Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

The root of the problem

8th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

Brace yourself, New Orleans. The Big Easy has a new crime fighting duo: Gotham City’s Picture Man (aka Spike Lee) and our very own Golden Boy, Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Criminals, thugs and general miscreants be warned: The mayor is serious this time. And he brought Mookie from Do The Right Thing with him.

The circus is coming to town, ladies and gents.

Could there have possibly been a better spot to launch such a drama-filled initiative just dripping with intrigue than in the footprint of Broadway South? I mean, doesn’t the mayor have a theater background and a knack for creating a media buzz. Spike Lee is, well, Spike Lee.

But since his days rolling with the Zulus on Fat Tuesday and the filming of two documentaries in post-Katrina New Orleans, there have been grumblings among locals that the affable, undersized guy that you see when the cameras are rolling is not the one you encounter on the streets of New Orleans. More than one person has talked about being ignored or snubbed by Spike Lee for simply making the mistake of telling the Brooklynite “Good Morning.” By the time Spike showed up at the Superdome during the Saints’ incredible playoff run, the love between Mookie and the Big Easy had cooled off considerably.

Spike Lee made it clear where his loyalties lied and New Orleans residents weren’t trying to hear any of “Dat.”

With Spiderman and the Dark Knight holding down NYC and making it safe for women and children, it isn’t surprising that Spike Lee decided to come down South to help us out. But perhaps his particular set of talents might be better suited to making yet another documentary about New Orleans, this one about the murders, brutal beatings and corruption that take place in the New Orleans Police Department and continue to this very day. He might consider calling it “Low-Hanging Strange Fruit.”

Why are a growing number of residents growing more suspicious and weary of the mayor and all of his half-baked initiatives to address crime and violence in New Orleans? Why indeed.

The short answer is that the mayor, in the words of Memphis-born R&B singer K. Michelle “has no receipts.” The mayor has talked the talk and has shown he can stay on beat in a second line but has not come through in a meaningful way for Black people in New Orleans—at least not for the ones who need the most help, the unemployed, underemployed, overworked and undereducated Black masses.

Some might argue that he has completely ignored the needs and concerns of poor Blacks in New Orleans.

Even before he was inaugurated as mayor, Landrieu rubbed some Black leaders the wrong way by trying to enlist the aid of Black members of the community in the search for a new police chief. While these search committee members were supposed to play a pivotal role in selecting a new NOPD superintendent, in reality they were no more than window-dressing. There are those that say that the real search was being conducted by Landrieu and those who held the pursestrings that financed his mayoral campaign.

Things began to unravel when a number of Black committee members complained about being ignored and exploited by the mayor-elect and ultimately resigned. Among those who were most vocal about what was happening in those search committee meetings and refused to be used was NAACP New Orleans Branch president Danatus King.

King and other Black civil rights leaders and ministers who openly criticized the media would later be banned from a meeting designed to talk about finding solutions to Black-on-Black violence.

Danatus King and other Black ministers and community leaders were later banned by the Landrieu administration from participating in the citywide commemoration of the Dr, Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday. The ability to keep track of who crossed him politically is apparently one of Golden Boy’s superpowers.

This mayor’s handling of the New Orleans Recreation Department makes it clear that he leaves absolutely nothing to chance. As you may recall, the mayor was a strong proponent of plans to privatize NORD, cherry-picking those to be appointed to the NORD Commission and even going so far as to write scripts for them. Many of the city’s NORD playgrounds remain works in progress with very little for kids to enjoy. But the mayor, a legendary multitasker, can’t be bothered with all of that right now because he’s out building a political empire.

The mayor forgot to mention that that “One Voice” he talked about during his inauguration speech and since was his own.

Later the mayor organized a spectacular “Save Our Sons” extravaganza to show the city’s colored folks what he was doing for at-risk youths. Speaker after speaker lined up to talk about the perils Black youth face on the streets of New Orleans — as if young Black men didn’t already know what they were up against daily. The mayor even trotted out his latest creation — a crime commissioner who had very little to say publicly and even less power to make a difference in the criminal justice system.

