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NOPD officer’s ‘thug’ remark leads to resignation

2nd April 2012   ·   0 Comments

A New Orleans police officer already under investigation for his role in a fatal NOPD shooting in early March made racially divisive remarks that initially landed him in more hot water with higher-ups in the police department and in the Black community and ultimately led to his resignation Tuesday afternoon.

Officer Jason Giroir came under fire last week after he identified himself as a New Orleans Police Department employee when he wrote, “Act like a thug die like one!” in response to a WWL-TV online article about a rally supporting Trayvon Martin.

Giroir ‘s wife reportedly also posed a comment on the wwltv.com website that said “He acted like a thug and died like one.”

GIROIR

On WWL-TV’s website, after a commenter named Eddie Johnson criticized Officer Giroir’s initial comments as racist and questioned whether wearing a hooded sweatshirt makes someone a thug or criminal, Giroir responded: “Eddie come on down to our town with a ‘Hoodie’ and you can join Martin in HELL and talk about your racist stories!”

Martin, 17, was fatally shot on Feb. 26 by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman while visiting his father in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.

Zimmerman, who claims he shot the teen in self-defense, has not been arrested or charged in the case.

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas announced Monday that Giroir had been suspended indefinitely without pay.

“To say that I am angry is an understatement. I am furious,” Serpas told reporters Monday.

“Let me make something clear to the people of New Orleans. Girior’s comments do not reflect upon the hundreds and hundreds of officers who come to work every day to be a professional public service, to advance public safety and to rebuild this police department,” Serpas added.

“Girior by those statements, has embarrassed this department with insensitive, harmful and offensive comments.”

“The people of New Orleans and my administration will not tolerate this reckless and offensive behavior,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement Mon­day. “I condemn his statements in the strongest of terms. It’s an embarrassment and does not reflect the beliefs of the hundreds of police officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve.”

Giroir was already under investigation for his role in the March 1 on-duty shooting death of 20-year-old Justin Sipp, who was on his way to work at a Burger King restaurant at 5:30 a.m. when he was killed by police. Sipp’s older brother, Earl, 23, was also injured during the gunfire exchange as were two NOPD officers — Anthony Mayfield Jr. and Michael Asevedo. Girior is believed to have fired once during the incident while police say Justin Sipp fired 14 bullets at them.

After passing a psychological evacuation and being questioned by NOPD investigators about the shooting, Officer Giroir was reassigned to desk duty for 16 days before returning to active duty in the 8th District about two weeks ago.

More than a month after the Sipp shooting, the NOPD has yet to turn over the results of its internal investigation to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.

Just five days after the Sipp shooting, another NOPD officer, Josh Colclough, fatally shot 20-year-old Wendell Allen during the execution of a narcotics search warrant at his Gentilly home. The department admitted that Allen was unarmed and shirtless when he was shot by Officer Colclough, who waited more than a week before making an official statement to NOPD investigators.

The NOPD has endured one public-relations nightmare after another including skirmishes with Black Mardi Gras Indians last year, a scathing report by the U.S. Department of Justice that found widespread corruption, abuse and ineptitude in the NOPD, a very public vow by several members of the NOPD to resist efforts by the DOJ to reform the department, abuse of its detail policy for off-duty officers, criticism about its practice of releasing information about the criminal backgrounds of some of the city’s murder victims and a short-lived plan to make the public aware of residences where police believe suspicious drug activity is taking place. The department also came under fire after a high-ranking NOPD commander, Eddie Selby, instructed officers to target young Black men in the French Quarter as the city was preparing for last summer’s Essence Music Festival. Selby resigned shortly thereafter. Similar concerns from the city’s Black leaders arose when it was learned that a patrol supervisor with the Mid-City Security District issued an email pressuring NOPD officers working the detail to make more traffic stops and threatening to take away opportunities for officers who didn’t comply to make more overtime. The officers involved in the fatal shooting of Justin Sipp and the wounding of Earl Sipp were part of the Mid-City Security District.

The NOPD backed away from its practice of releasing the criminal backgrounds of murder victims after a white man in Algiers dubbed the “Good Samaritan” was killed during a carjacking and it was learned that he had a criminal past.

“What is amazing is that many of these incidents have happened AFTER the DOJ report that was highly critical of the way the NOPD does business,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former congressional candidate and New Orleans businessman, told The Louisiana Weekly. “The NOPD as a unit has shown very little contrition or remorse for what it has done in the recent past and continues to show blatant disrespect for and defiance of the United States Department of Justice, the people of New Orleans and the Constitution of the United States.

“The only way to turn this de­part­ment around is for the Feds to step in and take the bull by the horns,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha added. “But anyone who thinks it’s going to be an easy or simple task better think again.”

“It’s disturbing to me that comments like (those of Ofc. Girior) may cast a new doubt on this police department and that is regrettable,” Serpas said Monday. “I am asking the community to not let the comments of one officer stand in the way of the great work that we have done together.”

Flanked by members of the Inter-denominational Ministerial Alliance, the New Orleans branch of the NAACP held a press conference Tuesday morning during which the civil rights organization called for the resignation of Officer Giroir, who joined the NOPD in 1999.

“We have coming into this city right now thousands of people from around the country for the Final Four,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP, said. “Now how many of those people that are coming to town are Black, how many of them might wear apparel that someone (might look at) and say, ‘You look like a thug’? Should they be shot, killed, and then condemned to be in hell? No. For all of our sake, this has to be rooted out right now.” Girior resigned Tuesday afternoon.

Attorney Eric Hessler told the local daily paper that his client included an apology to the NOPD in his letter of resignation Tuesday.

“He chose to resign as a personal decision because of the unintended turmoil his comments caused,” Hessler said. “Of course he regrets making those comments.”

“My responsibility to the people of New Orleans, as well as to the professional officers on this police force, demanded I take swift action in this matter,” Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “I have accepted Giroir’s resignation, and believe it is in the best interest of this department and this city.”

In addition to the Sipp shooting and last week’s Internet flap, Girior also found himself on the wrong side of the law after he was accused of assaulting a Black NOPD officer’s wife. Attorney Robert Jenkins spoke about that case Tuesday with FOX 8 News.

“The photographs were just unbelievable… two black eyes, bruises all over her body,” said Jenkins, who filed suit against Giroir, the NOPD and the city on behalf of Jonie Pratt in 2007. Pratt alleged he assaulted her in April 2006.

“The police officer, Giroir, followed her for several blocks. She gets out of her vehicle in her own driveway, some words are passed and the next thing you know she’s beaten brutally and her mother-in-law was drowned into a ditch, she was arrested, the charges were dismissed and we filed suit and the city settled the case,” Jenkins added.

The New Orleans branch of the NAACP on Tuesday announced plans to address the growing rift between the NOPD and the Black community with two events this month.

“Our city has been sitting on a precipice of civil unrest, particularly following the murders of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen by NOPD officers,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP, said Tuesday. “Now, in the middle of this incendiary atmosphere, Jason Girior, the NOPD officer that killed Justin Sipp, repeatedly makes a public statement ridiculing Trayvon Martin, another Black youth killed under questionable circumstances. At the very same time that people all over the United States — Black, white, brown, yellow — all colors and races are decrying the murder of Trayvon Martin, Jason Girior, who is still under investigation for the murder of Justin Sipp, the same Jason Girior that calls himself ‘The Punisher’ and brags that sometimes he does not do ‘everything by the book,’ that Jason Girior reportedly feels comfortable enough in the existing culture of the NOPD to make statements about Trayvon Martin now being in hell.”

King said that the New Orleans branch of the NAACP has been in touch with statewide and national offices and has invited National NAACP president Ben Jealous to “come to New Orleans and help us address these issues “in a community rally scheduled for April 7 and a march scheduled for April 21.

W.C. Johnson, host of local cable-access show “OurStory” and a member of Community United for Change, says the problem is much bigger than Officer Jason Giroir and his bone-headed, racist remarks.

“Police chief Ronal Serpas, in his less than Academy Award-winning performance, tried to convince the residents of New Orleans, at a recent press conference, that he was totally appalled with the revelations that Jason Giroir, the murderer of Justin Sipp, would have the audacity to post racially charged comments defiling the recent murder of Trayvon Martin on Jason Giroir’s FaceBook page,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly.

“Blacks in New Orleans must realize that Jason Giroir was only following the Blue Code that has become a part of the NOPD’s DNA since the Civil War,” Johnson added. “But don’t allow yourselves to become victims of the hype. The real story is not Jason Giroir’s stupidity. It is the premeditated, carefully thought through calculations of Ronal Serpas who allowed Jason Giroir to get away with murder and resign the police force as opposed to getting fired for the Internet comments and indicted for the callous murder of Justin Sipp.”

Johnson said that the recent resignation of a federal prosecutor in New Orleans after it was discovered that he posted a series of blogs on nola.com attacking public officials and others makes it clear that Black New Orleans will have an uphill battle in securing justice for people of color and the poor. “The U.S. Department of Justice published a report of more than 150 pages that documented the racism and politically corrupt underworld of the NOPD in 2011,” Johnson said last week. “With recent revelations about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, we now know that the federal prosecutors who are charged to protect the rights of Black folks in New Orleans, were all a part of the conspiracy to deprive Black folks of New Orleans their constitutional rights, liberties, and protections. It is bad enough to fear that all cops are bad, but when you have a ‘Godfather’ who happens to be an assistant U.S. Attorney protecting the local police, you have given a carte blanche credit card to torture and debilitate the Black population of New Orleans. Sure, they say there are some good cops, but how can you have good cops when ‘good cops’ are not arresting the bad cops?

“Community United for Change has made several calls for receivership by the U.S. Department of Justice of the New Orleans Police Department,” Johnson added. “The people of New Orleans are shown every day that nothing short of a complete takeover of the NOPD will remedy the ills that plague our city.”

Ramessu Merriamen Aha said he has “absolutely no confidence” in the NOPD’s ability to protect and serve the Black community in New Orleans. “No expectations, no disappointments!” he added. “Blacks must learn to ‘police’ themselves or rather act ‘justly’ toward one another practicing the ancient Kemetic (Egyptian) Laws of Maat. And defend themselves to the utmost if physically violated.”

