Filed Under:  Crime, Local, News

Residents want end to violence, consent decree

20th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

During an intense, informal meeting at City Hall this past March, the mayor and several civil rights leaders butted heads over the issue of racial profiling and the actions of the New Orleans Police Department. Attorney Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, told New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu that he and other leaders and residents were concerned about an incident that took place in the French Quarter on Feb, 10. On that day, 17-year-old Ferdinand Hunt and 18-year-old Sidney Newman were surrounded by plainclothes law enforcement officers and wrestled to the ground as they stood around waiting for Hunt’s mother, NOPD Officer Verna Hunt, to return to bring them a meal after a parade. Although he later criticized the actions of the plainclothes members of the Louisiana State Police involved in the incident, Mayor Landrieu reportedly told King in March that Black leaders needed to focus their attention and energies on ending — or at least reducing — Black-on-Black violence.

As it turns out, a growing number of residents and leaders are saying that the city needs both the NOPD consent decree and a concerted effort to end Black-on-Black violence to reach its full potential.

That point was driven home by a shooting on Mother’s Day during a 7th Ward secondline that sent 20 people to the hospital seeking medical attention, including a 10-year-old whose five-year-old cousin, Briana Allen, was tragically killed while attending his birthday party in May 2012.

Authorities searched around the clock to find the suspects in the Mother’s Day second-line shooting and announced that they apprehended Akein Scott, 19. on Wednesday night. Arrested on Thursday was Akein’s 24-year-old brother, Shawn Scott, who authorities believe to be the second gunman. Bail was set for Akein Scott at $10 million and bail was set for Shawn Scott at $10, 091,000 because of additional drug and weapon charges. The brothers, who authorities say are members of a 7th Ward gang called the Frenchmen and Derbigny Boys, each face 20 counts of attempted second-degree murder and could spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Four others were arrested Thursday in connection with the case — Brandy George, 18; Justin Alexander, 19; Bionca Hickerson, 22; and Nekia Youngblood, 32. While no probable cause was found in court Thursday night for the obstruction of justice charges, bail was set for each at $10,000 for one count of accessory to attempted murder.

A day after the shooting, attorney Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP. issued a statement saying. “This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of self preservation… The senseless shooting and lack of respect for life is not a part of our community’s culture. It was the abhorrent act of a criminal that took the opportunity of a joyous community event to commit a crime.”

New Orleans Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell also issued a statement last week condemning the Mother’s Day shooting and asking for community involvement in bringing those responsible to justice.

“No reasons can justify shooting into a crowd of hundreds assembled to celebrate mothers,” Cantrell said Wednesday. “At some point, we have to ask ourselves what’s going wrong because we’re in a crisis and there will be more shootings like this one and the shooting on MLK Day if we don’t do something. No amount of poverty, or lack of education, or opportunity can rightfully sanction such heinous acts. We must take responsibility for how we raise our children and how we treat our neighbors…”

“We are going to do what we have to do to protect our culture, and our great city,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Thursday. “We will not bow down.”

“These young men are engaged in a criminal lifestyle by choice and, as a result, we will link them to many other crimes we believe,” NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas told reporters.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly that the community deserves a great deal of credit for stepping up and making a difference in this case.

“This really was one of those ‘point of no return’ moments,” Brown said. “But these arrests weren’t the result of the hard work of the mayor, police chief and D.A. The community did this for those who were victimized on Mother’s Day and are caught between the violence being committed in the Black community and the excessive force being used by the NOPD. In essence, the community did this in spite of the mayor and police chief. As far as I’m concerned, the community deserves all of the credit.

Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly that there’s not a single silver bullet to solve the problem. “It’s going to take a lot of things — better parenting, churches that are responsive to the needs of the community, expanded economic and educational opportunities for young people, adequate mental health care, expanded recreation programs, exposure to conflict-resolution techniques and, perhaps most importantly, a complete overhaul of the NOPD,” he said.

“There’s no reasons we can’t have safer streets and a police department that respects the constitutional rights of all members of the community,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha added.

While a decision was expected to be made Tuesday on a monitor for the NOPD consent decree, the 10-member panel charged with selecting a federal monitor requested two more weeks of deliberation on Monday, May 13. The decision was initially expected to be made on April 30 but was pushed back to May 14. The new deadline is now May 28.

The two firms vying to become the NOPD consent-decree monitor are Chicago-based Hilliard Heintze, which submitted a bid $7.2 million bid and Washington- DC-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton, whose bid was $7.9 million. The five members of the selection panel representing the DOJ reportedly favor Sheppard Mullin while the panel’s CNO representatives reportedly favor Hilliard Heintze. Hilliard Heintze has come under criticism for its listing of local partners with ties to the Landrieu administration — the Rev. Charles Southall III, pastor of First Emanuel Baptist Church, and Tulane University criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf. Chicago civil rights attorney G. Flint Taylor also criticized one of Hilliard Heintze’s primary partners, former Chicago Police Department Supt. Terry Hilliard, who was at the helm of the department when Black suspects were being routinely tortured by police officers. Hilliard was also police superintendent when a Black seven- and eight-year-old boy were wrongfully detained for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl before the serial rapist responsible for the crime was apprehended. In all, the City of Chicago has paid $17 million in settlements for cases involving civil rights violations while two more cases are still pending.

