Monday, January 31, 2011
The African American Leadership Project (AALP) will host its first Morris F.X. Jeff Jr. Community Service Awards ceremony on Thursday February 17th from 7:00pm to 11:00pm at the Anthony Bean Community Theatre, located at 1333 So. Carrollton Ave.
According to AALP Chairperson Mrs. Gail Glapion, “we seek to recognize the life work and honor the memory of the late Dr. Morris X Jeff Jr., beloved and highly respected community leader, Afrocentric scholar-activist and city official who was one of the original founding members of the AALP.” It is our intent to recognize individuals and institutions for their contribution to the progress and well being of the African American community of New Orleans, and the overall good of the entire human family.
This year’s individual honoree is Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika, founding member of the AALP, and its 1st Project Manager. He is also a former Professor of African World Studies and lead faculty for the Global Issues Honors Consortium at Dillard University. Since its founding in 2002-03, Dr. Sanyika has served the AALP with distinction, and has been a leading voice for equity and justice for African Americans and other marginal groups in the recovery and rebuilding of the city.
This year’s institutional honoree is radio station WBOK-1230 AM, the leading radio voice of the African American community of New Orleans. In its brief 3 years of existence, WBOK has evolved from a small local AM radio station into a nationally prominent media outlet that covers diverse aspects of the African American experience in New Orleans. It is also a primary source of day to day information, public commentary and analysis of issues of concern to African Americans that mainstream media may sometimes distort or not cover at all.
During the event, the AALP will formally introduce the public to its new Project Manager, Attorney Ernest Jones, an accomplished public attorney and justice advocate. According to event Co-chairs Gail Glapion and Jones, the AALP will also announce the launching of its Economic Justice campaign which is intended to track recovery/rebuilding dollars and contracts to determine if African Americans have received their fair share. Music and refreshments will be provided at the event in addition to networking opportunities and cultural fun. A donation of $30.00 per person is requested. For more information, contact Ms. Cher Washington at 504-240-2222.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Dear Mayor-President Holden and Members of the East Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council:
I understand that a committee of the Metropolitan Council is urging a crackdown on prostitution in East Baton Rouge Parish. According to the Advocate, an ordinance has been proposed to impose a mandatory sentence of a minimum of 90 days in jail or supervised probation, as well as "john school" for customers.
I write to urge the Council to exercise great care in enacting laws that will penalize poor women in ways that might ultimately harm the community. Sending nonviolent offenders to jail is widely recognized as the wrong approach to criminal justice, and one that will not only increase costs for the people of Baton Rouge but also ultimately increase crime. Seeking to change Louisiana's status as the largest per capita jailer in the world, Gov. Jindal recently requested the Pew Center for Study on the States to assist in enacting reforms that will decrease the incarceration rate while maintaining public safety. Careful study is necessary before adopting any laws that will further incarcerate or punish anyone for whom alternatives are available.
The Advocate suggests that one stated purpose of the proposed ordinance is to eliminate human trafficking. However, the ordinance will do nothing to stop trafficking, because the traffickers themselves are not affected. This is a classic case of punishing the victim, by imposing punishment only on the woman who has been trafficked. In fact, criminalizing prostitution can hurt victims of trafficking by steering them away from the police when they need help. Fear of arrest can send a victim of violence further away from support services that can help her. Trafficking, and forcing juveniles into "modern day slavery," is already a crime, subject to state and federal laws. This proposal will do nothing to stop any trafficking that might occur and can hurt those victimized.
The article also states that the proposal includes adoption of "john schools" to teach customers about the "destructive impact of prostitution." Yet studies have shown that "john schools" and programs to reduce demand for prostitution frequently target low-income and minority men, and are not successful in protecting women or in eliminating prostitution. The Best Practices Policy Project reports, among other things, a higher than average recidivism rate among men who have been subject to "john schools." Moreover, these programs may increase violence against women, and therefore cause more harm.
Nor will this stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. A jail sentence will do nothing to protect a prostitute from contracting HIV from a client, or vice versa. The solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic is better treatment, education, and condom use, not incarceration for those living with the disease.
I urge the Council to consider this issue carefully, to consult best practices and experts nationwide on the both the criminal justice and the public health implications of incarcerating sex workers and their customers, and to be mindful of the dangers of incarcerating more people for nonviolent offenses.
Marjorie R. Esman
ACLU of Louisiana
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Mr. Mason was found incompetent to stand trial and was transferred to Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in January 2010. He arrived in a filthy jumpsuit with a strip of rag tied around his right wrist. A stench issued from his wrist which appeared infected and which emitted a green discharge. The rag was embedded in Mr. Mason's arm, with skin growing over the rag in places. Mr. Mason also had an ulcerous wound on the right side of his back and fractured ribs. These wounds were obviously long standing and had been left untreated during his months of imprisonment.
Miranda Tait, Attorney with the Advocacy Center states, “Mr. Mason was clearly unable to care for himself or to differentiate illusion from reality. For 5 months, he lived a nightmare locked in a cell 23 hours a day, unable to communicate with anyone or ask for help.”
