Friday, August 31, 2012

Mayor and Police Chief Still Silent in Response to NYPD spying in New Orleans

This article originally appeared in Louisiana Weekly.

Editor’s Note: Documents recently uncovered by Associated Press reveal that the New York City Police Department traveled to New Orleans in 2008 to conduct surveillance operations.

In a Pulitzer prize-winning series of investigations over the past year, the Associated Press revealed that the New York City Police Department was conducting spying operations on U.S. citizens across several states, including as far away as here in New Orleans. However, the difference in how cities have responded to the revelations highlights much of what is wrong with our local political system, criminal justice system, and even media.

Compare New Orleans to Ne­wark, New Jersey. When evidence of New York City spying activities was uncovered, it became a major story across New Jersey print and TV. Here in New Orleans, The Louisiana Weekly was the only outlet to cover the story (although the Times-Picayune did reprint the Associated Press story).

In New Jersey, politicians from across the political spectrum were quick to condemn the spying program. New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, told reporters that he was angered by the spying. “I don’t know if this NYPD action was born out of arrogance, or out of paranoia, or out of both,” he declared at a press conference. On the Democrat side, Newark mayor Cory Booker called the spying program “offensive,” and his police chief Samuel DeMaio assured residents that “this type of activity is not what the Newark PD would ever do.”

When Mayor Landrieu and Superintendent Serpas were asked for their comment on the actions of the NYPD, both appeared to be completely in the dark, and displayed little curiosity. “To be honest with you, I think that’s the first I’m ever hearing that,” said Serpas when asked at a recent press conference. “So I don’t know anything about it one way or another. I might have to catch up.”

“I hadn’t heard about it,” agreed Mayor Landrieu, speaking at the same press event. When asked if he approved of the NYPD actions, Landrieu commented, “I don’t like getting spied on,” but had no further comment.

Ryan Berni, the mayor’s director of communications, refused all follow-up requests for comment. When asked if the mayor’s office has any comment or opinion on the story, he gave this three-word answer: “We do not.”

In response to follow-up inquiries, NOPD spokesperson Frank Robertson told me, “we have researched this incident and in no way is it documented in our records.” When pressed, via email, for any opinion on the appropriateness of another city’s police department conducting surveillance activities in New Orleans, Robertson added this cryptic phrase: “Surveillance is the epicenter on crime fighting initiatives.”

This cavalier attitude is cause for concern. Mayor Landrieu has made police reform a centerpiece of his administration’s focus. When our mayor and police chief show that they don’t care about their citizens’ civil rights, and when our media and politicians treat these violations less seriously than it would be treated in other cities, it adds to New Orleans’ status as a “second-class” city, and gives all of us, as residents, second-class rights. Until we have a mayor and police chief take these issues seriously, reform of our criminal justice system will remain stunted.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seven Years After Katrina, A Divided City, By Jordan Flaherty

A version of this article originally appeared on
Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has become a national laboratory for government reforms. But the process through which those experiments have been carried out rarely has been transparent or democratic. The results have been divisive, pitting new residents against those who grew up here, rich against poor, and white against Black.

Education, housing, criminal justice, health care, urban planning, even our media; systemic changes have touched every aspect life in New Orleans, often creating a template used in other cities. A few examples:

- In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, more than 7,500 employees in city’s public school system were fired, despite the protection of union membership and a contract. Thousands of young teachers, many affiliated with programs like Teach For America, filled the empty slots. As charters took over from traditional public schools, the city became what then-superintendent Paul Vallas called the first 100% free market public school system in the US. A judge recently found that the mass firings were illegal, but any resolution will likely be tied up in appeals for years.

- Every public housing development has either been partially or entirely torn down. The housing authority now administers more than 17,000 vouchers – nearly double the pre-Katrina amount –a massive privatization of a formerly public system. During this period, rents have risen dramatically across the city.

- The US Department of Justice has spent three years in negotiations with city government over reform of the police department. The historic consent decree that came out of these negotiations mandates vast changes in nearly every aspect of the NOPD and some aspects could serve as a model for departments across the US. But organizations that deal with police violence, as well as the city’s independent police monitor, have filed legal challenges to the agreement, stating that they were left out of the negotiations and that as a result, the final document lacks community oversight.

