Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

The greatest show on earth

30th January 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund Lewis

While many were disappointed to learn that P.T. Barnum & Bailey were shutting down what was arguably the greatest show on earth after more than a century, I’m not even certain that I will notice a void. After all, I live in the Crescent City, a place where politicians get away with just about anything, a town where second-lines and crawfish boils take precedence over efforts to turn this poverty-stricken, justice-starved and oppressive environment around and a tourist destination hundreds of thousands of folks from all over the world flock to get a little taste of Antebellum Disney.

I must admit that I was a little bit irritated and amused at the same time about the mayor and governor’s new $40 million crime initiative which will require French Quarter bar owners to lock their doors at 3:00 a.m., bring additional lighting and camera surveillance to the Quarter and strategically place high-definition cameras in crime “hot spots” across the city.

My knee-jerk reaction: Really? That’s the best plan city and state leaders could come up with, to address the rising tide of homicides, gun violence, armed robberies and car-jackings?

This plan underscores the fact that the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana are incapable of thinking outside of the box and that the mayor and governor understand very little about the roots of violence or how to go about improving public safety.

This plan is about as ridiculous as the Landrieu administration using funds from the tourism industry to create a Civilian Patrol Unit to handle minor problems in the French Quarter rather than using that money to actually hire additional law enforcement officers.

What we have in local and state political leadership is a Confederacy of Dunces that would make President Donald Trump very proud.

There is very little room for critical thinking.

It’s all about making a splash at press conferences, keeping up appearances and putting on a good show without ever admitting that these leaders have no idea what they are doing or how to turn things around.

Interestingly, the $40 million crime initiative comes after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced the creation of his own task force to address the rise of violent crime in New Orleans. To add insult to injury, Landry’s plan was enthusiastically endorsed by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlon Gusman and Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, two of the mayor’s biggest critics.

Gusman and Landrieu have been boxing in the media and courts for years over the City of New Orleans underfunding the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and Orleans Parish Prison, as well as the mayor’s efforts to control the recently constructed Orleans Justice Center jail.

While the D.A. and mayor have sometimes found themselves on the same side in the past, which probably had more to do with their largest campaign contributors than anything else, the mayor was reportedly ticked off that Cannizzaro supported the expansion of the Orleans Justice Center and retaliated by cutting the budget of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office by $600,000.

As a result, Cannizzaro trashed the mayor and governor’s $40 million crime initiative at a Metropolitan Crime Commission awards luncheon last week and criticized the mayor’s “ill-conceived criminal justice policies.”

“These city leaders are placing politics above public safety,” Cannizzaro, who has never been accused of being a champion of protecting the constitutional or human rights of Black and poor people in this city, said last week.

In case you don’t get it, Cannizzaro heads up an office that has long been responsible for New Orleans’ title as the mass incarceration capital of the world, as well as its role as the engine that keeps Louisiana’s title as the prison capital of the world intact.

For him to accuse the mayor of placing politics over public safety but never explain why he hasn’t gotten around to charging former NOPD Officer David Warren in the murder of Henry Glover or a Marigny homeowner for shooting a then-14-year-old Marshall Coulter in the head for the crime of trespassing doesn’t sit well with a lot of Black, Brown or white voters.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is fending off a major political challenge from rising GOP star Jeff Landry, the state Attorney General. Their dueling crime initiatives are a testament to how little elected officials in this city and state care about those impacted most by the rising tide of violent crime in New Orleans.

Last week’s press conference in New Orleans gives white voters the impression that these two leaders are doing something while in actuality very little of substance is being done.

How many times have we said that violence is the language of the oppressed and that it is impossible to treat the disease without first addressing the root causes?

You haven’t heard anything about how chronic poverty, high unemployment, underemployment, low-quality public education, a lack of affordable housing, economic injustice, despair, hopelessness, unconstitutional policing, an unjust criminal justice system, taxation without representation and a host of unfair laws and policies have negatively impacted Black, Brown and poor people across the state?

What if that $40 million had been used to fund TOPs scholarships, the Public Defender’s Office, pay raises across the tourism industry, substantive job-training programs, mental health services and drug treatment programs?

Just a thought.

This article originally published in the January 30, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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