I’m speaking at today’s march for five minutes, a task for which I feel utterly inadequate. I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts. Here’s what I’m planning to say:

Helen Hill was a close personal friend of mine, and her murder affected me deeply. Helen’s funeral took place yesterday in South Carolina, and today we’re marching in New Orleans. But make no mistake: We’re not marching just for Helen Hill. We’re marching for Dick Shavers. We’re marching for Jealina Brown. We’re marching for Steve Blair and Corey Hayes and Eddy Saint Fleur and Monier Gindy. We’re marching for Don Morgan and Larry Glover and Mike Frey. We’re marching for Preston Turner, a 15-year-old child who was gunned down in broad daylight on the street corner near my house in Mid-City, back in 2004. And does anybody remember that day in June of 2004 where nine people were killed by guns in just over 24 hours?

This is not a new problem. It’s not a Katrina problem. Katrina just provided a momentary interruption. This wave of violent crime has been on the rise for years and it had left us feeling sad and scared and very, very angry. I’m still sad, but they tell me you learn to cope with that. I’m still scared but anyone who’s lived in New Orleans for a while knows you learn to cope with that too. But the anger sticks around. And that’s why we’re here. Fear keeps you in your house, but anger drives you out into the streets.

But there’s another feeling that doesn’t get talked about as much and that’s shame. I think we all feel a sense of shame — or we should — because this murderous violent society is our society.

Fueling our anger is the perception that our leaders do not share our fear and our sense of shame. And so today I want to say shame on you, Mayor Nagin, Superintendent Riley, District Attorney Jordan. You’ve really let us down. You have failed us. The criminal justice system and the government is broken. And I want to communicate to you the level of outrage that my friends and neighbors are feeling, because we don’t think you get it. Families that have lived in New Orleans for over 300 years are talking about leaving. People displaced by the flood are saying they are afraid to come back. That is the level of hopelessness and despair. They’d like you to step up and just do your jobs — but they don’t think you can. They’d like you to step down and resign — but they’re afraid you’d be replaced with equally incompetent people. Many of my neighbors believe that we need to see the federal government step in and literally take over New Orleans, or at least the criminal justice system. The feeling seems to be that even FEMA couldn’t screw up any worse than we have. At first I thought that was a joke. But it seems more possible every day, and there’s nothing funny about that.

Leaders, you need to do something that many of us think you can’t do. You need to be honest. You need to admit that what you’re doing isn’t working, and plan a return to true community policing. I’ve got an article here from six years ago that praises New Orleans as a model for how to reduce violent crime. Between 1994 and 1999 the murder rate here went down 65%. The credit goes to something called community policing, decentralizing personnel into neighborhoods, with increased responsibilities and accountability for district commanders. Of course to do community policing we will need more police, and that means better pay, so that a cop can get assigned to just one or two zones and really get to know that neighborhood, and neighbors can know them. Let’s get back to that.

But we also need to think of creative solutions outside traditional law enforcement strategies. We desperately need to experiment with some kind of decriminalization, to eliminate the black market for drugs. Some will say that’s too radical, but we say there’s nothing too radical when the stakes are this high.

Of course we want action, not rhetoric. Above all we want results. We must have a higher felony conviction rate. The national average is 57%. Our current rate is 7%. We must see a reduction in crime, and especially violent crime, and that is the bottom line. But how will we know whether or not this is being achieved? That is why we must have full, independently audited, disclosure of crime statistics.

We know that law enforcement alone can’t solve these problems. We need long-term solutions too. We must have better schools. We must have an economy beyond tourism. We must pay workers a living wage. We must fight racism and classism. It will take all of us. It will take community involvement. Well, look around. The community IS involved. And we will stay involved. To our political class: You’re on notice. We will be watching.

Edit: Just after I posted this, my old boss and friend Todd S. called me and advised that the final sentences (about coming back to City Hall with pitchforks and torches to “burn the castle down”) hit a discordant note. He was right. I deleted that portion immediately. Thanks, Todd.

Update: I will apparently be bringing this message to Anderson Cooper 360 tonite. CNN, show at 9PM, I’m on at 9:20 or so. That’s Central time. I’ll try to rise to the occasion.

Update: Geoffrey posted audio of all the speakers at the rally. Scout Prime posted the video of Editor B on AC 360.

  1. Your passion, compassion, determination are inspiring. It’s people like you–like all of you who had the courage to march today–who will bring New Orleans back from the brink.

    From where I sit, far from New Orleans these days, it all looks so overwhelming. I can’t imagine what things are like in the thick of it. Thank you for sticking it out and for saying what needs to be said.

    I pray it makes a difference.