- As the city loses its daily paper, an influx of funding has arrived to support various online media projects – including $880,000 from George Soros to one website. In a city that is still majority African-American, the staff of these new media ventures is almost entirely white, and often politically conservative. These funders – many of whom consider themselves progressive - have mostly ignored the city’s Black media, which have a proud history of centuries of local resistance to the dominant narrative. Publications like Louisiana Weekly covered police violence and institutional racism when the daily paper was not interested. Wealthy liberals are apparently still not interested.

There is wide agreement that most of our government services have long deep, systemic problems. But in rebuilding New Orleans, the key question is not only how much change is needed, but more crucially, who should dictate that change.

New Orleans has become a destination for a new class of residents drawn by the allure of being able to conduct these experiments. For a while, they self-identified as YURPs (Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals).  Now they are frequently known as “social entrepreneurs,” and they have wealthy and powerful allies. Warren Buffet has invested in the redevelopment of public housing. Oprah Winfrey and the Walton family have donated to the charter schools. Attorney General Holder came to town to announce police department reforms. President Obama has visited several times, despite the fact that this state is not remotely in play for Democrats.

Many residents – especially in the Black community – have felt disenfranchised in the new New Orleans. They see the influx of college graduates who have come to start nonprofits and run our schools and redesign our neighborhoods as disaster profiteers, not saviors. You can hear it every day on WBOK, the city’s only Black-owned talk radio station, and read about it in the Louisiana Weekly, Data News, and New Orleans Tribune, the city’s Black newspapers. This new rebuilding class is seen as working in alliance with white elites to disenfranchise a shrinking Black majority. Callers and guests on WBOK point to the rapid change in political representation: Among the political offices that have shifted to white after a generation in Black hands are the mayor, police chief, district attorney, and majorities on the school board and city council.

In a recent cover story in the Tribune, journalist Lovell Beaulieu compares the new rebuilding class to the genocide of Native Americans. “520 years after the Indians discovered Columbus, a similar story is unfolding,” writes Beaulieu. “New arrivals from around the United States and the world are landing here to get a piece of the action that is lucrative post-Katrina New Orleans…Black people are merely pawns in a game with little clout and few voices. Their primary role is to be the ones who get pushed out, disregarded and forgotten.”

People hear the term “blank slate,” a term often used to describe post-Katrina New Orleans – as a way of erasing the city’s long history of Black-led resistance to white supremacy. As New Orleans poet and educator Kalamu Ya Salaam has said, “it wasn’t a blank slate, it was a cemetery.” Where some new arrivals see opportunity, many residents see grave robbers.  In response, those who find anything to praise in the old ways are often accused of being stuck in the past or embracing corruption.

Hurricane Isaac has demonstrated that New Orleans is still at risk from storms – although the flood protection system around the city seems to be more reliable than it was before the levees failed and eighty percent of New Orleans was underwater. But have the systemic problems that were displayed to the world seven years ago been fixed by the radical changes the city has seen? Is reform possible without the consent of those most affected by those changes? These are polarizing questions in the new New Orleans.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Katrina Pain Index 2012: 7 Years After, By Bill Quigley and Davida Finger

1          Rank of New Orleans in fastest growing US cities between 2010 and 2011.  Source: Census Bureau.

1          Rank of New Orleans, Louisiana in world prison rate.  Louisiana imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of the other 50 states.  Louisiana rate is five times higher than Iran, 13 times higher than China and 20 times Germany.  In Louisiana, one in 86 adults is in prison.  In New Orleans, one in 14 black men is behind bars.  In New Orleans, one of every seven black men is in prison, on parole or on probation.  Source: Times-Picayune.

2          Rank of New Orleans in rate of homelessness among US cities.  Source: 2012 Report of National Alliance to End Homelessness.

2          Rank of New Orleans in highest income inequality for cities of over 10,000   Source: Census.

3          Days a week the New Orleans daily paper, the Times-Picayune, will start publishing and delivering the paper this fall and switch to internet only on other days.  (See 44 below).  Source: The Times-Picayune.

10        Rate that New Orleans murders occur compared to US average.  According to FBI reports, the national average is 5 murders per 100,000.  The Louisiana average is 12 per 100,000.  The New Orleans reported 175 murders last year or 50 murders per 100,000 residents.  Source: WWL TV.

13        Rank of New Orleans in FBI overall crime rate rankings.  Source: Congressional Quarterly.

15        Number of police officer-involved shootings in New Orleans so far in 2012.  In all of 2011 there were 16.  Source: Independent Police Monitor.

