Filed Under:  Local, OpEd

Open your eyes

3rd June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

The mayor continues to do everything he can to prevent the implementation of the federally mandated NOPD consent decree. Why do you think he’s fighting so hard to block it? Because the City of New Orleans can’t afford it? Because the NOPD no longer needs it? Because his wealthy and powerful backers see no value in a City Hall-funded overhaul of the NOPD in order to force police to respect the constitutional rights of the city’s Black residents and its poor?

You tell me.

The latest setback to getting this NOPD consent decree implemented is a stay by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that gives the Landrieu administration another chance to plead its case and try to back out of the reform pact. When it comes to fighting this consent decree, the Landrieu administration is leaving no stone unturned. Whatever it takes…

We hear all the time about the mayor’s scrapbook of victims of Black-on-Black violence but nothing has been written or said about the mayor’s collection of images of Black folks murdered by members of the New Orleans Police Department. Hmmm.

While the mayor gets teary-eyed about the city’s young murder victims and shares these images with Black professionals who come to town for conventions, we never get to hear how the mayor really feels about the Black folks gunned down by New Orleans’ finest. We’re seen the mayor get emotional about Black-on-Black murder victims but haven’t heard a peep about Blue-on-Black murder victims. Who will put together a scrapbook of NOPD murder victims and see to it that they receive justice? Who will cry out for them and command all of the mainstream media outlets to follow suit?

Why doesn’t the mayor carry with him images of Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old disabled man murdered by cops on the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans? Or 17-year-old James Brissette, who was also murdered on the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans while trying to cross the bridge with a friend after Hurricane Katrina? Why wouldn’t the mayor want to make sure that no one forgets Henry Glover, the West Bank man killed by NOPD officers after Katrina, the poor soul whose remains were burned in a car on the Mississippi River levee and whose skull was later taken by someone and has still not been remained?

Does the mayor even know what the late Raymond Robair, the Tremé man beaten mercilessly by two NOPD officers and afterwards dropped outside of a downtown hospital like a sack of potatoes looks like? Does he wax poetic about the tragic murder of Adolph Grimes III, who was gunned down by NOPD officers outside his grandmother’s home in Tremé?

What about the murders of 20-year-olds Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen, who were killed by cops with a seven-day period in 2012? We know that the mayor paid the funeral home owned by the Rev. Charles Southall III $1,000 to help out with the cost of the Allen funeral and decided to attend the funeral at Rev. Southall’s church after the family reportedly turned down the city’s offer to help pay for the tuneral, but is that the same thing as caring? Does the mayor really care that this young man was gunned down in his own Gentilly home while standing unarmed on the staircase?

Has the mayor given a second thought to the family of Levon Jones, the college student from Georgia who was killed by four white bouncers outside Club Razzoo in the French Quarter as NOPD officers stood around? That murder took place about nine months before Hurricane Katrina but the wound is still there and generations of Black families in New Orleans have been victimized and brutalized by New Orleans cops for decades without any protection from local, state or federal government? Now that the federal government has stepped up to protect the constitutional rights of Blacks in New Orleans the mayor decides that we don’t need a NOPD consent decree.

We were recently bombarded with images of the mayor and police chief at a vigil for the Mother’s Day shooting victims, but how many vigils have the mayor and police chief attended to show their support for the families of Henry Glover, James Brissette, Ronald Madison and all of the victims of NOPD misconduct? We’re seen numerous fundraisers for cops injured while on duty, but how many “mainstream” music venues have raised funds for families whose loved ones were murdered by members of the NOPD? How many times has the mayor and police chief appeared on every major broadcast media outlet to denounce the perpetrators of heinous crimes committed against innocent civilians by cops?

Does the mayor care enough about the murder of Wendell Allen, Justin Sipp, Adolph Grimes III, Raymond Robair, Henry Glover, James Brissette, Ronald Madison, Steven Hawkins, Kim Grove and all of the men, women and children murdered by members of the New Orleans Police Department to bring significant reforms to the troubled department so that no New Orleans family would ever have to again feel the pain and grief of losing a loved one to the excessive force being doled out routinely by trigger-happy New Orleans cops? Does he care enough to get out of the way and let the U.S. Department of Justice do its job by bringing constitutional policing to New Orleans and making sure that every resident can enjoy equal protection under the law?

Apparently not.

The mayor has fought every effort to clean up the New Orleans Police Department. He has used every means at his disposal to undermine the process of implementing the NOPD consent decree, which he signed and had nothing but glowing words for last summer. DOJ officials and the Federal Court have both said the Landrieu administration has been less than honest in suggesting that it was not aware of the cost of the NOPD and OPP consent decrees before signing the NOPD consent decree last summer. Mayor Landrieu has also tried to use the online posting scandal that cost former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, Sal Perricone and Jan Mann their jobs as an excuse to scrap the NOPD consent decree. The Landrieu administration has stacked the deck by supporting a finalist for the job of NOPD consent decree monitor with two of his allies, the Rev. Charles Southall III and Tulane criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf. Coincidentally, a former New Orleans Aviation Board president appointed by the mayor who was also a member of the mayor’s NOPD chief search committee was listed as a local partner by one of the other firms vying for the job of NOPD consent decree monitor.