    Robyn in Austin

  2. Bart, you made me tear up. I was three feet in front of the podium trying to get a god shot with my crappy little cameraphone and you brought tears to my eyes. I do not dissemble when I say that JFK could not have done it better, and the pure unbridled emotion in your voice lay to rest any possible thought of your insincerity.

    I want you to know that there was some really great visual puctuation. When you hitthe line about “even FEMA could nt screw up worse,” Nagin got a auseous expression on his face, turned away and wiped sweat from his brow. You nailed him. Hard.

    You also nailed me hard, especially with the comment about families here for 300 years. It felt as though you were speaking directly to me.

    Bravo, kudos, high marks!

  3. Sorry I missed your speech B, but from what I’ve read you’re spot on with every relevant point. Couldn’t release myself from work to join ya’ll. Even though I live in the Westbank I’d have been there for sure. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a video of it somewhere including the entire event, right? To see the expression on Nagin’s face would be a bonus.

  4. Your presentation and that of Karen Gadbois were the best. Congratulations on your courage and boldness in criticizing the public officials standing just a few feet from you. They deserved it, and they need to hear it.

  5. Thanks for all the praises, but it must be said that I just repeated back what I’ve been hearing from my neighbors in Mid-City and friends around New Orleans. I hate playing the “angry white man” — I really do. Despite the great outpouring of support and community, I did not enjoy this task. But I said what I thought needed to be said.

  6. Bart,

    Thank you for saying all the things you said today at the rally. It was very brave of you to make those statements with all of the city “leaders” standing nearby. I think many people probably feel like I do – that you said a lot of things I’ve been wishing I could communicate to City Hall.

    Great job, and I’m sorry about the loss of your friend. I too feel great loss about the current state of our society.

    Keith Scarmuzza

  7. B, I was there. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It was perfect. Your courage in saying it was an inspiration. I will remember it for the rest of my life.

    I’m so proud of you.

  8. A powerful, heartfelt, and eloquent speech that brought tears to my eyes.

    Need more folks like those today who wore it on their sleeve!
    Don’t let NOLA die!

  9. Will the march commemorating the lives of our friends and loved ones be cover for Riley, Nagin, and Blanco to institute police terror?

    Yesterday I have had three disturbing encounters with police.

    The first encounter was at 3 PM. I was driving to the library when I noticed the road was blocked by Humvees. Eight cops were busy maintaining law and order at the neighborhood high school, mostly by blocking the ingress and egress of traffic and shooing the teens away so as to ensure any fights happen off school premises.

    The second encounter was the most disturbing. On the way to a friends house I was stopped at a police checkpoint. As I exited the I-10 at Carrolton I saw a cop car with its lights off pulled over on the shoulder. It was 8 PM. I was asked to pull over so that the police could check my vehicle for any obvious minor infractions. You see, this gives them a chance to é─˙sweaté─¨ you, looking for any signs of nervousness which they then claim is probable cause for a search. While calmly waiting, I counted EIGHTEEN police cars plus a paddy wagon in the vicinity. Car 3129 from the 2nd, car 279, Traffic 232, cars 3807, and 3812 were and many more. Anger boiled over. é─˙This is bullshité─¨ leaped out of my mouth. I couldné─˘t believe é─˙You just want to push people out of New Orleans.é─¨ Officer Williams verbally communicated a court date and I was given an illegible copy of a citation. I guess Ié─˘d better do the research to see what Ié─˘m being charged with. I could not believe it.

    Then finally getting home at night and beginning to calm down, I see a black and white cruising down the residential street at what must be 50 mph. No siren, no lights, no reason to be flaunting the law. But again, this is New Orleans.

    New Orleans has a police problem. In one of the most historically corrupt police departments, it is a MISTAKE to give these jackbooted thugs more power. These are the same police that murdered Delgado College student Jenard Thomas in the ninth ward less than a year before Katrina. Ité─˘s no wonder regular people in many neighborhoods hate the cops. Random checkpoints and issuing more traffic citations- even issuing more DUI and simple drug possession charges- will not address the systemic problems that cause violent crime in our city. If anything it will just create more fear among the populace- fear each other and fear of the police.

    Louisiana already has a higher incarceration rate that China under Mao. As of 2005, Atlanta has 354 police per 100,000 residents. Boston had 367, Oakland had 176. ***New Orleans already has 608 police per 100,000 residents***

    Random checkpoints between 2-6AM, random checkpoints any time of day or night, talk of curfews. When will it end? We have to stop the politicians before our city is negatively transformed and we wake up in a police state.