21        Percent of all residential addresses in New Orleans that are abandoned or blighted.   There were 35,700 abandoned or blighted homes and empty lots in New Orleans (21% of all residential addresses), a reduction from 43,755 in 2010 (when it was 34% of all addresses).  Compare to Detroit (24%), Cleveland (19%), and Baltimore (14%).  Source: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC).  

27        Percent of people in New Orleans live in poverty.  The national rate is 15%.  Among African American families the rate is 30% and for white families it is 8%.  Source: Corporation for Enterprise Development (CEFD) and Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC) Assets & Opportunity Profile: New Orleans (August 2012).

33        Percent of low income mothers in New Orleans study who were still suffering Post Traumatic Stress symptoms five years after Katrina.  Source: Princeton University Study.

34        Bus routes in New Orleans now.  There were 89 before Katrina. Source: RTA data.

37        Percent of New Orleans families that are “asset poor” or lack enough assets to survive for three months without income.  The rate is 50% for black households, 40% for Latino household, 24% for Asian household and 22% for white households.  Source: Corporation for Enterprise Development (CEFD) and Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC) Assets & Opportunity Profile: New Orleans (August 2012

40        Percent of poor adults in New Orleans region that work. One quarter of these people work full-time and still remain poor.  Source: GNOCDC.

42        Percent of the children in New Orleans who live in poverty. The rate for black children is 65 percent compared to less than 1 percent for whites.  Source: Census.

44        Rank of Louisiana among the 50 states in broadband internet access.  New Orleans has 40 to 60 percent access.  Source: The Lens.

60        Percent of New Orleans which is African American.  Before Katrina the number was 67.  Source: GNOCDC.

60        Percent of renters in New Orleans are paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, up from 51 percent in 2004.  Source: GNOCDC.

68        Percent of public school children in New Orleans who attend schools that pass state standards.  In 2003-2004 it was 28 percent.  Source: GNOCDC.

75        Percent of public school students in New Orleans who are enrolled in charter schools.  Source: Wall Street Journal.    This is the highest percentage in the US by far, with District of Columbia coming in second at 39 percent.  Sources: Wall Street Journal and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

76        Number of homes rebuilt by Make It Right Foundation.  Source: New York Times.

123,934           Fewer people in New Orleans now than in 2000.  The Census reported the 2011 population of New Orleans source as 360,740.  The 2000 population was 484,674.  Source: Census.

Bill and Davida teach at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.  A version of this article with complete sources is available.  The authors give special thanks to Allison Plyer of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.  You can reach Bill at

Friday, August 17, 2012

Is It Time For The Bounce Vote?

New Orleans hip-hop artist Tenth Ward Buck, a legendary New Orleans bounce music artist, announced today that he has qualified for a spot on the ballot for the city council election in District B, the seat formerly held by Stacy Head. He is one of several candidates who have declared their intentions in the race, including longtime community advocate Dana Kaplan, director of Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.

Tenth Ward Buck has achieved fame on multiple fronts. He is best known as a musician who's career has spanned decades - his biggest hit is "Drop And Gimme 50," which became a national hit when it was covered by Mike Jones. He also has a restaurant, called Finger Lick'n Wings, that he is in the process of rebranding to turn it into a bounce-themed restaurant. The past year also saw the release of a play and film based on his book Definition of Bounce. The play, book and film tell a personal history of bounce music, a community's history told through the perspective of Buck's life. Buck has also appeared in several films, beginning with a role in Dead Man Walking, and directed the award-winning film A Katrina Story, a powerful short film that was shot by Buck in the days after Hurricane Katrina, as he traveled from a flooded home in New Orleans East, to his evacuation to Houston and later return to New Orleans. Buck also has a strong community reputation for his work in support of local youth.

Without funding or major political backing, his candidacy is an uphill struggle, but Buck has never hesitated to try the impossible, and he has an audience and fans. His shows and festivals like the annual Bounce Fest, one of many community projects he helps organize with longtime collaborator Lucky Johnson, have shown the Buck has a large constituency. If someone could turn the bounce community into a voting block, they would be a candidate to reckon with.