An article in The Nation penned recently by Tulane University professor Melissa Harris-Perry, a New Orleans resident and the wife of Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center executive director James Perry, hinted at the war on young Black men quietly being carried out in many cities across the U.S.

In that article, Harris-Perry writes: “Trayvon Martin was not innocent. He was guilty of being Black in presumably restricted public space. For decades, Jim Crow laws made this crime statutory. They codified the spaces into which Black bodies could not pass without encountering legal punishment. They made public Blackness a punishable offense. The 1964 Civil Rights Act removed the legal barriers but not the social sanctions and potentially violent consequences of this ‘crime.’ George Zimmerman’s slaying of Trayvon Martin—and the subsequent campaign to smear Martin—is the latest and most jarring reminder that it is often impossible for a Black body to be innocent.

“Sagging-pants laws in Loui­siana, Georgia, Florida and Arkan­sas attempt to legislate that public performance of Black bodies by making it illegal to enact particular versions of youth fashion associated with Blackness,” Harris-Perry added. “Philadelphia, New Or­leans, Cleveland, Chicago and other cities have responded to violence in predominantly Black communities by imposing curfews on young people and then policing these rules most vehemently among Black youth—making it a crime for them to be in public space. New York City’s ‘stop and frisk’ law empowers police to temporarily detain a person based merely on ‘reasonable suspicion’ of involvement in criminal activity, which in practice has been vastly disproportionately applied to young men of color.”

Black teens in New Orleans heard that message loud and clear and took to the streets last week in solidarity with the family of Trayvon Martin and millions across the U.S. outraged by the Florida teen’s murder.

“(Trayvon’s) family is hurting. We’re hurting,” William Williams, a senior at MLK Charter School in the Ninth Ward, told WWL-TV.

“It could’ve been me. It could’ve been my friend here, or any one of my other friends,” Williams added. “So, all he had was what I have in my hands, which is Skittles and a tea. You know, he was innocent. He was crying for help, and you know, it was for absolutely no reason. It could’ve been avoided.”

Jai Phillips, another MLK Charter School senior, told WWL-TV it’s an important cause for the school.

“We’re out here trying to come together as one, as a community and a school to let everybody know that we’re here, and we’re listening and we know what’s going on, and we feel that this is an injustice, and it’s not right,” Phillips said.

Students at Southern University at New Orleans also held a march and rally Thursday to show their support for the family of Trayvon Martin.

In addition to hosting a series of public forums last year and continuing to meet regularly to construct blueprints for the reformation of the NOPD, W.C. Johnson said “Community United for Change has partnered with the United New Orleans Front (UNOF) to address social issues across the board that influence and command enormous pressure on molding and shaping the cause and effect that initiates the problems of police terror, harassment, deprivation of constitutional rights, and the misuse of operating under the color of law.

“This is an approach in attacking the source of the ills and not addressing the symptoms of the illness,” Johnson explained. “CUC, as one of the organizations of UNOF, continues to hold community meetings necessary to complete the work necessary in framing a Black agenda for the Black community of New Orleans. CUC will continue to work with UNOF to draw public attention to the imbalance in the preservation of constitutional rights for Blacks that have a fragile foundation at best and a questionable right that whites have no motivation to respect in the very least. It is through the education and mobilization of the Black community that change is possible. But Blacks must displace the need to bring about real change from the crumbs that some Blacks receive to keep the ‘darkies down on the plantation’ and out of white folks’ business. The protection of white interests has crippled the Black community and is now crippling many who were employed to run interference for white interests.”

Johnson shared his thoughts with The Louisiana Weekly about why he believes for justice in Sanford, Florida has been more successful than efforts to secure justice in the cases of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen and other young Black men killed by police in New Orleans.

“In the Trayvon Martin case it is obvious that the people of Florida have forced their politicians, clergy, and community leaders to take a stand and fight,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “In New Orleans there is outrage among a few activists and advocates, but no outrage from the Black political leadership, no outrage from the liberal white wing, and no condemnation from the Catholic Church. With all of the NOPD murders of Black youth, with all of the blatant beatings and hostile harassment of the Black community, there is no outrage from the established Black leadership. Why?”

“The Trayvon Martin case and the murders of Wendell Allen and Justin Sipp send a very dangerous message to Black youth across America,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, founder and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “By killing a young man on his way to work before sunrise, an unarmed young man in his own home and a teenager whose only crime was being Black in a gated community, the white power structure is basically telling young Black people, ‘We don’t care what kind of clothes you wear, whether you have a job or don’t carry a gun — what you do and who you are does not matter to us. We will still view you as a threat and treat you as such.’”

“The great tragedy in all of this is that Justin Sipp, Wendell Allen and Trayvon Martin did not have to die,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha told The Louisiana Weekly. “Their lives were tragically ended because cops and other agents of white supremacy took the law into their own hands and decided that they had the power to decide who should live and die based on their own fears and perceptions of Black men.

“It’s up to us, all of us, to make sure that this does not happen again and to make sure that these young brothers did not die in vain. If not us, who? If not now, when?”

This article was originally published in the April 2, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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