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Mayor to meet with community on March 25

25th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

After community and civil rights leaders and residents decided to re­main at City Hall until the mayor addressed community concerns about unconstitutional policing, ra­cial profiling, police brutality and other forms of unconstitutional policing, the mayor agreed during a March 19 gathering Tuesday to attend a larger community meeting to answer questions within the next two weeks.

The early Tuesday gathering bet­ween a small group that included attorney Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, and the Rev. Dwight Web­ster, pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church, took place four days after a coalition of Black civil rights and community leaders announced that they would remain at City Hall until the mayor met with the community and add­ressed its concerns.

“To highlight the gravity of the racial profiling issue, and to encourage civic engagement, the community will continue its vigil at City Hall, seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. until the community meeting is held,” the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP said in a statement Tuesday. “The public is invited and encouraged to participate in the vigil.”

The Mayor’s Office announced Thursday that the meeting will take place from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday, March 25, at First Em­manuel Baptist Church, 1829 Carondelet Street, in Central City. Also attending will be the NOPD’s senior leadership.

Tyler A. Gamble, Communi­cations Manager for the Landrieu administration, called The Louisi­ana Weekly Monday and said that last week’s story about the community’s demands for a meeting with the mayor contained an incorrect spelling of Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse’s name. In the story, she is listed as “Julie Reese Morse.” Gamble also said that The Weekly did not contact the Mayor’s Office although the article said the administration could not be reached for comment before the publication went to press. To set the record straight, a phone call to the Mayor’s Office was not made Friday, March 15, mostly because the publication literally received the information about the community meeting minutes before going to press.

In an email Tuesday morning, Gambit told The Louisiana Weekly that the misspelling of Deputy Mayor Morse’s first name and the statement about the paper not being able to reach the mayor’s office for comment before it went to press “hurt the integrity of the paper.” He was sent a list of questions Tuesday morning seeking the mayor’s thoughts on a variety of subjects related to racial profiling and unconstitutional policing but never answered those questions.

This writer assured Mr. Gamble that his points would be duly noted in the next issue and that The Weekly would also include the official statement released by the Mayor’s Office about the community’s demands for a meeting with the mayor. That statement follows:

“Mr. King contacted our office this morning requesting a meeting with Mayor Landrieu at noon today,” the Mayor’s Office said. “While the mayor is out of the office today, he is happy to meet with Mr. King to discuss any topic, as he has been willing to do in the past. Today, we offered to schedule a meeting between the Mayor and Mr. King next week. He declined. In January 2012, Mayor Landrieu invited Mr. King to be a part of a working group in the Mayor’s Strategic Command to Reduce Murders. To date, Mr. King has declined to participate.”

Asked Tuesday afternoon to respond to the Landrieu administration’s statement from March 15, King said, “No. 1, that’s a lie — that’s a lie,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “We didn’t go there and request a meeting that minute — we requested to meet with them. We were standing out in the vestibule — a group that included myself, the Rev. Dwight Webster of Christian Unity Baptist Church and about three other community leaders. Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse came out and spoke with us. After we said that we wanted to meet with the mayor, Ms. Morse left us and came back shortly and said that she had switched things around and that the mayor could meet on Tuesday at 5 o’clock. We told her that Tuesday at 5 o’clock was no good because this was a meeting with the community and it had to be later so that the community could be there. We suggested Monday at 6 o’clock. Actually, even before that, she said that the mayor could meet with me Tuesday at 5 o’clock. I said no because we’re not trying to get a meeting for me — we’re trying to get a community meeting. Then Ms, Morse said that maybe the mayor will allow two or three other people to attend the meeting if I let her know who it is that wants to attend. I told her that we were not looking for a closed-door meeting — we were looking for a true open community meeting. That’s where we left it off as far as the discussion. She had put on the table a Tuesday closed-door meeting at 5:00 p.m. and we countered by proposing a Monday open community meeting at 6 p.m. She was going to take that back to the mayor and get back with me but never did get back to me. That was March 15, and that was the last communication we had with the Mayor’s Office until today (March 19).”

King and others met with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and others in his administration Tuesday morning to begin working on finding a date for a community meeting.

“It was a very contentious meeting at points, it was demeaning at points and confrontational at other times,” King stated.

King said that at one point during Tuesday’s meeting Mayor Landrieu held up an image of one of the city’s very young murder victims and told him that that’s what he as mayor is focused on and what King and other Black civil rights and community leaders should be focused on as well.

“First of all, the mayor doesn’t get that we as a community can focus both on ending the scourge of Black-on-Black violence and unequal protection under the law,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “We can do those things and a whole lot more. African people, especially African people who are bombarded with white supremacy on a daily basis like we are in New Orleans, are natural-born multitasks. We do it without even thinking about it.

“What we’re seeing is a fundamental lack of respect for Black people on the part of the Landrieu administration,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now and a community activist, told The Louisiana Weekly. “He thinks respecting and controlling Black people is the same thing. His idea of helping Black people is telling them exactly what they need and cramming it down their throats, even if it kills them.”

In response to King’s recounting of the meeting held on Tuesday morning, Ryan Berni, the City’s Communications Director, told The Louisiana Weekly, “First, that is a mischaracterization of what was said.” Yesterday, Mayor Landrieu and senior City officials met with members of the local NAACP to hear their concerns. There was a discussion about how to have a constructive, public meeting about the group’s concerns, including logistics. An invitation was extended to Mr. King to help facilitate the meeting so that the points that he says are so important to be discussed would be covered. We will be working in the coming days to plan this meeting in a time, place and format that allows for everyone’s voice to heard.

“Since taking office, the Landrieu Administration has hosted hundreds of community meetings throughout the city,” Berni continued. “Mayor Landrieu welcomes the opportunity to host a community meeting to discuss continued efforts to reform the NOPD and efforts to make every neighborhood in our city safer. It is our hope that City leaders, Mr. King and community leaders will set the tone for a constructive meeting, where everyone that attends has an opportunity to have their voice heard.”

However, the Mayor’s Office did not answer eight other questions emailed to Communications Manager Tyler Gamble Tuesday. Those questions are:

1. In the wake of the February 10 French Quarter incident involving 17-year-old Sidney Newman and 18-year-old Ferdinand Hunt and the recent discovery of an email dated March 1 instructing NOPD officers to target certain people in ‘Hood neighborhoods,’ do you stand by your contention that the NOPD is already reforming itself?

2. How do you respond to Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson’s recent report which says the NOPD has been using vague language and “catch-all” phrases in reports to avoid sharing specific information about the department’s stop-and-frisk practices with her office and the public?

3. Has the mayor met with the families of Sidney Newman and Ferdinand Hunt, and if so, what did you say to them?

4. What would the mayor like to say to the people of New Orleans about the NOPD consent decree being unnecessary?

5. Why didn’t the mayor or any high-ranking member of his administration attend the recent state legislators meeting at SUNO regarding the Feb. 10 French Quarter incident?

6. Why is it a bad idea for the DOJ to take over the NOPD while the Landrieu administration is pushing hard for the Feds to take control of efforts to reform Orleans Parish Prison?

7. How would the mayor rate NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ job performance thus far?

8. How critical an issue to public safety in New Orleans is the NOPD manpower shortage and recruitment of NOPD officers and how will that effort be impacted by recent changes to the city’s residency ordinance?”

W.C. Johnson, host of cable-access show “OurStory” and a member of Community United for Change, said last week that CUC will continue to move forward with its efforts to ensure that the NOPD is completely overhauled and that the Eastern District of Louisiana gets a U.S. attorney who will protect the constitutional rights of New Orleans residents.

Johnson told The Weekly that monitoring of the NOPD, through a Cop Watch Program, will be an intricate component for the civilian Community Oversight Committee CUC is implementing.

“Cop Watch involves training the community on how to monitor the behaviors and activities of the NOPD while interacting with civilians and community members.,” Johnson explained. “CUC will offer a training program that will compliment the oversight process of the Consent Decree by civilians and community interest groups. The idea comes from the Civil Rights legislation which affects constitutional policing for political subdivisions that have experienced constitutional policing violations in the past. New Orleans certainly qualifies for this type of federal protection. Additionally, New Orleans can benefit from the failed approaches to constitutional policing of other cities where consent decrees have been imposed upon their policing agencies. Certainly New Orleans is no stranger to police terror and deprivation of constitutional rights.

“CUC has taken the approach that victims of police brutality and police terror have been the essential element missing from the failed attempts of other cities. This theory proved to be correct from the recent results of the process of the DOJ’s investigation into alleged constitutional policing violations of the NOPD in 2010.

“The fact that the City Administration is complaining about the cost to repair a dysfunctional law enforcement agency as well as the intricate component to constitutional policing, (that being constitutional facilities to house violators arrested by the policing agency) proves to the City Administration that law and order is not only for the people but the political structure as well,” Johnson continued. “Had the City of New Orleans been more concerned about proper policing, the cost factor of correcting the problem would not be an issue. Since the City of New Orleans has allowed constitutional policing to slip under the radar and conveniently be swept under the rug, the City is fortunate that the price for reforming the NOPD isn’t triple the amount quoted by the politicians. And since the City is talking about tax dollars being used, the people have a right to be a part of the process that makes sure that public safety is in the best interest of the people of New Orleans. That is where community oversight comes into view—by the people for the people. At least that is what we are told democracy is supposed to be.”

Johnson said CUC is actively recruiting residents of New Orleans for training in both its Cop Watch Program and its Community Oversight Committee, where people living in every police district will be accountable for their police districts. “This is something New Orleans has not seen, even,” Johnson said.

“People all over America are losing control and status in their communities,” Johnson said. “This is an opportunity for people in New Orleans to become empowered with control and status of their neighborhoods and communities.

King said that now is not the time for the community to relent in its efforts to get answers to the many questions it has for the Landrieu administration and the NOPD regarding issues like excessive force, racial profiling, police brutality, unconstitutional policing and inequitable treatment within the local criminal justice system.

“As peaceable and ‘kumbaya’ as I am, my hope right now is that the community not be lulled with this particular issue,” King said. “It’s got to be addressed. The mayor has to be forceful. The community has to hold him accountable and make sure that he comes out clear on that issue and really, as a part of that, signing the consent decree because the consent decree addresses that.”

This article originally published in the March 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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