience, of unglamorous days after days spent knocking on doors and sitting on porches.

I do not regard the SNCC 50th as primarily an opportunity to be nostalgic. I regard it as an opportunity to share that organizing model with those who recognize that the battle in which we were engaged 50 years ago is far, far from won, that our people still suffer the chains of racism, that they still contain within them the genius of how to create a just, new world.

History can be told in many ways, and there are many “histories” of SNCC. For example, there is the view that Freedom Summer, made up of Northern students and led by students brought in from Howard and elsewhere (not by the Mississippi SNCC staff, which was not regarded as competent for that task) changed history. And there is the view that the sharecroppers of Mississippi, with the assistance of SNCC organizers, rose up and changed history. Which view will be dominant in the planned conference? 

If this Anniversary conference reduces us to a sweet group of dedicated folk who paved the way for the ultimate victory represented by a black man in the White House, it will leave our people, once again, voiceless.

Which is why I am raising my voice in this conversation.

Friday, June 28, 2013

New Orleans Police Department Issues LGBTQ Policy on Anniversary of Historic Stonewall Riots Against Police Brutality

From a press release from BreakOUT!

After organizing for over two years, BreakOUT! members enjoyed a victory today in the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) with the issuing of Policy 402, dealing with the treatment of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community. 

The policy includes protocols for stopping and searching transgender individuals and mandates that officers be trained on issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community.  Most importantly, the policy specifically mandates that, Officers shall not use an individual's actual or perceived gender identity, or sexual orientation as reasonable suspicion or probable cause that an individual is or has engaged in any crime.  (NOPD Policy 402.4)

"While BreakOUT! is hopeful for the policy's implementation, we recognize that much more must be done to ensure the safety of queer and trans youth of color on the streets of New Orleans," said BreakOUT!Youth Organizer Derwin Wilright, Jr.

Members and organizers of BreakOUT! were disappointed in the lack of community engagement during the policy's development. While BreakOUT! secured a commitment from the NOPD in October 2012 to meet with members prior to the adoption of any LGBTQ policies after members testified about their experiences with the NOPD in front of City Council, it was not until March 2013 that BreakOUT! was invited to a meeting.  This meeting was only after BreakOUT! sent over 300 emails to Chief Ronal Serpas demanding that the NOPD keep their promise to LGBTQ youth in New Orleans. 

After receiving the first draft of the policy, BreakOUT! called for public meetings for the NOPD to solicit community feedback and engage community members in policing reforms.  BreakOUT! held a rally in front of NOPD headquarters to deliver a statement with signatures from over 15 organizational partners to call attention to racial and gender profiling and Stop & Frisk practices, including Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition. 

Although the NOPD refused BreakOUT!'s request for a public meeting, youth members solicited community feedback on the policy themselves and brought community members, including representatives from the Congress of Day Laborers, to the NOPD meeting with them.

All of this comes as the Department of Justice and City of New Orleans continue to battle over desperately needed federal oversight of the NOPD.  While these policies are a step in the right direction, BreakOUT! members say they are a far cry from the sweeping reforms needed to keep community members safe from  harmful and discriminatory policing practices in New Orleans.

It is notable that the policy was released on the 44th Anniversary of the historic Stonewall Riots, where queer and transgender youth of color and drag queens fought back against police brutality and police raids in Greenwich Village in New York.

"We can see that little has changed in the last four decades and BreakOUT! must continue the tradition of organizing for a safe and just city," said Milan Alexander,BreakOUT! Youth Organizer.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Victory! Sex Workers Removed From Louisiana Sex Offender Registry

From our friends at Women With A Vision and Center for Constitutional Rights:

Louisiana to Remove Hundreds of Individuals Unconstitutionally Placed on Sex Offender Registry

Last night, in a federal class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel, a settlement with Louisiana was finalized that will remove from the sex offender registry approximately 700 individuals who had been required to register solely because of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) conviction.  Today’s settlement follows a ruling last year in a related case that found the CANS registration requirement unconstitutional. Despite that ruling, hundreds of people convicted of CANS remained on the registry.  CCR filed a class action on their behalf, which led to today’s settlement.

“We are gratified that the state has agreed to vindicate the rights of hundreds of people who continued to be unconstitutionally registered as sex offenders,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorney Alexis Agathocleous.  “This registration requirement has disproportionately affected African American women and LGBT individuals who will now – finally – be able to begin to rebuild their lives.”

When charging someone for soliciting oral or anal sex for a fee, police and prosecutors in Louisiana have unfettered discretion in choosing whether to charge someone with prostitution or CANS.  Until 2011, however, only a CANS conviction required sex offender registration. The court previously held application of the sex offender registration requirement to nine individuals unconstitutional because it imposed different consequences for a CANS conviction than a prostitution conviction for exactly the same conduct, without any rational basis. 

“I am overjoyed.  This is truly an historic moment. Justice has prevailed and dignity has been restored to the women and men who have been denied their basic human rights for so long. We celebrate this true collaboration of community, affected individuals, and the amazing lawyers that together made a difference,” said Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women With A Vision, a community-based organization in New Orleans that has led advocacy efforts around this issue. 

People affected by this law have been barred from homeless shelters, physically threatened, and refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities.  As in the earlier case, all plaintiffs in this action proceeded anonymously for fear of retaliation.

“The lingering injustice, resulting from over 20 years of discriminatory enforcement of this law at police and prosecutors’ whims, will now finally come to an end,” said Andrea Ritchie, co-counsel to CCR in Doe v. Jindal and Doe v. Caldwell.  “The State of Louisiana will now finally bring its conduct into compliance with the Constitution and the court’s prior rulings. This is an unqualified victory for Black women, poor women, and LGBTQ people who fought back against injustice and won.”

Plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP, police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice.