New Orleans and Policing

CCR, in partnership with the New Orleans-based community organization Safe Streets/Safe Communities, recently sponsored a national hearing entitled, “New Orleans Coming Home: Law Enforcement in the Reconstruction.” Prominent representatives of several national organizations – and the House Judiciary Committee – came together to hear compelling testimony from advocates and members of the community on how increased policing has had an enormous negative impact on poor communities of color as they attempt to re-settle in the storm-ravaged city of New Orleans.

CCR has a long history of fighting unjust law enforcement, as we understand that policing overwhelmingly targets communities of color as well as LGBT and poor communities. We are committed to fighting the injustices of the law enforcement and criminal justice systems, whether we’re suing the NYPD for racial profiling, defending the rights of political prisoners, or protesting unfair and illegal prison conditions.

In the upcoming months, CCR and Safe Streets will jointly issue a report on how policing has negatively affected the reconstruction of New Orleans, based on the hearing and the witnesses who testified.

In New Orleans Post-Katrina, as the residents made clear, aggressive law enforcement tactics plus government partnerships with private interests have taken the place of sound public policy and community economic development.

The members of the panel (list of panelists attached below) were visibly moved as witness after witness recounted harrowing accounts of harassment, brutality, and police killings; consistent targeting of youth of color for minor infractions and school incidents; exploitation of day laborers by employers and law enforcement in collusion; and the use of the police to intimidate and otherwise mistreat residents of so-called “mixed-income” housing developments in an effort to drive low-income residents out.

Mental Health

The closing of the city’s only public hospital, Charity Hospital, has resulted in the detention of people with psychiatric disabilities with no opportunity for assessment and treatment. The Hon. Calvin Johnson, a criminal court judge in New Orleans, tearfully testified that he is forced to advise families with mentally ill loved ones in crisis to call the police: in response, he now presides over an innovative New Orleans Mental Health Court that addresses the specific needs of people in the criminal justice system with mental health issues. But the judge was clearly troubled at the funneling of these individuals into the prisons and jails due solely to a lack of resources and services.

The most moving testimony came from Yvette Thierry, a nurse whose brother-in-law was killed by the police in 2006. Suffering from mental health issues and in need of non-existent medical care, he was in crisis when the police arrived at his mother’s home. After a 20-hour standoff, during which the police claimed to have been fired upon, he was killed in a hail of bullets. The coroner’s report found no evidence of gunpowder residue on the victim.

Education and Schools
Although only a fraction of school-aged youth has been able to return to New Orleans schools, through its Recovery School District program, the city has paid $20 million to a private security firm to install metal detectors and maintain a heavy security presence in elementary and middle schools as well as high schools. Both private guards and New Orleans police officers are stationed there. This investment in security comes at the expense of devoting resources to the educational system, one in which 25-year-olds are being forced to pass standardized tests in order to graduate from high school. Incredibly, the authority of school administrators is usurped by these firms when school-based incidents occur, leaving them powerless to intervene and prevent arrests of young men and women of color.

Public housing developments that were destroyed by Katrina have been replaced with properties that the landlords and the police are intent on seeing converted to high-rent dwellings. Landlords and police, working together, are clearly dedicated to ridding the developments of their low-income residents. Under a federal project called HOPE VI, River Gardens was created to replace the St. Thomas housing project. However, under the guise of “police protection,” residents of River Gardens have been threatened with eviction for minor or perceived incidents and are harassed on a daily basis by the police. It is clear that the goal of this harassment is for these residents to leave.

Jobs and Immigration
Bartolo Flores, a day laborer who frequently gathers with fellow laborers seeking work, testified to constant harassment by the police and their inability to report incidents when they are not paid for the work they perform. Because both the NOPD and the unethical employers are aware of the day laborers’ fear of the police, this amounts to a tacit approval of – and collaboration in – the exploitation of the workers by law enforcement and private industry.

Panelists included:
•        Vincent Warren, CCR Executive Director
•        LaShawn Warren, Oversight Counsel, House Judiciary Committee
•        Ajamu Baraka, U.S. Human Rights Network
•        Judith Browne-Dianis, Advancement Project
•        Eric Balaban, ACLU National Prison Project
•        Dr. Ron Daniels, Institute of the Black World 21st Century
•        Preston Gilstrap, National Black Police Association
•        Lisa Kung, Southern Center for Human Rights
•        Rickke Manzala and Gloria Ross, FIERCE NY
•        Jose Javier Rodriguez, Florida Legal Services

Last modified 

November 26, 2007