Loyola University law professor and Community United for Change (CUC) attorney Bill Quigley says, “When you look at all of these delays, they’re making everybody skeptical that anything is ever going to happen,” Quigley said. “Every two weeks is two weeks more of the status quo, and the status quo is killing us,” Quigley said.

Quigley says that the lawlessness New Orleans is experiencing is a direct result of the failure of government to meet people’s basic needs and provide a safe and stable environment.

“If people are not confident that the rule of law actually works, then they take matters into their own hands — that happens all over the world,” Quigley told The Louisiana Weekly Wednesday. “In New Orleans right now we are faced with a severe crisis in our criminal justice system — our police department, our jails and our court system and legal system as well. I don’t think that people have a lot of confidence that any parts of that criminal justice system are working. As a consequence, people tend to take matters into their own hands.

“Depending on whether you have money and where you live, you might live in a gated community to try to protect yourself or people might invest in guns and dogs in order to protect themselves,” Quigley continued. “Young people who have no investment in the system and no expectations of the system just handle their disputes on their own.”

“Right now, just about everything is broken in New Orleans,” the Rev. Raymond Brown told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “You see elected officials making backroom deals, judges doing everything they can to milk the system, prosecutors framing innocent men and women and cops violating the constitutional rights of residents.

“There is no law and order — only lawlessness, disorder and chaos,” Brown added.

Brown said that rather than use the Mother’s Day shootings as an excuse to put the NOPD consent decree on the back burner, the violence on May 12 only underscores the need for meaningful NOPD reforms.

Quigley said the process of turning around the NOPD has proven to be more harrowing, divisive and discouraging to those in the community most likely to become targets and/or victims of unconstitutional policing.

“Does everybody in New Orleans realize how important this consent decree is? I don’t think so,” Quigley continued. “I think some people are just used to a corrupt, ineffective and inefficient police department —they’ll take whatever steps they can to deal with it. The people who are the day-to-day victims of it and the people who really need some fair, honest and competent police protection — people had been hopeful, but I think they’re losing hope as time goes on. People are just saying, ‘It sounded good when they started, but it doesn’t sound real anymore.’”

Ironically, it was the DOJ and CNO who sought to block the efforts of CUC, the Independent Police Monitor, Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Association of New Orleans to intervene in the case, arguing that by granting any of these four groups a seat at the negotiating table the task of implementing a NOPD consent decree would become too “cumbersome.” Despite successfully preventing those groups from intervening, very little progress has been made over the past year in overhauling the NOPD.

In a letter to Judge Susie Morgan dated May 13, Community United for Change wrote, “Because of the delays and legal posturing, New Orleans experienced 19 Citizens and Residents being gunned down in the streets on a Mother’s Day afternoon while the City attempts to justify the failed efforts of Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Chief of Police Ronal Serpas to bring about Constitutional Policing. It has become imperative that the Federal Courts take charge and put a stop to the delays of justice and the assault on public safety by the City of New Orleans.

“This Court has seen an influx of testimonials for the City’s hand- picked candidate for Federal Monitor. Unfortunately, these testimonials have come at an outrageous price for Public Safety,” the letter continued.

Muhammad Yungai, president of the Black Star Line Division #466 of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, said Friday that he is among those who are not pleased with the Landrieu administration’s efforts to undermine or do away with the NOPD consent decree and the OPP consent decree. “We are very concerned about that,” Yungai said. “The mayor wanted to make it look like he was progressive and wanted to have all of these reforms, but when it comes time to actually implement all these reforms he’s crying broke. The is the problem with New Orleans perennially. We never have money for essential things that need to be reformed, repaired or upgraded — the streets, schools, water system, jails, police department. But we always find millions of dollars to prepare for big events like the Super Bowl and all of these things with a huge economic impact. None of that economic impact has uplifted the community. I’m very concerned about these consent-decree delays and all the games being played with the safety of New Orleans residents. It seems like the same old pattern over and over again.

“The Mother’s Day shooting in a sense is the thermometer,” Quigley told The Louisiana Weekly. “It shows the symptoms of the meltdown of our social structures in New Orleans. It is not the fever — we can’t just say ‘Okay, if we didn’t have the Mother’s Day shooting, everything would be OK.’ That just shows us how bad it is. To point it all at this kid or at one judge is ignoring the year-plus that we’ve waited for a solution to the police problem. The jail problem’s just about the same. We’re in this national experiment about the schools and neighborhoods and everything else. But clearly the police thing is a big part of it because the police can’t operate in part because the public does not have full faith and confidence that they’re going to get a fair shake from the police department.

“It’s a horrible, horrible situation and a horrible crime but I think it just exposes some of our systemic problems and certainly the police are at the top of that list,” Quigley added.

Yungai said that while he’s hard-pressed to find a short-term solution to the city’s violence problem, there are some strategies that could make a difference over time. “In the long term, the number one thing is to raise the consciousness of these young brothers,” Yungai told The Louisiana Weekly. “Secondly, we need to provide them with some kind of path to economic stability. There’s nothing out here for a lot of these young guys dropping out of high school and even graduating from high school. They don’t have the requisite skills to deal with the economy of the 21st century and the community is flooded with drugs.”

This article originally published in the May 20, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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