2nd April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu should be thanked profusely for lighting a fire under the asses of the Black masses in this city last week, waking up a sleeping giant that has been sleepwalking for decades.
Nothing could better illustrate the current state of New Orleans than two “community” meetings being held on the same day at the same time — one purported to address the issue of racial profiling, the other formatted in part to allow the mayor to remind the city’s colored folks about all the wonderful things he has done for them since taking office. So much for subtlety.
The mayor seemingly crisscrossed the city last week trying to convince Black people that he has their backs while reassuring white voters that he will not bend to pressure by Black leaders to meet with them to discuss racial profiling.
Just as he hoodwinked some residents into thinking he was committed to really listening to what the community thinks and feels about racial profiling, the Big Easy’s Mayor Brer Rabbit tried to strike fear in the hearts of residents by making them think that they had to choose between a police department that adheres to the U.S. Constitution and a possible reduction in city services like police protection and fire safety.
The mayor and his staff have been playing games with the city’s poor and residents of color for so long that they don’t even realize how they come across anymore.
They see nothing wrong or odd about telling Black groups and residents demanding a meeting that they will get back to them with a date and location for a meeting, even though the mayor and his staff were in his office with his calendar and day planner. The mayor and his staff tried to set up a meeting with just a handful of carefully picked Black people, but that idea was quickly shot down because the entire community wants answers about racial profiling, not just a few people. The Landrieu administration tried to get NAACP president Danatus King to serve as a buffer between the mayor and the Black community as if Black people are incapable of controlling themselves.
At one point during the March 19 meeting about scheduling a meeting to talk specifically about racial profiling, Mayor Landrieu reportedly gets animated, wags his finger and raises his voice at those in his office and pulls out a photo of one of the city’s youngest murder victims, telling the group that Black leaders and residents need to be concerned about Black-on-Black violence, not racial profiling and unconstitutional policing.
With an unparalleled sentimentality and flair for melodrama, the mayor has played this card often, pulling out names and faces from his binder of Black folks to show how heartbroken he is about these murder victims. He was so heartbroken about the NOPD murder of 20-year-old Wendell Allen last year that he essentially dispatched some of his chocolate allies to convince the grieving Allen family to allow the City of New Orleans to pick up the tab for the unarmed victim’s burial costs, even though the family initially said it was not going to accept money from the city.
The Allen family has since filed a lawsuit against the City of New Orleans and the NOPD. Bravo to them for taking their quest for justice and restitution to the courts.
With all of his demonstrative displays of affection for suffering Black families, some were taken aback by the lack of attention that the Landrieu administration has paid to the disappearance of second-grade teacher Terrilyn Monnette.
The family and its supporters have every right to question the mayor’s lack of concern about Ms. Monnette.
What you do so cavalierly, Mr. Mayor, is so loud that residents can’t even hear what you are trying to say.
Looking back at recent developments, it becomes crystal clear that the mayor never intended to allow himself to be held accountable for the unrelenting unconstitutional policing of the NOPD. He just banks on these racially charged incidents blowing over because they have so many times in the past. In between fatal NOPD shootings and other acts of domestic terrorism performed by the police, the city’s many festivals, parties, concerts, athletic events and parades serve as an elixir to distract and intoxicate the people of New Orleans.
As Black leaders and residents camped outside for days awaiting word from the mayor about where he would meet to talk about the red-hot issue of racial profiling, the mayor and his staff apparently crafted a plan to undermine the efforts of community leaders and residents to hold the Landrieu administration accountable. The administration was understandably concerned about how agreeing to meet with the Black community about racial profiling would affect white New Orleanians’ perception of the mayor, so much so that in the end it was decided that meeting with the Black community to talk about racial profiling was not worth the risk. But the mayor couldn’t come out and say that.
The mayor could have very easily had another community meeting at another time or on another date to talk about NOLA for Life and all the other nice things he has done for colored people in New Orleans. But what he did was nasty and calculated and designed for maximum effect. He wanted to send a strong message to white voters that he would not kowtow to the Black community by allowing anyone other than himself to set the agenda for a meeting or choose a location. After working as a public servant in the state legislature, Lt. Governor’s Office and in City Hall, he still hasn’t learned to share or play nice with others. Everything has to go his way, all the way down to the topics discussed and the words uttered by various commission and board members.
When it comes to Saving Our Sons, the mayor is hellbent on doing it his way, even if means killing them or violating their constitutional rights. It’s for their own good. He’s a nice guy — he has a binder full of Black people and everything.
Make no mistake about it: The mayor gave the Black community the middle finger on March 25. After being told how critical and important this meeting was to the Black community, he made it perfectly clear how he feels about the needs, concerns and interests of the city’s Black residents. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
There’s a way to cuss someone out without actually using cuss words, and that’s exactly what the mayor did when he decided to have his own meeting and set his own agenda on the same day and at the same time that the community had scheduled a meeting. With a single act, this mayor breathed new life into a creature that was once believed to be teetering on the brink of extinction: The Dixiecrat. And why wouldn’t he? This is the city that gave birth to the name “Dixie” which characterized the entire Deep South and is also the epicenter of white supremacy, power and privilege.
For the record, I don’t know who the mayor was trying to fool with his swiss-cheese logic last week that said furloughs, tax hikes and a reduction in city services will be necessary if he is forced to pay for both consent decrees. That’s certainly his call as mayor. But he will live with the consequences come election time.
He has known these days were coming for a long time but refused to make a long-range plan to raise the funds needed to fund the consent decrees. Instead of trimming the fat from the budget over the past two years, he has been using taxpayer dollars to add a streetcar line to the CBD, create dog parks, create bike lanes, study the demolition of the Claiborne Ave. overpass and finance City Park upgrades.
How do you do any of that anyway when there are so many residents who don’t get basic city services today and need the city to mow the neutral grounds, demolish blighted homes and repair streets and sidewalks?
If he wants to raise a little money, might I suggest he and his deputy mayors take a pay cut, ask the City Council to do the same, sever contracts with Metairie-based firms that conduct services that engineers at the Sewerage & Water Board are capable of providing. go hard after those who routinely avoid paying property taxes and require Tulane University to finally begin paying property taxes. No more welfare for the uptown rulers!
It’s amazing that anyone, particularly the mayor of New Orleans, would behave as though the people of this city are being unreasonable by expecting the city to force the NOPD to adhere to the U.S. Constitution. That’s not some luxury or privilege, that’s the right of every tax-paying U.S. citizen. How dare the mayor even fix his mouth to suggest that residents must choose between constitutional policing and equal protection under the law and higher taxes and a reduction in city services, Are you kidding me? Really, Mitch?
If he thinks he has no option, let him do it and watch how quickly his dream of ruling this little kingdom for another four years comes to a screeching halt.
It is telling that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Independent Police Monitor’s Office attended the meeting at Christian Unity Baptist Church and not the mayor’s uptown get-together. It is also telling that very few Black elected officials attended the Christian Unity gathering. There is still a lot of fear among Black elected officials about what it means to be independent, principled and courageous.
We know that freedom is never free and that there have been a number of grassroots organizations and organizations like Community United for Change and the Universal Negro Improvement Association that have been working long and hard to bring about lasting change in New Orleans.
The Black masses in New Orleans continue to stir, knowing that the way things are is not the way things have to be. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.
All power to the people.
This article originally published in the April 1, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.