That crime commissioner, James Carter, resigned last month after about 13 months on the case.

Like a botched search for the ultimate police superintendent, the gunning down by cops of an unarmed man in his home, a scandal-plagued off-duty NOPD detail system and the leap of a marijuana blunt from a trusted comrade’s trousers during a fateful court appearance, the mayor has had a front-row seat as he has watched his delusions of political grandeur go up in smoke.

The mayor has been experiencing major blueness as he continues to struggle to get people to buy into what he is selling. Already unpopular among struggling residents, the mayor’s ratings continue to drop among middle-class voters as he refuses to deal with the problem of a defective police superintendent, his refusal to get involved in efforts to keep water and energy bills lower and the rising crime rate.

The mayor either doesn’t understand the problem or he doesn’t have the kind of backing from the business community that is necessary to bring about significant change. The mayor also has had a difficult time allowing anyone’s ideas or suggestions but his own to take root. It has to be all about him, all day, every day. That’s problematic in a democratic society.

How many grandiose announcements and proclamations has the mayor made regarding crime-fighting and Black-on-Black violence in two years on the job? There was the Midnight Basketball thing, which is cool and actually a good idea. But what about after the game, and who’s going to protect these young cats when they’re staring down the barrel of a Ruger at a block party with a baby in their arms?

Again, there was “Save Our Sons” and the mayor’s appearance at a number of high-profile funerals. One group accused the mayor of coaxing the family of a young man killed by police to accept financial assistance from the city after initially refusing it. During a number of recent conferences and gatherings in New Orleans, the mayor has reportedly ran off a list of names of young Blacks killed in New Orleans while bad-mouthing local Black leaders who openly criticize his leadership and calling them “dysfunctional.”

What a wonderful world.

So here we find ourselves — some of us do anyway — in the untenable position of pinning our hopes of ending the senseless violence on a script-writing, ego driven mayor and a detached film director with no skin in the game (Pun most definitely intended).

Good luck with that.

Make no mistake about it: The Black community in New Orleans has been under constant assault from the local powers that be for more than two centuries. Descen­dants of those who sanctioned the slaughter of the enslaved Africans who revolted in 1811 and the beheading of these men and women are now running the city. White privilege, prestige and wealth are their birthright while many of the city’s Blacks remain trapped in cycles of poverty and economic exploitation that render then de facto slaves. That’s by design, not coincidence or misfortune.

Many of the plantations are now vertical skyscrapers, hotels where people of color toil all day and have very little to show for it. Thanks to an underfunded and antiquated public school system, others end up in dead-end jobs at places like Popeye’s or as another client of the ever-growing prison-industrial complex.

The silence from Black elected officials in Congress, the state legislature and the New Orleans City Council is both deafening and nauseating. By refusing to take a stand by saying or doing something to make things better for the Black masses, they have proven they are incapable of providing the residents of this city with courageous and principled Black leadership.

Like many in his profession, the mayor has opted not to talk about or even acknowledge the brutal system of economic exploitation and white supremacy that compel millions of tourists to flock to the Big Easy for a taste of the good old days, antebellum-style. Here, white visitors can enjoy pure, uncut white privilege without all of the guilt or unpleasantness usually associated with that lifestyle. After all, if you simply don’t talk about something it doesn’t exist, right?

It goes without saying that some of the groups listed on the “NOLA For Life” website have been doing good work for a long time. Others, not so much. Please do not forget for a second that some of these organizations, institutions and agencies are beholden to the white business community and will do or say very little to effect real, lasting change in New Orleans.

The other thing is, with a half-dozen or so deputy mayors and all sorts of resources at his fingertips, why did it take the mayor more than two years in office to conceive and launch this website and create a one-stop shop for addressing Black-on-Black violence?