    ______________________________________________________
    SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

    ACLU says get tough on crime and protect our freedom; checkpoints, FEMA lists & cameras will not make us any safer, only less free

    Strengthen communities and families and rebuild support structures.
    Independent oversight of police needed to root out bad guys, build trust

    For immediate release January 10, 2007: Contact Joe Cook at
    504-522-0628

    NEW ORLEANS-In response to the severe crime problem in New Orleans, the ACLU
    of Louisiana says get tough and lawfully target known criminals, while
    respecting and protecting our constitutional freedoms. At the same time,
    independent oversight of the police is needed more than ever to help root
    out the unfit and build trust with the public. Furthermore, we call on
    public officials to engage in preventative measures to strengthen
    communities and families and rebuild support structures.

    “Use smart policing to lawfully target known murderers, rapists, robbers,
    and assaulters and bring them to justice,” said Joe Cook, Executive
    Director, ACLU of Louisiana. “Simultaneously, Chief Riley needs to act
    quickly and decisively to make sure officers are fit for duty or remove them
    from the force, so people will cooperate and have confidence in the system.”

    Immediately, public officials need to get down to business with some common
    sense alternatives to their failed ‘get tough on crime’ tactics of the past.
    That has led Louisiana to have one of the highest crime and incarceration
    rates in the world. As such, higher numbers of arrests will not necessarily
    make us safer, but precise targeting of individual serious and violent
    offenders can help. The problem with our criminal justice system is not
    softness but low apprehension rates in that 85% of offenders are never
    caught.

    The ACLU strongly opposes the automobile checkpoints as announced by Mayor
    Nagin and Chief Riley at yesterday’s press conference. Police will just
    waste valuable time on a fishing expedition, instead of using credible leads
    to pursue known bad actors. Checkpoints to gather general evidence of
    criminal wrongdoing have been declared unconstitutional. Innocent people
    should not have to suffer even more with the loss of their right to travel
    freely.

    Likewise, Senator Landrieu should scuttle her proposal to make FEMA violate
    a federal privacy law and give identifying information of aid recipients to
    the police. People who have lost their homes and live in a trailer should
    not have to lose their privacy as well. No evidence has been presented to
    show that disclosure of the sought after information would aid in fighting
    crime. The federal law at issue protects all FEMA aid recipients from going
    into a criminal database, which includes virtually everybody in the New
    Orleans metro area. Turning innocent people’s social security numbers and
    addresses over to the police will do nothing to make us safer from violent
    criminals.

    Senator Landrieu’s proposal for surveillance cameras raises even more
    questions. No objective data exists to support the use of video
    surveillance by police in public places to prevent or solve crimes. In
    London, where 150,000 cameras were installed to reduce crime, certain
    incidents of violent crime actually rose after the network was installed.
    In-studio staff, however, were found to engage in violations of civil
    liberties: They focused almost exclusively on people of color, gays and
    young people, along with monitoring public meetings, marches and
    demonstrations. Instead of cameras, use the money on fundamental reforms
    proposed below to lower the crime rate.

    ACLU 5-point Action Plan:
    1. Invest in real crime prevention. Young men 15 to 29 years old commit most
    of the alarming street crime in New Orleans and across the nation. The key
    to crime prevention lies in strong families and communities–jobs with a
    livable wage, decent housing and neighborhoods, quality schools for
    everyone-not more prisons.
    2. Move forward with staffing and funding the office of the Independent
    Monitor for the NOPD to hold the police accountable to the people who pay
    their salaries. People will not cooperate with police officers that they do
    not trust or respect.
    3. Expand non-prison sanctions for non-violent offenders-tickets instead of
    jail for minor offenses; wider use of release on personal recognizance, home
    detention, restitution, etc. Save costly prison space for those who should
    be removed from society. Cease wasting taxpayer money on wasteful
    incarceration in Louisiana’s state and local jails that already cost
    taxpayers close to one billion dollars a year.
    4. Treat non-violent drug abuse and small quantity possession as a public
    health issue, not a crime problem. Nearly two-thirds of today’s prisoners
    are non-violent drug abusers. They need treatment, not a jail or prison
    cell.
    5. Stop enacting or considering ineffective “anti-crime” laws or policies
    like check points, surveillance cameras, and release of FEMA lists to law
    enforcement that reduce our freedoms – but not our crime rate. Many police,
    prosecutors and corrections officials agree that constitutional rights do
    not hinder effective law enforcement.

    “Again, we need to think creatively and make changes already proven to work
    elsewhere, like those presented at the most recent crime summit,” emphasizes
    Cook. “Invest heavily in prevention that stabilizes and strengthens
    families to prevent crime, which makes more sense than just trying to catch
    criminals after people have been murdered, raped, or robbed. Stop wasting
    valuable police resources on arresting and incarcerating people on municipal
    offenses for which a citation would suffice.”