Buck, whose name will appear on the ballot as Marlon J. Horton, submitted his paperwork just over an hour before the qualifying deadline, and says he was still receiving contributions for the filing fee up until the final minutes. Dana Kaplan of JJPL, LaToya Cantrell, a community leader from the Broadmoor neighborhood, Eric Strachan, former Chief of Staff for Stacy Head, and Donald Vallee, a vocal advocate for landlords and opponent of affordable housing, also qualified for the ballot. The election will be on November 6.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Unprecedented, Massive Cuts Devastate University of New Orleans

While barely covered in the local media, the University of New Orleans is facing another round of brutal and devastating cuts, quickly transforming an already-under-resourced school into a shadow of its former self. Below is a letter from UNO President Peter Fos outlining some of the cuts. While this letter attempts to spin positives out of the situation, the basic facts are clear: public education at every level in Louisiana is under the most major attack in our state's history.

To: All Faculty, Staff and Students
From: Peter J. Fos, President
Date: August 14, 2012
Re: Budget Reduction Plan

I am announcing the University’s budget reduction and savings plan that will total approximately $12 million by the end of the current fiscal year. The cuts are due to a reduction in the University’s state appropriation of $9.3 million and increases in retirement costs, fringe benefits and other mandated expenses as well as an expected moderate decline in enrollment for the fall 2012 semester.

These represent the most significant budget cuts in the history of our institution. We undertook this process with great deliberation, intent on preserving the academic core of the University. We solicited feedback from both academic and non-academic  personnel. And we were still faced with some very difficult choices. I am disappointed that that we have been forced to eliminate instructor and staff positions, but we simply didn’t have any choice. We remain committed to maintaining academic quality and giving our students the best university experience possible.

The University’s total operating budget this year totals approximately $111 million. Although state approved tuition increases allowed under the LA Grad Act have increased self-generated revenue to $71 million of the school’s budget, these adjustments have not been sufficient enough to offset an overall decline in state support to the University.

The budget reduction plan includes incentivized faculty retirements (projected to be approximately 25), incentivized classified staff retirements (projected to be approximately 28), elimination of vacant faculty positions (30), terminal contracts to faculty (5), elimination of funding for graduate assistantships (26) and elimination of non-classified staff (16, including 5 in administration), resulting in a cumulative savings of $3.3 million.

Other savings will be achieved through several approaches including:

•             Mandatory annual leave for seven days for staff and administrators. This will allow the University to close buildings during Spring Break and Lundi Gras to save on utilities (expected savings of $100,000).
•             Outsourcing the University bookstore. This is expected to be completed by December 2012(pending approval of University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors). The immediate impact will be a cash savings of $500,000.
•             Anticipated lease of university property to third party (pending approval of University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors); expected to bring in $100,000 to $120,000 annually.
•             Reduction in adjunct faculty budget ($250,000)
•             Reduction in travel expenditures by 47% ($329,000)
•             One million dollar contribution from the UNO Foundation to the general scholarship fund

The remainder of the shortfall will be made up through a series of efficiencies and increases in self-generated revenue.

This process has been especially difficult because of the cumulative effects of the budget cuts over the past several years. Since January of 2009, our state appropriation has been cut approximately $28 million. But as you can see by the measures we are taking, we are not simply cutting our way out of this predicament. We have also identified areas where we can generate revenue to help offset the cuts.

I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff, and I am thankful for our talented and diverse students. UNO has a history of overcoming obstacles and, while this challenge may be unprecedented, we will certainly persevere once again.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Coalition of Black and Latina Women, Women from Arizona, Demand Sheriff Stop Submitting to Immigration Hold Requests

From our friends at the Congress of Day Laborers:
A delegation of undocumented women from Arizona will join local immigrants and civil rights leaders from Women United for Justice, in demanding that Sheriff Gusman stop holding undocumented immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The visit will happen Thursday, August 9, at 1:30pm at the office of Sheriff Marlin Gusman, 819 South Broad Street.

The delegation is part of Women United for Justice, a group of New Orlean women of all races and backgrounds organizing against over-incarceration and deportation of communities, families, and children. They will join an Arizona delegation, part of the ‘No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice,’ a group of undocumented immigrants traveling across the south working for immigrant rights. They will bring the example of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious treatment of undocumented immigrants, and ask Sheriff Marlin Gusman to stand on the right side of history.

The delegation includes undocumented women from Arizona, part of the ‘No Papers No Fear’ Ride for Justice, a journey that began in Phoenix, Arizona on July 29th; Deliny Palencia, member of the Congress of Day Laborers and local leader who was unconstitutionally held by the Sheriff’s department; Latoya Lewis, organizer with Stand with Dignity, New Orleans.