All the while, the mayor has repeatedly insisted that the NOPD no longer needs the NOPD consent decree to address the myriad of problems described by the U.S. Department of Justice in a scathing report that followed a two-year probe. All of a sudden, we’re told, the New Orleans Police Department has decided on its own to get its act together. It no longer needs a federal mandate to completely overhaul the police department.

Just wave a magic wand and all of the corruption, brutality and ineptitude that have characterized the NOPD for as long as any living soul can remember will simply melt away.

That’s kind of like a cancer patient jumping out of bed and telling his or her doctor that he or she no longer needs medical treatment and can heal himself or herself after having had time to ponder the costs associated with medical treatment.

Just in case that ploy falls flat, the mayor has arranged for Rev. Southall and Dr. Scharf to work their magic as members of Hilliard Heintze, one of the two finalists vying for the role of consent decree monitor. G. Flint Taylor, a Chicago-based civil rights attorney, has gone on record to say that former Chicago Police Department Supt. Terry Hilliard failed to protect the civil rights of Black Chicago residents and would be a poor pick to serve as monitor of the overhaul of the NOPD.

The Landrieu administration has also filed several court briefs seeking to delay the implementation of the NOPD consent decree and requested two delays in the selection of the NOPD consent decree monitor.

All the while the mayor has played to public opinion, talking ad nauseum about the need to end the violence in New Orleans and presenting himself as a hero in the struggle to stem the tide of violence, even as he has remained silent on his sister’s refusal to support strong gun-control legislation on Capitol Hill and refuses to do what is necessary to change the culture of violence and corruption at the NOPD.

Despite comments and actions to the contrary, the mayor is bright enough to understand the connection between Black-on-Black violence and unconstitutional policing. If he can’t understand that connection, it is because he is too busy overstanding.

It isn’t enough for the mayor to end the use of excessive force and unconstitutional policing — he has to do it his way. No one else has an opinion or perspective that matters. The “one voice and one vision” he talked about at his inauguration ceremony was his and his alone.

The histrionics and high drama after the Mother’s Day shooting distracted many residents from the fact that the economic violence and educational apartheid that keep many residents mired in poverty are in part to blame for the scourge of violence as are the lack of justice in the criminal justice system and the ruling minority’s refusal to share decision-making power with the Black masses. As was the case in Saint Domingue before the Haitian Revolution, some of the city’s “colored” folks who have prostituted themselves to the highest bidder must also share the blame for conditions in New Orleans.

The mayor saw the Mother’s Day shooting as the perfect opportunity to unveil the new and improved NOPD. He would have residents believe that improvements made to the NOPD were responsible for the arrest of suspects in the shooting, not the community’s outrage about this brazen act of violence.

Nevermind the NOPD emails from Mid-City and the French Quarter pressuring officers to racially profile young Black men. Never mind the steely defiance of veteran officers who have publicly vowed to do everything in their power to resist efforts by the DOJ to completely overhaul the NOPD. Never mind that the NOPD was ultimately responsible for the Feb. 10, 2013 assault of 17-year-old Sidney Newman and 18-year-old Ferdinand Hunt in the French Quarter regardless of what the mayor and police chief are now saying.

Neither Serpas nor Landrieu has talked about the white female NOPD officer who is shown on the complete video instructing the plainclothes officers to move in on Sidney Newman and Ferdinand Hunt.

I have a simple request for the people of New Orleans: Open your eyes. Open your eyes and see the mayor for who and what he is. Open your eyes and see the connection between the community’s lack of trust in the NOPD and the growing number of unsolved murders. Look at the ever-widening gulf between what the mayor says and does. Look at the decisions being made every day at City Hall that even further disenfranchise and marginalize the city’s Black residents. Look at this city moving ever so close to becoming a modern-day Johannesburg with whites moving back into the city and Blacks being forced to head to the outskirts to find affordable housing.

Every resident of New Orleans should be outraged that this mayor is willing to expose residents of color and the poor to more acts of domestic terrorism and barbarity at the hands of police if that allows him to balance the city’s budget. The administration he oversees is the closest thing any of us will ever see to a real-life agency like the one we witnessed in the Matrix film trilogy with its tentacles seeking to control every living thing.

To add insult to injury, the mayor is trying to force the residents of New Orleans to choose between basic city services and Black residents’ constitutional rights.

The battle to reform the NOPD is a battle that extends far beyond issues like justice, democracy and equal protection under the law. It is a battle for our right to be.

Open your eyes and raise your voices. Our ignorance, apathy and silence are killing us. Make it crystal clear to the mayor, police chief, all of the elected officials who have remained silent on the issue and the powers that be that enough is enough and we’re no longer going to tolerate being treated like third-class citizens and beasts of burden in our own hometown.

All power to the people.

This article originally published in the June 3, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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