On January 24, 2011, the Advocacy Center and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a lawsuit against Tangipahoa Parish officials alleging that their failure to provide Mr. Mason with necessary psychiatric care mental health medication is a violation of his rights under the 14th Amendment. In addition, the suit alleges that Mr. Mason suffered discrimination on the basis of his disability and that parish and prison officials were negligent of their responsibilities to Mr. Mason under state law.
Lois Simpson, Executive Director of the Advocacy Center, states, ”Jails may be overcrowded and understaffed but no budgetary constraints can excuse the heartless treatment experienced by Mr. Mason.”
“Our public officials have an obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Denying basic care to someone unable to care for himself is an unconscionable abuse of authority.”
A copy of the complaint is available at this link.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
From February 28th -- March 2nd, Alabama will play host to formerly incarcerated activists from across the country as they convene in an effort to organize what may well be our nation's next major civil rights movement.
The conference, which is being organized by a steering committee comprised of prisoner rights and criminal justice reform activist leaders, will draft a campaign platform calling for the restoration of civil rights, a halt to prison expansion, the elimination of excessive punishments, and the protection of the rights and dignity of family members of the incarcerated. Conference events, which are slated to occur in Montgomery, Dothan, and Selma, will include a backwards march over Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Who better to lead this movement than those who have first-hand experience of the dehumanizing, unjust nature of our prison system? They know all too well the inequities that exist within the system, the abuses that occur behind prison walls, the suffering that families of prisoners must endure, and the struggle that those returning from prison face in the search for housing, jobs, and a sense of belonging.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
By Tracie L. Washington, Esq
On Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) ordered a study of the feasibility of merging Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) and the University of New Orleans (UNO), two neighboring New Orleans universities that have struggled to fill classrooms and graduate students. According to Jindal, a combined institution might provide stronger services to the students of the universities and of another nearby institution, Delgado Community College, which lacks space for all of its students.
But Governor Jindal did not discuss the issue of race and, further inflaming already tense relations in Louisiana higher education circles was his suggestion that the merged schools could be placed in the University of Louisiana System, which oversees regional state universities. Currently, UNO is part of the Louisiana State University System and SUNO is part of the historically black Southern University System. So in a formerly segregated state, the proposal would not only merge a black college with a predominantly white one, but would remove one of the three campuses of a historically black university system.
Southern system President, Ronald Mason Jr., issued the following statement concerning this proposal: "The Southern University SYSTEM is an important entity in the state of Louisiana, and for the past 52 years SUNO has served as a critical component of the Southern University System." But there is an elephant in the room, and it was never more apparent to me than after listening to the comments by listeners on WWL Talk Radio, and reading the comments after the following post on my Facebook page:
My dad was the first SUNO grad (studies completed summer '66; degree May '67)) to obtain a Ph.D, Dr. Louis X. Washington, Sr. obtained his Ph.D from University of Florida (Gooo Gators!) in Medical Microbiology in 1972. Hell No to UNO merger. SUNO creates African-American scholars!
What was clear, from the statements of the vitriolic racists who continue to question whether Blacks really want to be educated (yes, and I deleted those post and the message in my inbox), and the statements of the ardent sentimentalists who believe it’s ours, it’s Black, we keep it, is there is are fundamental misunderstandings in this community about the history of SUNO, its importance, the cause and nature of its demise (be it by design or benign neglect) and its future, which could and should include a discussion of having UNO join the Southern system.
So let’s have that series of conversations. It will require many individuals, groups, and leaders coming together and planning to make this happen, but it’s necessary. Then folks, let’s create our Plan, i.e., a community vision for the future of SUNO, along with a campaign for insuring its full implementation.
Monday, January 17, 2011
On January 14, 2011, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and Provident Realty Advisors filed a fifth Motion for Contempt alleging St. Bernard Parish has violated the federal Fair Housing Act and a February 2008 Consent Order.
In December 2010, Congress extended the placed in service dates for the tax credits that Provident needed to proceed with construction on an apartment complex in St. Bernard Parish. As a result, Provident attempted to continue construction on the mixed-income apartments. Provident, however, received notification from the Parish that it was in violation of the Parish's zoning code because Parish officials changed its Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance in December 2009, such that Provident's sites were no longer zoned to permit the development of multi-family housing.
According to the motion, "there is no lawful basis for Defendants' current position, which bears all the hallmarks of ongoing intentional discrimination and is nothing more than yet another transparent attempt to stop Provident from building multi-family housing in St. Bernard Parish. The only thing that has changed since 2009 is the vehicle the Parish has chosen to block Provident. The intent and effect remain the same."
St. Bernard's recent actions to prevent Provident from proceeding with its multi-family housing developments are the latest in a long string of race-based attempts by St. Bernard Parish to block multi-family developments in the Parish. In the course of the multi-year litigation, GNOFHAC has successfully challenged St. Bernard's two previous multi-family construction moratoria, and an ordinance that restricted the rental of single-family residences to those related by blood to the owner of the property. The Honorable Judge Ginger Berrigan has granted GNOFHAC's three previous motions for contempt against the Parish. A fourth motion was ruled moot when the Parish voluntarily cancelled a referendum on a multi-family moratorium.