Don’t think the same young Black men the mayor speaks so passionately about aren’t checking things out for themselves. I’m sure they were watching as the mayor called the cops wounded during the fatal shooting of Justin Sipp and the wounding of his brother Earl Sipp “heroes.” They saw the mayor’s lackadaisical response after a top cop was caught telling officers in the French Quarter to target young Black males during the Essence Music Festival, when a NOPD officer gunned down 20-year-old Wendell Allen in his own home and when a NOPD email encouraging officers to profile Blacks in a security detail district. Incidentally, several of the officers involved in the shooting of Justin and Earl Sipp were part of that unit.

These young Black men also saw this mayor move with deliberation and great purpose to tear down a historic Black Mid-City neighborhood to make way for a state-of-the-art hospital in the city’s burgeoning biomedical district.

They saw how casually he decided to go after civil service employees’ jobs at City Hall while doling out six-figure salaries to those in his circle. They’ve seen him go after the jobs of the city’s cab drivers while refusing to face them. They’ve seen him maneuvering behind the scenes to undermine efforts to clean up the NOPD while pretending that he is spearheading efforts to reform the department.

This is the man that they are expected to believe will put an end to senseless violence in New Orleans.

D.C., one of my fraternity brothers, made a remark last week that shed some light on the situation we find ourselves in. “The mayor wants Black folks in this city to like and trust him, but this is not a popularity contest,” he said. “He needs to understand that his actions speak louder than all those pretty words he uses at press conference. People are getting tired of seeing him say one thing and do something completely different. Connect the dots and you will see who the real person is.

“It’s even worse for the Black people around him,” D.C. continued. “These Black appointees are like ‘empty vessels,’ There’s a huge disconnect between them and the city’s poorest Blacks, who are struggling every day just to survive. There’s very little in the way of trust and respect there. Most of the people I’ve talked to really don’t like the mayor’s Black appointees. That’s a problem in a majority-Black city.”

To date, Mayor Landrieu has not explained why he opposes having a civilian oversight committee involved in efforts to reform the New Orleans Police Department is such a terrible idea. Or why he doesn’t support the idea of using cameras and microphones to record NOPD officers’ interactions with civilians.

So here we are again in the midst of yet another ambitious campaign to end the scourge of Black-on-Black violence in the City That Care Forgot once and for all. And how is the mayor going to do it? By caring.

Who knew that all it took was caring?

It’s too bad that the mayor doesn’t care enough to even make an attempt to dismantle the social, economic and education apartheid that has been maintained in New Orleans for centuries. He and the overwhelming majority of local, state and federal elected officials continue to do what they have always done: Pretend that it doesn’t exist.

It’s too bad he cared more about hiring the son of one of his pop’s longtime buddies than he did about conducting an open, transparent search for a dynamic police chief or making New Orleans a safer place to live.

It’s too bad the mayor doesn’t care enough about displaced New Orleanians to be working hard to make affordable housing available to them. Too bad he can’t be bothered with the snail’s pace of recovery more than seven years after Katrina. It’s much too bad that the mayor didn’t care enough about the marsh fires in eastern New Orleans to drop some water on them until the governor stepped up and told him to get it done.

It’s too bad that the mayor doesn’t care enough about the city’s children to refuse to allow charter schools to use our kids as laboratory guinea pigs. It’s too bad that he doesn’t have a problem with McDonogh 35, the city’s first Black public college preparatory school and former Mayor Dutch Morial’s alma mater, being rebuilt across the street from a youth detention center.

Too bad the mayor cares more about keeping up appearances than he does about actually doing something to push this city into a new era of economic justice, democracy, inclusion and transparency.

Too bad indeed.

Working to lower the murder rate and end the senseless violence without admitting the root causes behind the conditions that lead to poverty, rage, despair, substance abuse, hopelessness and nihilism makes about as much sense as addressing the symptoms of diabetes or cancer without knowing and addressing the root causes.

Neither this mayor nor the powers that be are truly interested in ending the senseless violence in New Orleans because that would require a dramatic departure from the way things have always been done in Nouvelle Orleans and a restoration of justice to the historic relationship between Africans and Euro­peans in this city and beyond.

All power to the people.

This article was originally published in the October 8, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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