Filed Under:  OpEd

The new math, N’awlins – style

29th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

The mayor of this fine city recently told the world that the Big Uneasy has no money to pay for a pair of federal consent decrees aimed at overhauling the trigger-happy NOPD and the grossly inhumane Orleans Parish Prison but that it has no problem launching an $826 million makeover of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Really?

The mayor said the ambitious airport project is “about investing in our future.”

What about investing in the city and residents’ future by ensuring that the NOPD upholds the U.S. Constitution? What about investing in the city’s future by giving every New Orleans resident an opportunity to get a decent education and a shot at a better life? What about telling the NOPD that it will no longer be able to get away with treating a segment of the city’s population like subhuman beings?

Why is the city spending money like there is no tomorrow on capital projects that are monuments to the power and privilege of the ruling class while doing as little as possible for the city’s poor and working-class residents? And why is the City of New Orleans already planning big things for the city’s 300th anniversary, which is still five years away, but can’t seem to summon the integrity and commitment to do whatever is necessary to bring constitutional policing, justice and a complete overhaul of the New Orleans Police Department to New Orleans?

Why is the mayor and his inner circle fighting so hard to undermine NOPD reforms and trying to prevent the Department of Justice from doing what the city has never been able to do — establish a law-abiding, constitutional-protecting police department? Why the frantic, unrelenting effort to prevent the Feds from protecting Black residents’ constitutional rights?

I get it, I really do.

As a major component of equal protection under the law, constitutional policing could potentially alter the way things are done across the board in New Orleans. There are a lot of people and entities who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are in New Orleans. Racial injustice is big business in New Orleans with more than a handful of lawyers, bail bondsmen, contractors, and business all depending on the constant flow of 21st-century human chattel to fill the jails and courtrooms of the city. There are businesses that thrive as a direct result of the racial profiling, unlawful arrests, inappropriate prosecution and mass incarceration of young Black men in the city.

Open your eyes. The cradle-to-prison pipeline isn’t just some catchy conspiracy theory. School policies are designed to criminalize young Black boys while they are still in elementary school and laws are soberly debated in the legislature that maximize profits from the criminalization, detention and incarceration of Black men, women and children.

After initially signing the NOPD consent decree and trying to take credit for inviting the U.S. Department of Justice to probe the NOPD in the first place, the mayor has repeatedly come up with excuses for not wanting to pay for the pricey overhaul of the NOPD. He has cited everything from budgetary woes to claims that the NOPD and city are already making the necessary changes to the department’s policies and practices. Yet the department continues to abuse the constitutional rights of Black residents and refuses to do things as basic as write police reports. There’s no money for something as basic as necessary changes to ensure that the NOPD treats every resident of this city like a human being but there’s no shortage of money to pay for a major makeover of the Louis Armstrong International Airport or to beautify the Riverfront. What is the mayor really telling us about our place on the city’s list of priorities?

There is never enough money to secure justice for Black people in New Orleans. Former death-row inmate John Thompson found that out after D.A. Leon Cannizzaro went to Washington and networked and advocated to make sure the man framed for murder didn’t get his $14 million settlement from the City of New Orleans. Cannizzaro told the Supreme Court that the city couldn’t afford the settlement. No similar argument was made to block white former D.A.’s office workers from getting their settlement after they sued then-D.A. Eddie Jordan. Not only did they get their money, they didn’t have to wait long to receive it.

Doing away with racial profiling, the use of excessive force and unconstitutional policing would be the first step toward finally bringing justice and democracy to New Orleans.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that could happen before the city’s 300th anniversary?

While the word has gotten out about the mayor’s ever-expanding scrapbook that memorializes Black murder victims, the one he pulls out to impress Black visitors to the city and to scold Black leaders who demand an end to NOPD racial profiling and other forms of unconstitutional policing, why aren’t more people talking about hizzoner’s other collection, the Binder of Recyclable Negroes, which he uses routinely when he needs a yes-man or yes-woman to fill an opening?

Take a moment to think about the same old handpicked Black folks who keep getting tapped to serve on various boards and commissions in New Orleans. What are they getting out of forming such a cozy relationship with the mayor and what are they giving up? More important, how are those alliances undermining the efforts of the Black masses to secure better educational and economic opportunities for their families, achieve economic and political power and receive equal protection under the law?

<strong>Judge not, lest you be judged…</strong>

Why is so little being said about the nine New Orleans judges who are making it rain supplemental insurance policies as if they have a right to squeeze every single red cent out of a city that has often been described as cash-strapped? And if they’ve done nothing wrong, why did these nine judges fight so hard in an effort to prevent the public from finding out what they are up to?

A recent report by FOX 8 anchor Lee Zurik talked about the out-of-control spending habits of some of the city’s judges. Even though the city’s judges are paid well enough to live like kings and queens in this fair city, they have been getting away with using public funds to purchase additional life insurance policies for themselves and their spouses.

Describing one of the insurance policies, Zurik said, “The judges gave themselves a universal life coverage through Transamerica. The value: up to $25,000 for each judge and $25,000 for each judge’s spouse.

“That means, if a judge’s spouse passed away, the judge or beneficiary would have received $25,000. The money to fund that policy was paid for by the public. Imagine your boss paying for a life insurance policy for your spouse.”

“It sends absolutely the opposite message for what a judge and a court of law are supposed to stand for,” Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commis?sion, recently told FOX 8 News. “They’re supposed to stand for adherence to law, to the highest legal standards.”

It’s obvious that in addition to cleaning up the city’s police department and jail, we need the Feds to come in and clean up the games being played in the D.A.’s Office and in the city’s civil and criminal courts. We need it like yesterday.

Corruption is corruption whether it comes from a former congressman with a wad of cold cash in his freezer, judges who bilk the system to pad their benefits, a police department that tramples on the rights of residents or a criminal justice system that routinely violates the constitutional rights of defendants and suspects.

We also need to put our collective foot down and stop allowing the Landrieu administration to reward those in his good graces with cushy salaries and other perks while trying to take away the jobs of those at the bottom of the civil service totem pole. If the City of New Orleans is in dire financial straits, why did it pay certain City Hall employees hefty bonuses after Hurricane Isaac for doing their jobs?

Meanwhile, civil court judges are getting taxpayer-funded gourmet lunches at Civil Court as was reported last year, criminal court judges are getting everything they can out of the system because their predecessors got away with it and there’s little to no money left to mow the neutral grounds, upgrade the city’s water system or pay for much-needed consent decrees.

That’s the new math. Problem is, the new math sounds an awful lot like the old math.

I’m sorry. It just ain’t adding up, y’all.

<block>A justice summit</strong>

We are in dire need of a justice summit to develop a blueprint for securing constitutional rights and international human rights for every woman, man and child New Orleans.

We also need to come up with a long-term plan to ensure that justice, democracy and fairness prevail in city government, public education, the criminal justice system and the economic sector.

Rather than allow the usual boot-lickers and turncoats to undermine the justice summit and its purpose, we need to do this old-school: Invitation-only. As potentially controversial and divisive as it might be, we need to be sure that people won’t show up looking for a chance to show out or join the proceedings so that he or she can report back to the powers that be. We need to hear from our own experts and leaders, people who have proven time and again that they are committed to doing whatever is necessary to end the racial injustice, economic disparity and educational apartheid in New Orleans by any means necessary. We also need our own venue, our own agenda and our own security for the event.

Holla if you hear and feel me.

All power to the people.

<em>This article originally published in the April 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.</em>

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