Under its latest motion, GNOFHAC requests that the court 1) hold St. Bernard Parish in contempt of court; 2) order that the Parish renew Provident's building permits within 24 hours of the court's order; 3) impose coercive sanctions for every day that the Parish does not meet the court's deadline; 4) order the Parish to compensate GNOFHAC and Provident for damages, costs and fees associated with its contemptuous conduct; 5) order additional monetary sanctions against the Parish to deter future violations of the Consent Order and Fair Housing Act; 6) enjoin the Parish from further unlawfully interfering with Provident's developments; and 7) retain jurisdiction over the Consent Order through December 31, 2011.
Relman, Dane and Colfax PLLC represented GNOFHAC in this matter.
James Perry, Executive Director of GNOFHAC, comments, "This is the fifth motion for contempt that we've had to file because the Parish has repeatedly violated the terms of a Consent Order they voluntarily entered into. We hope that the court will ensure equal housing opportunity in our region by granting the reasonable relief we seek."
Read GNOFHAC's latest motion for contempt against St. Bernard Parish at this link.
Click here for a comprehensive timeline of the litigation.
The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a private non-profit organization. GNOFHAC is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws across the metro New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values… when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967
As we remember the courage and hope of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must not forget that he spoke out and worked against the injustices of our nation, particularly those of racism, materialism and militarism. Indeed that is what made him so hated and so dangerous when he was alive.
We have achievements to celebrate: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” the release of San Suu Kyi in Burma; the enactment of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights by the NY legislature that extends important labor rights to 200,000 nannies and housekeepers; the victories of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and the exposure of secret US and other country machinations by Wikileaks, among others.
There has been progress in dismembering the laws of segregation which divided our country. We must celebrate the successes that many struggled to achieve. However, as we celebrate those victories let us not lose sight of the challenges still facing this country.
Here are some of the facts about racism, materialism and militarism in the US which we should reflect on as we decide how best to carry on the radical struggle for justice of Dr. King. (For each fact, I provide a brief cite to the sources which are listed at the end of the article).
Let us renew our commitment to the radical revolution of values for which Dr. King gave his life as we turn to the realities of current life.
Racism: Health, Housing, Income and Jobs
Infants born to black women are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to die than infants born to women of all other races or ethnicities. Black men and women are much more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than their white counterparts. Hypertension is by far most prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks (42% vs. 29% among whites). Uninsured persons are only about half as likely to have hypertension under control as those with insurance. Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Twenty-five percent of black workers and forty-three percent of Hispanic workers do not have health insurance, compared to fifteen percent of white workers. Source: Kaiser Family Foundation
Overall, sixteen percent of all whites, twenty-one percent of blacks and thirty-two percent of Hispanics do not have health insurance. Source: Census
In cities with large African American populations, black segregation looks pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago; Hispanic segregation is on the rise. Source: Princeton
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the crisis in subprime mortgages in minority neighborhoods was not the result of riskier lending spurred by the Community Reinvestment Act or a decline in underwriting standards. Source: Princeton
Even with similar qualities (credit profiles, down payment ratios, personal characteristics, and residential locations) African Americans were more likely to receive subprime loans. Similarly blacks and Hispanics were significantly more likely than whites to receive loans with unfavorable terms such as prepayment penalties. The result: from 1993 to 2000, the share of subprime mortgages going to households in minority neighborhoods rose from 2 to 18 percent. Source: Princeton
Because predatory lenders could efficiently target entire minority neighborhoods with subprime mortgages, larger numbers of people were affected than would have had they been more geographically spread out. In true layman’s terms, it was like “shooting fish in a barrel.” Segregated neighborhoods just made it too easy to engage large numbers of people in this devastating scheme and this multiplied the effect of the crisis. Source: Princeton
Black middle class families have been stripped of more wealth by the real estate and foreclosure crisis than any single event in US history. Due entirely to subprime loans, black borrowers are expected to lose between $71 billion and $92 billion. Source: Devona Walker
Income and Jobs
Median household income for white families is $51,861, for black families is $32,584, and for Hispanic is it $38,039. Source: Census
The Immigration and Enforcement Agency is on pace to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, more under the current administration than any before. Source: Slevin
The overall unemployment rate among whites is 8.5% and among blacks it is 15.8%. For white teenagers the unemployment rate is 22% and among blacks it is 44%. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Materialism: Inequality and Poverty
The top 25 hedge fund managers were paid on average, more than $1 billion each in 2009. Source: Schwartz, New York Times.
