Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

The show must go on

30th December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

Have you seen New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s gospel-tinged commercial for re-election?

If you haven’t, you’re missing a doozy.

It would actually be funny if it weren’t so sad.

In the commercial, the mayor employs images from Hurricane Katrina and gospel music to get an emotional response from Black New Orleanians. The commercial features residents holding images that underscore the recovery progress made since the Great Flood of 2005. A gospel singer with a booming voice encourages residents to shake the dust off their feet and not look back at what they have been through.

Aaaah, but here’s the rub: Some of us, many of us, are still going through it.

We’re still struggling to rebuild our homes and communities. We’re still struggling to make it back to New Orleans or find affordable housing or jobs with livable wages. We’re still dealing with a full frontal assault on the New Orleans Public Schools that was clearly planned before Hurricane Katrina and cost thousands of public school administrators, educators and staff their jobs. We’re still dealing with the mass displacement of many of the individuals and families we have known all of our lives. We are still dealing with major blight, rampant crime in low-income communities.

We’re dealing with a local administration that absolutely refuses to support a complete overhaul of one of the most corrupt, abusive police departments in the world. We’re still dealing with a criminal justice system that has helped Louisiana grab international headlines as one of the most draconian and unconstitutional places in the world.

We’ve been forced to deal with charter schools that treat our children like felons and a public school voucher system that drains an already underfunded school system.

For many of us, Hurricane Katrina happened yesterday.

For anyone, particularly someone from outside of our community, to use gospel music to tell us not to look back and shake the dust off of our feet is not only condescending and patronizing — it is downright disrespectful and the height of cultural insularity.

To add insult to injury, the man who has been credited with running the state’s ill-conceived Road Home Program is now a central figure in the Landrieu administration. For those who have allowed themselves to forget, CNO chief administrative officer Andy Kopplin is the individual who led and defended the state’s Road Home Program, which has made it impossible for many Black New Orleans homeowners to rebuild their homes and lives.

This past fall, several busloads of New Orleans residents traveled all the way to D.C. to raise awareness of their ongoing struggle to bounce back and the inequitable formula used by the Road Home Program. Those pleas for assistance from federal, state and local elected officials have fallen on deaf ears for the most part.

Now we get a mayor who has pretended not to see the rampant racial injustice and blatant mistreatment of Black residents by cops, elected officials, the criminal justice system and various boards and commissions and has the audacity to use a gospel song to tell struggling residents to shake the dust off their feet and not look back.

It’s all smoke and mirrors with this uptown resident who has often referred to himself as a “homeboy.”

It’s all a big game.

While he’s eating king cake and doing the Wobble, he’s dancing around issues like racial profiling.

While he’s talking tough about fighting crime and eliminating street gangs, he has nothing to say about the thugs and bullies with badges who continue to violate the constitutional rights of Black residents and doesn’t think he should have to pay for renovations at Orleans Parish Prison, even though the law says otherwise.

Rather than address racial profiling in New Orleans, he would rather use the funeral of an unarmed 20-year-old killed by a cop as a media event and blamed an assault on two Black teens in the French Quarter after a Carnival parade on state police even though video footage clearly shows a white female NOPD officer instructing the state cops to target the two young men.

While he’s jumping into swimming pools with Black kids and hugging Black babies, he’s saying and doing absolutely nothing about the dismantling of the city’s public schools and the criminalization and miseducation of Black youth by charter schools and the school voucher system. He insists that New Orleans is a laboratory, a testing ground for new ideas. But guess whose children pay the price as they play the role of canaries in coal mines?

What the mayor, who reportedly has a background in theater, doesn’t seem to get is that every time he pulls off one of his stunts, he brings to mind the infamous Donald Trump remarks about getting along well with “the Blacks.”

He also seems to be unable to grasp that as a tool of oppression used by the powers that be to keep people of color powerless and contained, he has not been cast in the role of a liberator. He is the pharaoh, and not Joseph with that amazing technicolor dream coat in this real-life drama. He is not Moses, Joshua or young David.

Oftentimes, he comes off more like young Ricky Schroeder in “Silver Spoons” or Macauly Culkin in The Good Son. All the world’s a stage and the show must go on.

Try as he might to convince himself and others that he has the best interests of Black folks at heart, his actions suggest otherwise. You do not make this city safer by undermining the federally mandated NOPD consent decree. You do not inspire others to take ownership of the city by appointing your friends and flunkies to various boards and commissions and forcing them to stick to the scripts you egotistically write for them. You do not make anyone believe that you are a pillar of compassion and justice by forcing the city’s residents to pay for the federally mandated NOPD and OPP consent decrees via additional charges on their water bills while not even considering the option of having Tulane University begin paying its fair share in property taxes.

You certainly don’t reveal anything even vaguely resembling courage and conviction when you refuse to address your critics head on whenever the you-know-what hits the fan. You do not convince anyone that you are a decent, honest man by continuing to pretend that it was you and not the family of Ronald Madison and others who first invited Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the New Orleans Police Depart­ment. And you do not gain the trust, admiration and respect of Black New Orleans by handpicking planners and participants for traditional Black events like the MLK Day and Juneteenth celebrations.

All the gospel music in the world won’t convince anyone who has paid attention to your many questionable moves while in office that we have moved forward.

Ironically, residents voted for this mayor because many believed he was radically different from his predecessor. Four years later, it’s clear that the current mayor is more like the man he replaced than anyone could have ever imagined. We went from Chocolate City to White Chocolate City in four years, and Black people in this city are fighting for their lives and sanity amid a flurry of assaults from the criminal justice system, economic system and ruling white minority.

We don’t need a mayor who can wobble, or one who likes brass bands and gospel music. We don’t need a mayor who can play a trumpet or blow the whistle. We need a mayor who is familiar with the U.S. Constitution and uses his or her time in office to promote justice, fairness and democracy.

If he can’t find it within himself to do that all day every day, he might as well be whistlin’ Dixie.

May God bless him.

This article originally published in the December 30, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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