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City grapples with second NOPD fatal shooting within a week

12th March 2012   ·   0 Comments

Family members, neighbors, community leaders and detectives gathered in the 2600 block of Prentiss Avenue Wednesday night after New Orleans police gunned down 20-year-old Wendell Allen in his Gentilly home. Allen was shot by police who were reportedly executing a narcotics search warrant when the shooting occurred.

The Allen shooting comes six days after NOPD officers shot and killed another 20-year-old man, Justin Sipp, and wounded his 23-year-old brother, Earl Sipp, after an early-morning traffic stop. In the earlier shooting, the Sipp brothers were headed to a Burger King restaurant where the younger brother worked when they were stopped by police. Police say Justin Sipp fired 14 shots at police officers, wounding two officers. Earl Sipp, who was reportedly handcuffed, was shot in the leg.

The two high-profile NOPD shootings have led to community outrage with family members frantically seeking answers and community leaders and activists calling for a federal probe of these shootings and accountability from the Landrieu administration.

Wednesday’s shooting happened as the NOPD released data that shows a significant rise in crime in 2011 and the results of a survey revealed a rise in public confidence in the NOPD.

According to data released last week by the NOPD, reported crime rose 10 percent in 2011 with significant increases in violent crimes like murder, rape and armed robbery. The city’s murder rate saw a 13 percent increase last year, rising from 176 murders in 2010 to 199 murders last year. Armed robberies rose 12.6 percent from 704 reported in 2010 to 793 in 2011. The city’s number of rapes reported increased from 144 in 2010 to 163 last year, representing a 13.2 percent hike.

Despite those numbers, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe that crime is on the rise in New Orleans, instead attributing the higher numbers to an upsurge in residents’ confidence in the NOPD, which he says has spurred a greater willingness to report crimes.

“We know that more people called us,” Serpas said Tuesday. “And we know that more people pushed us for accuracy.”

The New Orleans Crime Coalition released a report Tuesday that suggests that citizen satisfaction with the performance of the NOPD is also on the rise. Of the 600 residents surveyed the previous week, 61 percent reported they were satisfied with the police department. That number represents a 28 percent jump since 2009.

“Mayor Landrieu and I know that the NOPD is getting better, but we know we still have much work to do,” NOPD Superin­tendent Ronal Serpas said Tuesday. “I am especially glad to see our total satisfaction at 61 percent, the highest level of support we have received to date. Equally, the efforts of our department are reflected in these highest ratings of satisfaction in the survey serves relating to our fight against crime, our overall competency and professionalism.”

“I’m not buying that,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former Con­gres­sional candidate and New Orleans businessman, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Anyone who knows anything about these polls and the methodologies used to collect data knows that numbers can be manipulated to say whatever it is the entity paying for the poll wants them to say.

“It’s all a mind game and a P.R. scam,” he continued. “We’re expected to believe that the people interviewed for this poll were randomly selected and that this is not a ploy by the city and the NOPD to sway public opinion in their favor.”

“There has been a pattern that whenever something happens or there’s information released that reflects badly on the NOPD, either right before that information is released or right after, there’s something released that places the NOPD in a great light,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP, told The Louisiana Weekly. King said that scenario played out Wednesday in the local daily paper when an article about the rising public approval of the NOPD was included in the same issue that said “that crime has risen in all categories.”

“Based upon the history of the PR campaign that has been undertaken by the NOPD, it raises some questions about the timing (of the two stories),” King continued. “It sure is coincidental that the results of this survey are released at the same time that the results of the NOPD crime report were released. The timing is questionable.

“Furthermore, who are these 61 percent” who approve of the NOPD’s performance, King asked. “The people who complain to the NAACP about their perception of the force are definitely not part of that 61 percent, so who is the 61 percent?”

King said it would be a mistake to assume that white residents approve of the NOPD’s performance given a report released last week that says both Tulane and Loyola universities have decided “to increase the size of their campus police forces and authorizing their police forces to patrol in a further radius outside of their campuses because of the crime problem…

“If Tulane and Loyola have realized and perceived that the problem is growing and growing to the point that they have to spend money to increase the size of the police forces, they can’t be part of the 61 percent either. So who is the 61 percent?”

“The Rev. Raymond Brown, pres­i­dent of the New Orleans chapter of the New York-based National Action Network, echoed those sentiments, saying, “Obvi­ously, the poll didn’t interview anyone who has witnessed the NOPD’s stubborn refusal to implement substantial changes. The NOPD gunned down two young Black men in less than a week — that’s in addition to the many Black residents whose rights are violated by the police almost daily.

“This is still a racist and corrupt police department — and the mayor’s refusal to even consider a change in department leadership is going to cost him politically,” Brown added.

The biggest concern is that both of these shootings have so many unanswered questions,” Danatus King, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “With the first shooting, there are questions as to how the officer could see a license plate light that was not lit when the officer was facing the car (that Justin and Earl Sipp were in). Another question relates to the Mid-City Security District. We had problems with the Mid-City Security District months ago where there was a command issued from the supervisor of that district demanding that officers who were part of that detail make more stops. That was in spite of the fact that a high percentage of the stops that they were making were proving to be unfounded — it was just pure harassment. This is the same security detail that participated in the Sipp shooting. Those factors raise questions about what really happened with that shooting, including the fact that the other (Sipp) brother who was shot was released with only a citation for driving with an expired license…Also, neither one of the police cars had their cameras on — that also raises some questions.

“With regard to the Allen shooting, if an officer was executing a search warrant and felt endangered to the point of using deadly force, a person would think that the weapon that was threatening that officer would be in plain sight, something in the perpetrator’s hand,” King continued. “…If the weapon was only found somewhere in the house Thursday, how could the officer feel that his life was in danger?”

Serpas confirmed Thursday evening that Wendell Allen did not have a weapon in his hand when he was shot by police. “We do not believe at this time that [Wendell] Allen had a weapon at the top of the stairs last night in his possession,” Serpas said.. “The investigation will continue to carry us where we go. We still have a lot more information to learn and all I can say is we do confirm that Allen did not have a weapon in his possession.”

Serpas said it was unclear what prompted Officer Josh Colclough to open fire on Allen, who reportedly was dressed in shorts and was shirtless at the time of the shooting. Five of Wendell Allen’s younger brothers and sisters were in the home when the shooting happened.

“My son can’t speak for himself, but I will stand up for my child. That was my child. For you to come in my house in my comfort zone and kill my child—you killed my child,” Natasha Allen told WDSU News.

Natasha Allen said that as of Thursday she had not been allowed to see her son or identify his body and that answers have been hard to come by.

“We have laws out there that need to be enforced and the NAACP is definitely supportive of enforcing the laws that exist to protect and serve all of us,” Danatus King said. “But the NAACP is against any rogue actions whereby people take the law into their own hands or misapply the law and kill people when that’s not warranted.

“These two shootings and all the questions that they raise —what they have done is further erode the public’s confidence in the police force,” King added. “It not only erodes confidence that the force is able to do the job but also confidence in the integrity of the force — not only in the men who put the uniform on but in the leadership of the NOPD. If the public doesn’t believe that the leadership has any integrity, then it’s almost impossible for the NOPD to be effective.”

“The Black community needs to be extremely concerned, not only about these two shootings, but the total disrespect NOPD shows all Blacks in New Orleans,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Communities United for Chance and host of local cable access show “OurStory,” told The Lou­isi­ana Weekly. “The acts of deprivations of rights, to the harassment of traffic stops, to the cruel treatment of our Black children, to the gross mischaracterization that Black folks are all criminals, whether they have been convicted, only arrested or assumed guilty of criminal activities. This is a gross misrepresentation of the perceived character of all Black folks by the so-called innocent whites.

“When we adjust this thinking and compare it to the determination of the leadership of the city to place every viable roadblock in the path of justice, then we have a political shell game where Black folks are hog-tied and blindfolded while being told that we have a level playing field,” Johnson added. “That is the reality of what the Danziger and Henry Glover cases have done for the Black community of New Orleans.

“To add insult to injury, the Department of Justice has ignored a course they should have chartered from the start of the DOJ investigations — which gave New Orleans the findings to prove the NOPD was a racist and corrupt organization. That course was initially requested by many grassroots organizations… It is not unheard of for the federal government to become the receiver for political subdivisions that are unable to correctly discharge their appointed duties to take over such organizations until the federal government is able to identify and empower a new custodian for public safety. New Orleans went through this process after the Civil War. Several other policing organizations have gone through this reorganization. Why not New Orleans? This needs to be a concern of magnitude proportions for the Black population of New Orleans.”

Johnson said the community’s efforts to become actively involved in the reformation of the NOPD has been thwarted by local government agencies and officials. “In an effort to capture a stakeholder’s position at the negotiation table, CUC applied to the City Council for the process to introduce the Peoples Consent Decree in a gesture of fair play and good will,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “Unfortu­nate­ly, New Orleans’ political apparatus is not designed to accept the fielding of political play from Blacks, who are considered outsiders. The example of this is very clear when the policy and procedures of the City Council stipulate that any input from the citizenry begins at the committee level and graduates to the full council. This process is supposed to be open to all. But Susan Guidry, Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, refused CUC open access to the legislative process by refusing CUC a presentation before the committee to introduce the Peoples Consent Decree. This effectively killed any chance for Blacks to have access to the legislative process, thereby only allowing ideas and proposals from the mayor and police chief.”

After meeting Thursday morning with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Crime Commissioner James Carter, during which the mayor promised to ask Serpas to investigate the incident, relatives of Wendell Allen held up signs that said he was murdered by New Orleans police.

On Thursday, Landrieu called for a “full, open and fair” of Wednesday’s shooting incident. Although he didn’t provide any details about the shooting incident or the police department’s ongoing investigation, Landrieu said, “My heart goes out to the family of the young man who was killed.”

Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson told reporters Thursday that she is paying close attention to the NOPD investigation of Wednesday’s shooting.

W.C. Johnson expressed doubt that the Independent Police Monitor will do or say anything in probing these two shootings to ruffles feathers at City Hall.

“CUC has been actively en­gaged in organizing and mobilizing the community around the Consent Decree,” Johnson said. “What we have found is that the Independent Police Monitor (IPM) has worked overtime trying to thwart CUC’s efforts by mirroring our organizational efforts. Susan Hutson has refused to work with our community organization because we have always been honest and above board with the people of New Orleans. CUC has only one vehicle for true police reform: Civilian oversight. While the IPM tries to convince the people that the NOPD can effectively police itself CUC refutes that with past history throughout America of a failed system of police reform from within any police department. The IPM wants to convince people that a title or name is all one needs for true police reform.

“We must keep in mind that the Office of Inspector General is Susan Hutson’s boss,” Johnson added. “When you look closely into the maze of tangled webs, you find the IPM and the NOPD so close that one cannot tell where the IPM begins and the NOPD ends. Besides, you only have to listen to Susan and she automatically tells you who she favors. Susan is a career person and Susan is a company person. Susan is only interested in the more than $150,000 salary she receives. The community gets nothing from the deal. But that is par the course for the entire Landrieu administration.

“New Orleans needs civilian oversight with power to hire and fire, power to hire independent investigators detached from the NOPD; the power to determine whether or not the chief of police is doing his job. If we would have had a true police reformer in Serpas’ seat, the two recent killings would not have happened.”

This article was originally published in the March 12, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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