Between 2002 and 2007, 65 percent of all income growth in the US went to the top 1 percent of the population; that top 1 percent also held a larger share of income than any time since 1928, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
There are 43 million people in the US living under the official poverty line. While there are more white people living in poverty (30 million) than black (10 million) and Hispanic (12 million) poor combined, the poverty rate for whites of 12% is significantly less than the 26% rate for blacks and the 25% rate for Hispanics. Source: Census
The bottom 20% of the US population have negative wealth, they owe more than the value of all their assets. From 20 to 40th percentile, the next 20% of the population, average about $5,000 in wealth. The middle 20%, from the 40 to 60th percentile, own $65,000 in assets. The next highest 20%, the 60 to 80th percentile, are worth about $208,000. From 80 to 90th, the average wealth is $477,000. From 90 to 95th, the wealth is $908,000 in assets. From 95 to 99th is $2,734,000 in wealth assets. And the top 1%? $13,977,000 in average wealth. Source: State of Working America
Since the economic recession started there has been a 25% rise in the number of people “doubling up” in housing by moving in with others, there has been a rise in the number of homeless families, and in not one of the 50 states can a person working full-time at one minimum wage afford a two bedroom apartment for his or her family. Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Militarism: Troops, Expenditures and Arms Sales
The US reports it has 1.4 million people in active military service in 143 countries around the world. The top places for US military are: Afghanistan (105,900), Iraq (96,200), Germany (53,951), and Japan (34,385). Source: Department of Defense
There are an additional 819,000 people in the Reserve and National Guard and another 709,000 civilian personnel. Source: 2011 Census Statistical Abstract, Table 506.
The US spent $774 billion directly on its military budget in 2010. The Department of Defense budget was over $660 billion, counting the special expenditures for Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Department of Veterans Affairs was $114 billion for 2010.
The US spends much more on its military than any other country in the world. Military spending has increased by 75% since the year 2000 and represents about $2100 for every person in the US. Excluding expenditures for veterans the US military budget in 2009 was over $660 billion. In second place globally was China at about $100 billion. France was third at $63 billion, the UK next with $58 billion and Russia in 5th place spending $53 billion. In fact the US spends more on military than the rest of the top 10 countries in the world put together. Source: SIPRI
The US also leads the world in the sale of lethal weapons to others, selling about one of every three weapons worldwide. The USA’s major clients are South Korea, Israel and United Arab Emirates. Source: SIPRI
The US continues to hold 174 people in indefinite and illegal detention in Guantanamo despite global calls for closure. Thirty eight of those still being held have won their habeas corpus petitions in front of federal judges but still have not been freed. Source: Miami Herald.
The US continues to launch remote controlled unmanned predator drones into Pakistan, a country we are not even at war with. In 2010, US drones struck Pakistan 118 times killing many civilians. Source: New America Foundation
The number of deaths in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are difficult to calculate since the US only counts US deaths. The US reports 1277 US military have died in Afghanistan and 4427 died in Iraq. The Iraq Body Count estimates between 99,357 and 108,475 civilians have died in violence associated with the war in Iraq. Source: iraqbodycount.org.
Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the total cost of the Iraq war to the US is more than $3 trillion. For this estimate he calculated the actual military costs, the cost of treating and compensating disabled veterans, a $10 increase in the price of oil (the increase in the price of oil went from $25 a barrel when the US invaded Iraq to as high as $140 a barrel in 2008), the increase in the federal debt and the borrowing that demanded. Source: Stiglitz
As we celebrate the life of Dr. King, let us realize the challenges that still face those who seek a world of justice and peace. He showed us that anger at injustice can be combined with courage to create real hope for a better world. Let us address the injustices of continuing racism, materialism and militarism with the courage and hope that Dr. King displayed in his brief life.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Economic News Release, January 7, 2011, Table A-2.
Census: US Census, Income Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the US 2009.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “Top 1 percent of Americans Reaped Two Thirds of Income Gains in Last Economic Expansion.”
CDC: Centers for Disease Control Health Disparities and Inequalities
Report, US 2011.
Department of Defense: Active Military Personnel, September 30, 2010.
James Glanz: “The Economic Cost of War,” NYT, 2-28-09.
Kaiser: Health Insurance Coverage in America, 2009, Kaiser Family Foundation.
Miami Herald: Guantanamo by the Numbers. 12-26-10.
National Low Income Housing Coalition: Out of Reach 2010.
New America Foundation: The Year of the Drone: An analysis of US drone strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2011.
2010 Princeton study: “Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis,” Jacob Rugh and Douglass Massey.
Nelson Schwartz and Louise Story: “Pay of Hedge Fund Managers Roared Back Last year,” New York Times, March 31, 2010.
SIPRI: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:
Military expenditures: News Release June 2, 2010.
Sale of weapons by US: 2009 Yearbook.
Peter Slevin: “Deportation of Illegal Immigrants increases under Obama Administration,” Washington Post, 7-26-10.
Economic Policy Institute: State of Working America.
Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Blimes: “The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond,” Washington Post, 9-5-10.
Devona Walker: “Foreclosures are destroying the Black Middle Class.”
Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
One year after the January 12 2010 earthquake, more than a million people remain homeless in Haiti. Homemade shelters and tents are everywhere in Port au Prince. People are living under plastic tarps or sheets in concrete parks, up to the edge of major streets, in the side streets, behind buildings, in between buildings, on the sides of hills, literally everywhere.
UNICEF estimates that more than 1 million people – 380,000 of them children – still live in displacement camps.
“The recovery process” as UNICEF says, “is just beginning.”
One of the critical questions is how many people remain without adequate housing. While there are fewer big camps of homeless and displaced people, there has been extremely little rebuilding. The UN reported that 97,000 tents have been provided since the quake. Tents are an improvement over living under a sheet but they are not homes. Many families have lived many places in the last year circulating from rough shelters to tents to camps to other camps to
living alongside other families.