The Sheriff’s submission to immigration hold requests has led to numerous, grave, constitutional violations and a deterioration of trust between the immigrant community and local authorities. The Sheriff could follow in the footsteps of Cook County, Washington D.C. and the state of Connecticut, and no longer use city resources to divide families and deteriorate civil rights. This is an opportunity for the Sheriff to hear how people in Arizona have been affected by implementation of similar policies, and to chose to be on the right side of history.

Actions by undocumented students, such as coming out of the shadows events and civil disobedience actions, have demonstrated the power and results of communities acting and speaking for themselves. The riders are undocumented people  from all over the country and their allies, including mothers, fathers, day laborers, people in deportation proceedings, students, and many others who continue to face threats of deportation, harassment, and death while simply looking for a better life in the only nation many of them know and call home.

More information on the No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice is at

Monday, August 6, 2012

New Policy at Charter School in Delhi Louisiana Forces Out Students Suspected of Pregnancy

NOTE: See below for update.

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:

The ACLU issued a letter today to the administration at Delhi Charter School in Delhi, Louisiana in response to its Student Pregnancy Policy. The policy requires female students even suspected of being pregnant to submit to a pregnancy exam – and if they are pregnant or refuse to take the test, it forces them out of school.

The pregnancy policy it states that if a teacher or administrator suspects a female student of being pregnant (whether she is pregnant or not) the school can require her to have a pregnancy test and even select the physician. If the student is pregnant, according to the plan, “the student will not be permitted to attend classes on the campus of Delhi Charter School…and will be required to pursue a course of home study.” It goes on to state further, “Any student who is suspected of being pregnant and who refuses to submit to a pregnancy test shall be treated as a pregnant student and will be offered home study opportunities. If home study opportunities are not acceptable, the student will be counseled to seek other educational opportunities.”

“The pregnancy policy violates the rights of every girl at Delhi Charter School, ” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU.  “Every girl is at risk of being subject to intrusive medical testing, and possibly forced out of school, for reasons that have nothing to do with her education.”

Delhi’s policy stands in violation of, among other things:

·         Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its implementing regulations because it excludes students from educational programs and activities on the basis of sex.

·         The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it treats female students differently than male students and because it relies on impermissible sex stereotypes

·         The right to procreate, and to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy

·         The Due Process Clause of the Constitution by imposing the presumption that pregnant students are unable to continue to attend classes.

Esman says the policy is just a pretext for sex discrimination. “It is based on the archaic and pernicious stereotype that a girl’s pregnancy sets a ‘bad example’ for her peers.” The law is clear that no one can be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in education on the basis of sex,’” Esman said. She says the policy subjects all and, of course, only female students to the possibility of mandatory pregnancy testing, based on a subjective ‘suspicion’ that they might be pregnant. “Male students who might also have engaged in sexual activity or be expecting children are not subjected to similar action or risk,” says Esman.

“The right to attend school and to participate fully in activities cannot be denied a student simply because she is, or may be, pregnant,” said Galen Sherwin of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.  “Pregnancy is not a disease, and schools may not treat it that way.  To force a student to home study simply because she is pregnant is to deny her the equal right to a full education.  The administrators of Delhi Charter School should be ashamed that they seek to deprive students of the benefits of going to school every day.”

In addition to its discrimination against girls, the policy is unlawfully vague and subjective by stating that “all students will learn and exhibit acceptable character traits that govern language, gestures, physical actions, and written words.”  “This provision, which clearly trenches on protected speech and expression, fails to define ‘acceptable character traits,’ leaving students of common intelligence [to] necessarily guess at its meaning. It fails to regulate First Amendment freedoms ‘with narrow specificity,’ rendering it impermissibly vague and in violation of the First Amendment.”

The ACLU of Louisiana issued the letter to the Delhi Charter School in hopes they revise the policy so that it complies with the U.S. Constitution and Federal law.  The letter asks the school to suspend the policy until it is revised and to notify parents and students of the policy change. Esman says if Delhi refuses to incorporate the changes the ACLU of Louisiana will consider taking further legal action, including filing a lawsuit or a complaint with the appropriate state or federal enforcement agencies.

UPDATE:  On Thursday, August 9, Delhi Charter School announced that it will eliminate the policy that required female students even suspected of being pregnant to submit to a pregnancy exam and forced them out of school if they refused or tested positive. Delhi Charter School President Albert Christman claimed that the policy was intended to protect students from ridicule and harassment. The school rescinded the policy after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana.