Landrieu spars with Black leaders, DOJ officials and OPP sheriff
2nd April 2013 · 0 Comments
Good Friday couldn’t come soon enough for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who spent the greater part of last week fending off criticism from Black leaders and residents about his handling of NOPD racial profiling, hosting a community meeting to talk about crime-related issues, trying to convince the Feds that the city’s police department no longer needs a federal consent decree to reform itself and trying to sway public opinion that both the NOPD and Orleans Parish Prison consent decrees will take a huge bite out of the city’s budget.
The week started out with a pair of dueling meetings — one called by the mayor and his staff, the other by a coalition of civil rights and community organizations to solely discuss racial profiling..
In a move that some believe has widened the gulf between City Hall and the Black community, the Landrieu administration opted to host its own community meeting Monday and set its own agenda rather than honor a request from a coalition of civil rights and community organizations to meet and discuss the use of racial profiling by the NOPD.
Both meetings were announced on Friday, March 22. The mayor’s meeting took place Monday, March 25, at 6 p.m. at First Emanuel Baptist Church, while the community meeting on racial profiling was held at Christian Unity Baptist Church, 1700 Conti Street.
Because there was confusion about the purpose and location of each meeting, community organizers used WBOK radio station to let residents know about the meeting at Christian Unity over the weekend. Judging from the packed house at the Tremé church Monday night, those efforts were largely successful.
Among those who attended the meeting at Christian Unity Baptist Church were Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson, a representative of the U.S. Department of Justice and members of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, VOTE, the Nation of Islam, Safe Streets/Strong Communities and The Peacekeepers.
During the meeting at Christian Unity, one of the speakers shared an article from an issue of The Louisiana Weekly dating back to 1967 about racial profiling in New Orleans. While the DOJ did implement reforms of the NOPD during Superintendent Richard Pennington’s tenure as chief, racial profiling is a decades-old problem that has plagued the city’s Black residents long before the Historic Civil Rights Movement.
“He (the mayor) had no intentions of having a meeting and so since we made the call, we’re the ones that slept on the ground and we came into his office on last Tuesday and he said he would get back with us on a date, but he never got back with us,” Robert Goodman of the group Safe Streets/Strong Communities told FOX 8 News last week.
“It’s really up to the mayor to come to us, who really called for this meeting, rather than keep diverting and going in another direction,” Goodman added.
At First Emanuel Baptist Church in Central City Monday evening, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas spoke briefly to residents about efforts to fight crime in New Orleans and curb Black-on-Black violence through programs like NOLA For Life. They listened to comments and fielding questions from the audience about a wide range of topics — including the words of one man who thanked the Landrieu administration for “saving” his son by racially profiling him and other young Black men.
“If stopping and frisking will save my child’s life, stop them,” a passionate Curtis Bordenave told Chief Serpas. “If picking up kids in our community is going to save them, pick them up.”
The mayor spoke about the national scourge of violence that has claimed the lives of thousands of young Black people and questioned Black leaders’ commitment to addressing the issue.
As he has done often during his three years in office as mayor, Landrieu chided his critics for daring to question his handling of NOPD reforms and other crime-related issues.
“Not everybody wakes up or gets upset or yells for community meetings about that, and that bothers me,” Landrieu said Monday. “That’s not that all the other issues raised here tonight are not important, but if there is one issue that will save the City of New Orleans, it is saving our children, saving our sons.
“If we turn in on ourselves, if we fight each other, if we blame other than find the answer, we are never going to find the way out.”
“The mayor talks a good game but nobody’s buying what he’s selling anymore,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday.
“He wants the Black community to join his so-called campaign to Save Our Sons but has effectively prevented Black leaders and residents from having any input in those initiatives,” Brown added. “We don’t get to say or contribute anything — just stand behind him at press conferences and pretend that we are part of some dynamic, diverse team of difference-makers. It’s all a sham. The mayor has some serious control issues and wants to control everything that happens in the Black community. Everything he does and every move he makes lets you know that his way is the only way and that he is not willing to consider any alternatives for dealing with NOPD-related issues.”
“If he didn’t like the NOPD consent decree he shouldn’t have signed it last year,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “We don’t have time for all his games and tricks. There are too many people whose lives are being placed in jeopardy because of the way the mayor is handling police reforms. Since he is clearly in over his head, he needs to step aside and let the Department of Justice handle its business.”
“I was looking for your leadership when we had the incident in the French Quarter. We didn’t hear anything. Nor did we hear anything from our City Council,” New Orleans businessman and community activist Michael Dummett told Chief Serpas during the meeting at First Emanuel.
While Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, said the group will not seek another meeting with the mayor to discuss racial profiling, he did say that organizers of Monday’s meeting at Christian Unity will submit a list of demands to the mayor designed to end racial profiling, including a commitment to terminating any NOPD officer who uses racial profiling, better documentation of the race and reason residents are stopped and questioned by police and direct orders from City Hall to end the practice of racial profiling.
W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of “OurStory,” said in a commentary delivered on his show Wednesday evening that a community meeting with the mayor is no longer necessary because the NOPD consent decree has been approved by a federal judge and signed by the Landrieu administration. “The Black community has no need to talk to the mayor,” he said.