It is important to understand that families may leave the huge unsupervised camps and still be homeless someplace else – like a tent in another part of the city or country. Moving from one type of homelessness to another cannot be allowed to be declared progress against homelessness and displacement.
The key human rights goal is housing, not moving out of the displacement camps.
One illustration of the housing challenge facing the Haitian people can be found in a recent report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM December report announced a reduction in the number of persons remaining in displacement camps. The IOM then wrongly concluded that the number of people displaced and homeless was reduced accordingly. Why is this conclusion wrong? Because the IOM report does not even try to track where displaced persons go after they leave a particular camp. They equate homeless families moving out of displacement camps as families finding housing.
These types of erroneous conclusions are not only misleading but threaten to hinder badly needed relief efforts one year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.
Careful consideration of the IOM report provides an opportunity to examine some of the many important housing challenges still facing Haitians.
IOM Assertion: “We finally start to see light at the end of the tunnel for the earthquake-affected population…these are hopeful signs that many victims of the quake are getting on with their lives.” IOM reported there has been a 31% decrease in the number of internally displaced people living on IDP sites in Haiti since July.
Fact: Getting on with their lives? Of an estimated 1,268 displacement camps, at least 29% have been forcibly closed – meaning tens of thousands of people have been evicted, often through violent means. Many who are forcibly evicted from one site move on to set up camp for their families in another location, which is often more dangerous. This is not getting on with life; this is searching for less dangerous places for the family tent.
IOM Assertion: People with houses labeled red (uninhabitable or extremely dangerous) or yellow (in need of repair) have “chosen to return to the place of origin or nearby to establish a shelter.”
Fact: As of December 16, 2010, only 2,074 of the estimated 180,000 destroyed houses had been repaired and a small percentage of rubble had been cleared. Decisions by desperate homeowners to move back into still destroyed homes is hardly progress.
It is also not even possible for large numbers of people who were renters to return to their destroyed homes. The destruction of more than 180,000 private residences coupled with influx of international aid workers has made Haiti’s rental market soar. An estimated 80% of those rendered homeless by the earthquake were renters or occupiers of homes without any formal land title. Current rents are unreachable by the majority of displaced Haitians, many of whom who lost their means of livelihood during the earthquake. The IOM admits “The lack of land tenure and the destruction of many houses in already congested slums left many of those displaced with few options but to remain in shelters.”
IOM Assertion: “Some households rendered homeless after the earthquake left congested Port au Prince all-together going home to the regions. Others sent their children to the countryside for a better life.”
Fact: Rural Haiti before the earthquake was home to 52% of the population, 88% of which was poor and 67% was extremely poor. Rural residents had a per capita income one third of the income of people living in urban areas and extremely limited access to basic services. Disaster response following the earthquake has not tackled the extreme structural violence that exists in rural areas, and Hurricane Tomas further destroyed livelihoods of rural communities. People moving from displacement camps in the city to living in a tent in the countryside have not really moved out of homelessness, they have just moved.
IOM Assertion: “Surviving in poor living conditions during the long hurricane season has persuaded many to seek alternative housing solutions.”
Fact: Homeless people are always seeking “alternative housing solutions.” Camp conditions even before Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak revealed that displaced Haitians were in camps because they had no “alternative housing solutions.” According to a study conducted by CUNY Professor Mark Schuller before both Hurricane Tomas and the outbreak of cholera, 40% of displacement camps did not have access to water, and 30% did not have toilets of any kind. Only 10% of families even had a tent, many of which were ripped beyond repair during the hurricane season; the rest were sleeping under tarps or even bed sheets. A study conducted even earlier by the Institute of Justice & Democracy in Haiti found that 78% of families lived without enclosed shelter; 44% of families primarily drank untreated water; 27% of families defecated in a container, a plastic bag, or on open ground in the camps; and 75% of families had someone go an entire day without eating during one week and over 50% had children who did not eat for an entire day.
Human rights promise housing, not just forcing people away from displacement camps. Haiti needs practical and sustainable solutions for re-housing along with services and protections for the people still homeless.
One year later, it is critically important for the international community to assist Haitians to secure real housing. The million homeless Haitians and the hundreds of thousands who have moved out of the large homeless camps into other areas are our sisters and brothers and still need our solidarity and help.
Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and a long-time Haiti advocate. Jeena Shah is a lawyer serving in Port au Prince as a Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network Fellow with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jeena at Jeena@ijdh.org.
Monday, January 10, 2011
The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a public records request with Rapides Parish Sheriff Charles F. Wagner, Jr., seeking disclosure of the study and supporting data that some Rapides Parish officials tout as supporting expansion of the Rapides Parish Jail. By building cells for more than 500 new detainees, the proposed expansion would increase the Parish’s incarceration rate to 937 prisoners per 100,000 members of the population—higher than any other parish whose incarceration rate has been publicly disclosed, including Orleans Parish’s rate of 893 prisoners per 100,000.
“Before Rapides Parish commits itself to a massive, expensive, and unnecessary expansion of its detention facilities, the public at least deserves access to the same information that Parish officials are using to justify their recommendations,” said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “If this expansion goes forward, then Rapides Parish would end up with the highest incarceration rate in Louisiana. This is not a burden to take on blindly, especially in light of the costs involved.”
New Orleans recently put the brakes on a similar expansion. There, the mayor appointed a blue ribbon commission that retained a nationally-renowned criminal justice expert to help them identify an optimal size for the Orleans Parish Prison. That expert found that by implementing cost-effective, public safety-enhancing reforms that local advocates and other experts have long advocated, Orleans Parish could meet all of the city’s reasonable detention needs with fewer than half of the beds the Parish currently operates.
Esman said, “As the example of New Orleans shows, putting smarter criminal justice policies in place can avoid unnecessary incarceration, all while increasing public safety and saving taxpayer dollars. The people of Rapides Parish deserve to have a full, open debate about whether expanding the jail is what best serves their needs.”
A copy of the public records request is available at the ACLU of Louisiana website.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Question: How does a mentally unstable man who was kicked out of school and had run-ins with the law buy an assault weapon?
The weapon reportedly used in the mass murders in Tucson was an assault weapon - a Glock 19, semi-automatic pistol, with an extended magazine. That weapon was illegal to sell in the US from 1994 to 2004 under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. It is now legal to sell and own. The National Rifle Association reports there are tens of millions of assault weapons is private hands in the US.
The federal background check for people purchasing such weapons only prohibits selling such weapons to people who have been legally determined to be mentally defective or found insane or convicted of crimes. This man had not been found legally mentally defective or convicted so he was legally entitled to purchase an assault weapon. In Arizona he was legally entitled to carry the weapon in a concealed manner.
The US has well over 250 million guns in private hands according to the National Rifle Association. That is more, according to the BBC, than any country in the world. In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States according to the Brady Campaign.
Does the US really need tens of millions of assault weapons and hundreds of millions of other guns? We already put more of our people in prison than any country in the world and we spend more on our military than all the rest of the world together. How fearful must we be?
Question: Why is there so little talk of terrorism?
Apparently when a mentally unstable white male is accused, terrorism is not the first thing that comes to mind.
When Clay Duke, a white male, threatened Florida school board members with a gun and shot at them before shooting himself, in December 2010, he was mentally imbalanced.
When Michael Enright, a white male, was arrested for slashing the throat of a Muslim NYC cab driver in August of 2010, his friends said he had a drinking problem.
When Byron Williams, a white male, was arrested after opening fire on police officers and admitted he was on his way to kill people at offices of a liberal foundation and a civil liberties organization, in July 2010, he was an unemployed right wing felon with a drinking problem.
When Joe Stack, a white male, flew his private plane into a federal building in Austin, Texas, in February 2010, he was angry with the IRS.
When a white male is accused of mass murder, terrorism is not much talked of rather it becomes a terrible tragedy but not one where race or ethnicity or religion need be examined.
Now, if the accused had been Muslim, does anyone doubt whether this would have been considered an act of terrorism? US Muslims could have expected increased surveillance and harassment at home and the places where they work and worship. They could have expected a Congressional inquiry into the radicalization of their people. Oh, Representative Peter King (R-NY) has already started that one!
Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Contact Bill at email@example.com.
Friday, January 7, 2011
The details of a recent lawsuit, as reported by Business Week, shed some light on the ways in which contractors – including many of the same players who profited off of Katrina-related reconstruction – have continued to use their political connections to gain profits at the expense of those most in need, receiving contacts worth tens of millions of dollars while the Haitian people receive pennies at best.
Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development (US AID) was named US special coordinator for relief and reconstruction after the earthquake. He worked this job for a few months, then immediately moved to the private sector, where he could sell his contacts and connections to the highest bidder. He quickly got a $30,000-a-month (plus bonuses) contract with the Haiti Recovery Group (HRG). HRG was the name adopted by Ashbritt, Inc., a Florida-based contractor who had received acres of bad press for their post-Katrina contracting. Ashbritt’s partner in HRG is the GB Group, a conglomerate run by one of Haiti's wealthiest men, Gilbert Bigio.
Although Lucke received $60,000 for two months work, he is suing because he says he is owed an additional $500,000 for the more than 20-million dollars in contracts he helped HRG obtain during that time.
Ashbritt CEO Randal Perkins is a major donor to Republican causes, and hired Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s firm, as well as former FEMA chief Mike Parker, as lobbyists. As a reward for his political connections, Ashbritt won 900 million dollars in Post-Katrina contracts, helping them to become the poster child for political corruption in the world of disaster profiteering, even triggering a congressional investigation focusing on their buying of influence. MSNBC reported in early 2006 that criticism of Ashbritt “can be heard in virtually every coastal community between Alabama and Texas.”
The contracts given to Bush cronies like Ashbritt resulted in local and minority-owned companies losing out on reconstruction work. As Multinational Monitor noted shortly after Katrina, “by turning the contracting process over to prime contractors like Ashbritt, the Corps and FEMA have effectively privatized the enforcement of Federal Acquisition Regulations and disaster relief laws such as the Stafford Act, which require contracting officials to prioritize local businesses and give 5 percent of contracts to minority-owned businesses. As a result…early reports suggest that over 90 percent of the $2 billion in initial contracts was awarded to companies based outside of the three primary affected states, and that minority businesses received just 1.5 percent of the first $1.6 billion.”
