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Area ministers blast city administration for ‘lack of racial sensitivity, inclusion’

26th October 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Ryan Whirty
Contributing Writer

As Pastor Tom Watson continued to speak in front of the historic Algiers Courthouse Tuesday morning, his voice gradually rose in gravitas and passion, and the minister from Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries in New Orleans steadily became more pointed in his criticism of Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

As a lead organizer of the newly formed clerical organization Pastors for a Better New Orleans, Watson announced in a press conference last week that the nascent advocacy association was fed up with what its members feel is a lack of racial sensitivity and inclusion on behalf of Landrieu’s administration.

Referring to a prayer breakfast Landrieu held a year ago to assure local pastors and religious leaders that the administration would strengthen its ties with the entire New Orleans community, Watson asserted Tuesday that Landrieu has since reneged on that pledge.

“He has quickly returned to his arrogant and divisive style of leadership,” Watson boomed. “He is attacking anybody who doesn’t agree with him.

“We are more divided [as a city] under his leadership than any other time before him,” Watson added.

Several members of the PBNO spoke at last week’s press conference, with all of them charging Landrieu with allowing certain sections of the city to fall, they said, into a pattern of violence that he promised to target months ago. The pastors accused the mayor of favoring religious leaders and other community advocates who share what the PBNO feels is a sycophantic approach to appeasing influential citizens and voters.

“We should be meeting [Landrieu] along with all the clergy of the city to discuss the crime plaguing this city,” said Pastor Raymond Brown of Ray Avenue Baptist Church. “We need [police coverage] in all of New Orleans. We need to come together for the benefit of all the county and city.”

Added Aubry Wallace of Heavenly Star Baptist Church: “[The administration] is certainly dropping the ball, and it starts at the top. … What is going on with the leaders who represent us? We don’t feel represented in this city. This is what our taxes pay for. It is a dangerous city we live in. Any of us could be a victim of crime. We are not looking for it, but it is out there. [Landrieu’s] plan is not working. He needs to stand op for what is right and fair.”

While all of the clergy members who attended Tuesday’s press conference were African-American, Wallace stressed that PBNO wants to include ministerial representatives of all races and ethnicities. She said the diversity found in New Orleans is one of the city’s greatest strengths.

Other members of PBNO include Apostle Leonard Lucas of Light City Church, Minister Sermone Barton and the Rev. Deloris Miles of Intercessory Prayer Ministry, and Elder Michael Hill.

When contacted Thursday, the Landrieu administration declined to comment on the PBNO’s formation and criticisms.

“We just don’t know enough about it to really comment at this time,” said Mayoral Director of Communications Sarah N. McLaughlin.

As of the middle of this month, New Orleans has suffered more than 132 murders in 2015, with many of them clustered in New Orleans East, Treme, Marigny/Bywater and Esplanade Ridge.

On October 20, the members of the PBNO, while saying Landrieu needs to bring the city together on other issues — such as the high unemployment rate for young Black males — as well, they focused the majority of their comments on the violence rampant in New Orleans in general and specifically what they perceive as a disparity in police coverage in higher-income, tourism-heavy neighborhoods and more working-class, lower income areas of the city.

Watson was especially pointed in his criticism of the mayor, often punctuating his comments with fervent oratorical flourishes and passionate wording. Although Watson asserted numerous times that he and the other members of the PBNO weren’t attacking the mayor, he was steadfast in his comments that the mayor has failed in his duty to serve the whole city and not just ones that attract tourists and college students.

Watson pointed to increases in police presence — including asking federal authorities to come in — in Uptown and the French Quarter in response to recent crime waves in those areas and a dismal dearth of patrols in other areas, in particular those with largely African-American populations. He claimed that many residents of New Orleans East have to wait two hours from the time they call for police help until officers arrive.

But Watson also said the community has no true access to concrete crime statistics because the administration cloaks them in secrecy.

“We want this mayor to give us the true facts,” he said. “We want him to be honest with us so we can move forward.”

Another example of what he called Landrieu’s consistent “racial insensitivity” is the mayor’s rocky relationships with African-American officials like Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman and local International Association FireFighters President Nick Felton, and the perceived coziness with white leaders like Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon A. Cannizzaro Jr.

Asserting that administration policies are “all style and no substance” — such as Landrieu’s call to take down the Confederate monuments in the city — Watson said that glossy rhetoric has led to unacceptable schisms in the community.

“We are more divided under his leadership than at any other time before him,” Watson said. “He is one of the most divisive mayors in history.”

When asked about Landrieu’s perceived favoring of certain leaders while shunning others, Watson made clear one of the fundamental causes of that dichotomy.

“It’s clear,” he said pointedly. “It has to be racial.”

He issued a pleading challenge to the mayor.

“Please, Mr. Mayor, stop acting like a type of Goliath,” Watson said, appropriately using a well-known Bible story to augment his comments. “Please Mr. Mayor.”

Watson then added a bold prediction of the PBNO’s, and the community’s, capabilities: “For every Goliath, there is a David.”

“We’re not here to attack but to say that we are sick and tired of this arrogant government and divisive way of leadership,” Watson added. “We need to bring him down in status.”

This article originally published in the October 26, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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