“We have the federal government and the federal courts to do our talking to the city officials. Why revert back to the ‘hat in hand’ and the ‘step and fetch it’ position we held prior to the days of Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts being signed into law in the 1960’s?”
In a recent report on NOPD changes implemented over the past three years, Serpas and Landrieu contend that significant progress has been made but a spokesman for the mayor’s office declined a request from the local daily paper to specify which changes have been completed, which are works in progress and which the department will not implement.
“There’s a lot of things we were doing anyway that ended up in the consent decree because they were just good things to do,” Serpas told The Times-Picayune last week. “There are some things that don’t end up in the consent decree that are really good things to do.
“The consent decree didn’t tell us that you ought to have a truthfulness policy that says you can’t lie to your boss and keep your job. We didn’t need nobody to tell us we needed to do that. We did it. The consent decree didn’t tell us we needed to audit our property room and find out where all the money was.”
Ursula Price, community spokesman for the Independent Police Monitor’s Office, told The TP that recent reports by Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson and Inspector General Ed Quatrevauz suggest it’s difficult to determine whether any changes have filtered down to street-level police work.
“They’ve claimed they’ve addressed all this in training,” Price said. “Then we dug a little deeper and it turned out training wasn’t being globally administered, and it wasn’t being paid for.”
The Independent Police Monitor’s Office is slated to release its annual report this week, which is expected to reveal a rise in violence complaints filed against NOPD officers. Price sees no reason to abandon the DOJ-mandated NOPD consent decree before it has had an opportunity to take root in the troubled police department.
“We find it absolutely necessary,” Price told The TP. “It’s very difficult for police departments to undo these types of problems on their own. And this community needs assurances of independent oversight.
“If we don’t see some some change in resources of local oversight, or federal oversight, I believe we’re going to be in the same place we were, if not worse.”
On Wednesday, tempers flared as NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas appeared before the Criminal Justice Committee in City Council Chambers to answer questions about the department’s stop-and-frisk policy
On Thursday, the mayor called a special emergency meeting with the City Council to announce the two federal consent decrees and how they will impact the City of New Orleans.
“Nowhere have we dedicated more resources and attention than to reforming the NOPD from top to bottom. Come hell or high water, and with help from the hundreds of honest, dedicated cops we will reform the NOPD,” Landrieu told members of the City Council Thursday. “You can take that to the bank. Nothing else is more important. We’re not waiting for anyone or anything; we are moving forward.”
The mayor said that while he was proud to sign and work on the NOPD consent decree, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office consent decree is “undermining our ability to move forward.”
“The bottom line is that both the OPSO and NOPD consent decrees cannot be paid for at the same time without raising taxes or substantially gutting all aspects of city services, especially public safety,” Landrieu added
Marlin Gusman fired back at the mayor at a Thursday press conference, saying, “I have no idea how he got five years or how he got to $22 million. The time has come for the mayor to end his campaign to deflect attention” from the Landrieu administration’s responsibility to pay for the DOJ-mandated reforms for Orleans Parish Prison.
“The day of reckoning has arrived,” Sheriff Gusman said.
Under current Louisiana law, the City of New Orleans is required to
foot the bill for Orleans Parish Prison inmates but the mayor continues to argue that the city can’t afford to pay for both consent decrees at once.
The OPSO consent decree would pay for better training for sheriff’s deputies, improved mental health care for inmates and a host of other reforms.
“I’m insulted by the mayor’s lack of leadership, his distortion of the facts,” Gusman said. “The city is failing in that legal commitment (to adequately fund the jail), and they know it.”
DOJ officials have said in court papers earlier this year that the Landrieu administration has known for a long time about the costs associated with these consent decrees and that the mayor has been less than truthful in suggesting that he has only recently been made aware of the costs associated with implementing the two consent decrees.
W.C. Johnson says that Mayor Landrieu has no one but himself to blame for the city’s gloomy fiscal forecast with two consent decrees looming on the horizon. “The law is well-grounded with case law that sets a precedence to establish that discounts monetary rationale as reasons for not being able to fulfill a court-ordered financial obligation,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the City of New Orleans refused to listen to the citizens’ petitions for help years ago. That would have averted the current fiscal problems for the City of New Orleans.”
Johnson continued, “After all, Mitch’s father was mayor many years ago, when much of these violations were being compounded and ignored. By Mitch being both a lawyer and politician, Mitch should have the political and legal savvy at the very least to be aware of the possibility that New Orleans would face a fiscal catastrophic event of this magnitude. The law is routed, through the sundry of cases, with time and experience which proves to be the best forecaster; thereby leaving Mitch no plausible escape from sober, rational leadership.”
Johnson said Friday that CUC and groups like the Universal Negro Improvement Association are forging ahead with efforts to secure constitutional policing and equal protection under the law for the people of New Orleans rather than wait on elected officials to do their jobs or begging anyone to give them what the U.S. Constitution guarantees every citizen.
*Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.
This article originally published in the April 1, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.