As Corpwatch has reported, AshBritt “has enjoyed meteoric growth since it won its first big debris removal subcontract from none other than Halliburton, to help clean up after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.” In 1999, the company also faced allegations of double billing for $765,000 from the Broward County, Florida school board for clean-up done in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.
This massive disaster profiteering exemplified by Ashbritt is not just the result of sloppy and quick decision-making in the midst of a crisis, or work given to large companies with the most experience. These contracts are awarded as part of a corporate agenda that sees disaster as an opportunity, and in fact a tool for furthering policies that would not be possible in other times. Journalist and author Naomi Klein exposed evidence that within 24 hours of the earthquake, the influential right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation was already seeking to use the disaster as an attempt at further privatization of the country's economy.
Haitian poet and human rights lawyer Ezili Dantò has written, "Haiti's poverty began with a US/Euro trade embargo after its independence, continued with the Independence Debt to France and ecclesiastical and financial colonialism. Moreover, in more recent times, the uses of U.S. foreign aid, as administered through USAID in Haiti, basically serves to fuel conflicts and covertly promote US corporate interests to the detriment of democracy and Haitian health, liberty, sovereignty, social justice and political freedoms. USAID projects have been at the frontlines of orchestrating undemocratic behavior, bringing underdevelopment, coup d'etat, impunity of the Haitian Oligarchy, indefinite incarceration of dissenters, and destroying Haiti's food sovereignty essentially promoting famine."
Jeremy Scahill and Bill Quigley both commented on the ways Haiti and Katrina both served as staging grounds for increased involvement of mercenaries in reconstruction efforts. As one Blackwater mercenary told Scahill when he visited New Orleans in the days after Katrina, "This is a trend. You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations." It's likely we haven't seen the last of Ashbritt either.
Photo Above: Randal Perkins, CEO of AshBritt.
Seeking immediate help for a disabled man held since April in inhumane conditions at the Iberia Parish Correctional Center (“ICC”), the ACLU of Louisiana today submitted an emergency second request for relief on his behalf. Reginald Peters, who requires a wheelchair due to his muscular dystrophy and needs assistance for basic bodily functions, has been denied adequate medical care, forcing him to lie on the ground, unable to perform basic tasks such as going to the bathroom.
On November 29, 2010, the ACLU of Louisiana submitted an Administrative Remedy Procedure (“ARP”) on his behalf, demanding that he be moved to another prison facility with adequate medical care. Although prison officials promised to move Mr. Peters to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center for better care, Mr. Peters remains at ICC and his condition has worsened. He remains unable to attend to his basic bodily functions, must lie on the floor, and his muscles have continued to deteriorate. Today the ACLU submitted an Emergency Second Step ARP, as a step toward litigation if Mr. Peters is not transferred promptly.
“For over a month, officials in Iberia Parish have been on notice that they are forcing a disabled man to lie on the ground, without a mattress, unable to take care of his basic bodily needs,” said Katie Schwartzmann, Legal Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Mr. Peters has been forced to live under conditions that can truly be described as inhumane. He is forced to ask other prisoners to help him with basic needs like going to the bathroom or taking a bath. There is no excuse for denying basic medical care, or for the needless delay in transferring him to a facility where he can receive better care. Nobody should be subjected to the treatment that Mr. Peters has received in this jail.”
Schwartzmann and other ACLU staff members have made several trips to Iberia Parish Correctional Center to investigate Mr. Peters’ case. Although there is no known cure for muscular dystrophy, physical therapy is vital to slowing the progression of the disease. Without it, patients with some types of muscular dystrophy rapidly begin to lose muscle mass. This atrophy is oftentimes permanent and irreversible. Since being at ICC, Mr. Peters’ muscles have atrophied to the point of near complete loss of the use of his limbs.
This is not the first time that ICC has subjected a disabled inmate to inhumane conditions. In 2005, Nelson Landry sued over his denial of medical and other care at ICC. That case, Landry v. Hebert, resolved with Iberia Parish paying substantial damages to compensate Mr. Landry for his mistreatment.
Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said: “Iberia Parish should have learned that it cannot ignore the basic human needs of the people in its care. Apart from the human cost, the taxpayers of Iberia Parish should not have to pay the price in damages if their officials simply fail to provide care that is available.”
Copies of the ACLU's letters on behalf of Reginald Peters are available at these links:
Today six civil and human rights groups filed an emergency petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), to halt the roundups, detention, and imminent deportations of hundreds of Haitian nationals by the United States government. The petition, submitted by the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights and Immigration Clinics, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Alternative Chance, and the Loyola Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, argues that deporting people at this moment to Haiti, which is still reeling from the devastating January 2010 earthquake and is burdened with a massive cholera epidemic, political unrest, and rampant street violence, will result in serious human rights violations, including deprivations of the rights to life, family, and due process, and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.
Deportations from the U.S. to Haiti have been stayed on humanitarian grounds since the January 12, 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti. Advocates and community members were shocked when, on December 9, 2010, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unexpectedly announced that it was lifting the ban on deportations to Haiti for individuals with criminal convictions and that it would resume deportations in January 2011, the one-year anniversary of the earthquake.
“The U.S. Government is violating important human rights obligations,” said Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, Director of the Human Rights Clinic at University of Miami School of Law. “These deportations will compound a catastrophic public health and humanitarian crisis in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is simply unconscionable to resume deportations to Haiti on the one-year anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters in world history, especially as a cholera epidemic rages across the country.”
“The upshot of this abrupt change in policy,” said Sunita Patel, Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, “is that the Obama administration plans to deport Haitian nationals, many living and working in the community here with their families, to a country in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Since 2006, Haiti has detained people like the petitioners in overcrowded police holding cells without toilets, sinks or access to safe drinking water. The government’s actions will only put more people at risk of death.”
The petition asks the IACHR to order the U.S. to adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to the Haitians subject to imminent deportation. Specifically, the petition asks the U.S. to continue its stay of deportations, release the petitioners and grant “deferred action” status to all people facing removal. In addition, the petition asks that the U.S. government publicly release information about its decision to resume deportations to Haiti, and that the government publicly engage with the Haitian-American community before instituting policy changes that will dramatically affect community members.
The petition relies on information gathered from interviews by the Loyola Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice and Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center with Haitians detained in Louisiana. It also includes declarations from Michelle Karshan, the Director of Alternative Chance, and two doctors with extensive practice in Haiti, Dr. John May and Dr. Arthur Fournier. Together, these declarations paint a distressing picture of the disastrous consequences of these planned deportations.
Romy Lerner, Supervising Attorney at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center said, ”We are deeply concerned that this policy is tearing apart the Haitian community. Our petition alleges that the United States has violated the human rights of the Haitians who are at risk of imminent deportations by separating them from their families without considering their ties to the United States or the welfare of their U.S. citizen children. In Miami, the community is terrified of what is about to happen.”
“While the U.S. has often historically shirked its human rights obligations toward Haitian migrants, we hope our government will come to its senses and halt the planned deportations of the individuals whose stories are represented in this petition,” said Rebecca Sharpless, Director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.
To read the request for precautionary measures, go to this link.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The American Civil Liberties Union today submitted a request to Sheriff Marlin Gusman seeking public records documenting the studies he has generated or commissioned that justify his request for more than twice the number of jail beds than was recommended by a national expert using the Sheriff’s own data.
On November 16, 2010, the Criminal Justice Working Group appointed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu recommended authorization of a new Parish Prison facility to replace the existing Templeman III and IV sites, consisting of no more than 1438 prison beds. This figure was based in large part on a study commissioned by national expert Dr. James Austin, as well as public comments about the need to bring Orleans Parish in line with national best practices in prison reform.
Still unresolved is the ultimate use of city-owned property at Templeman I and II, and whether it will be used to construct additional beds beyond the 1438 recommended by the Working Group. With the Working Group continuing to address that issue, Sheriff Gusman continues to resist the recommended cap of 1438 beds.
“Sheriff Gusman insists that he needs additional prison beds despite the expert recommendations and the conclusion of the Working Group,” said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Yet he has never revealed the basis for his claims that 1438 beds is not enough. He should tell the public why the conclusions of the expert retained by the City are wrong, and why the recommendation of Working Group appointed by the Mayor should be disregarded.”
Among other things, the ACLU asks for studies, reports, or data in the Sheriff's possession that would identify an optimal size of the detention facilities. “The Working Group continues to meet, and must have access to all of the available information to make its final decision,” Esman said. “We continue to seek the basis for Gusman's claims that he needs more jail beds, because the people of New Orleans need to know that the decisions will be made based on data and expert recommendations.”
A copy of the ACLU’s request is available online here.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Today the ACLU of Louisiana requested records from the Caddo Parish School Board and Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle School, seeking information about handcuffing children at school. Acting in response to the handcuffing of a sixth grader four days after the child was hit by another student at the school bus stop, the ACLU wants to know why the child was handcuffed by the police at school, and why police action was taken days after the child was a victim of an attack by another student.
“School discipline problems should be resolved by school disciplinarians, not by turning a child into a criminal,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “A sixth grader is a child, not an adult. The police have no business enforcing rules of an elementary school, and schools have no business involving law enforcement in disciplinary matters.”
In this case, the child was ordered to the principal's office at Walnut Hill four days after he was assaulted, where he was greeted by the police who led him, in handcuffs, to his grandmother's car. “The only possible justification for the handcuffs was to humiliate or frighten the child, which is an abuse of law enforcement authority,” continued Esman.
In its public records requests to Walnut Hill and the Caddo Parish School Board, the ACLU seeks information about other incidents of handcuffing within the past two years, as well as copies of agreements with the Shreveport Police Department. “We want to know how often children are handcuffed at school,” said Esman.
On December 22, 2010 the ACLU requested documents from the Shreveport Police Department seeking its records of similar agreements and practices. Those documents have not yet been received.
Copies of the public records requests can be found here:
To Walnut Hill School.
To Caddo Parish School Board.
To Shreveport Police Department.