    Cook goes on to say, “Effective law enforcement and protection of civil
    liberties are both essential in a democracy with individual liberty. The
    ACLU believes that we can be both safe and free.”

    How to solve New Orleans’ crime problem
    From NOLA.COM January 10, 2007 14:18

    Wendy King of New Orleans, LA, writes:

    We will not solve New Orleans’ crime problem, until we address all of the crime wave’s underlying causes. None of the city’s constant “crime summits” (all of them on tape, and at the top of each newscast) will solve the city’s crime problems, if they don’t fix the social ills which fuel the crime wave. I’m glad to see our city’s clergy out there, and understand the desperation behind the black clergy’s “Enougn!” signs staked up and down South Claiborne Avenue. However those signs won’t sway those who keep killing and injuring our citizens, no matter what the victims’ race or economic status was. A lot of our young criminals are not only returnees from other cities, and came back to a city with no opportunities for them. Many of them had been held at Central Lockup before the storm, and escaped in the chaos afterwards. Many of our most at-risk young people have learning and emotional needs that weren’t addressed when they started school, and tho!
    se problems have made them unable to stay in school, do classwork, prepare for LEAP tests or other assignments, or learn to work with their teachers or their classmates. If they can’t master these social and academic skills in school, and no one is there to help them, they leave school, and get into trouble on our city’s streets. Our city’s solution to its budget problems is often to cut vital services for its poorest residents, and these services include agencies that can help young people who are most at-risk for turning to drugs or committing petty crimes, and then entering the criminal justice system.
    If the “crime summits” don’t address the city’s lack of social services for those who are most at-risk for becoming criminals, and they conclude that the “solution” is lots of cameras on our city streets, more police officers, and a 2 a.m. curfew, those solutions only look like the NOPD is “doing something”, but they don’t get to the many roots of the problem. Shutting down Charity Hospital and destroying the public housing projects are unacceptable “solutions” to the crime wave, because those acts punish our city’s most vulnerable residents, and don’t stop the crime wave. Neither does dismantling our city’s public school system, and leaving fewer schools for our city’s youngest residents to return to. Staking “Enough!” signs up and down South Claiborne Avenue won’t sway those who attack and kill our residents, that we’re ready to “do something” about the crime wave. Those signs are important, but they are also signs of desperation. Our city’s clergy are sending out a plea with these signs, but I don’t think the criminals in our city are listening, or really care. Our city needs to put resources, such as personnel and money, into building our social agencies back up, and making sure that those most at-risk for becoming criminals have alternatives to stealing, dealing drugs, and killing or injuring other people, and that their families and friends know that our city cares about them. Our city’s musicians have worked hard to put music and musical instruments back into our schools, and, for many of our young people, the arts are important ways of expressing their feelings about this city, its problems, and opportunities. Many of our potential artists use their artistic skills to comment on their friends’ and family members’ deaths. Many of our young writers have put books together about their neighborhoods. The arts, and their teachers, are one of many ways of helping to end crime, because they give creative channels for young men and women whose schools and homes may not have the resources available to keep these young people engaged and off the streets after their classes are over each day. I would also suggest funding for sports programs, and after-school clubs, in many of our public schools, and getting the Dryades YMCA up and running, if its programs haven’t been restarted. My point is that, beyond the numerous “crime summits”, our city leaders need to think of all the activities that help at-risk youth see a better life for themselves and their families, keep them from dropping out, and ensure that they have a good chance to complete their educations, graduate, and be prepared for either work or entering college. Our best solution to our city’s crime wave is to have viable work and education opportunities for our city’s most at-risk residents, and the resources, both human and financial, to make those opportunities available.

  10. R.C. I-10 and Carrollton has always been a hot spot for police. It’s a sensitive area with the university right there. If you’ve been charged with something then, well, there you go.

    I am a supporter of the ACLU. I’ve been pulled over at random checkpoints in NOLA before the storm. I’ve always been sober, had insurance and current plates, brake tag. You better get right you law abiding citizens. NOPD has a new backup and that is the citizens of NOLA wanting the law upheld. ACLU’s influence across the country is waning, and I want to work for that, but you better get right with the law.

  11. The speech was on target. I am concerned, many writers seem to convey danger in critizing the city’s leadership. I believe, “Public Service” needs to be “service to the Public”. Citizens should not be afraid of the leaders, and if they are, a recall of one or all is necessary. Citizens must understand, this is our community, what we have or don’t have is a direct reflection or our desires for the community we have. Let me know how I can help. Good luck!

  12. B-
    I saw you talking to Anderson Cooper just now. I am glad that you had the chance to speak for the people of New Orleans and against the injustices and wrongs that you see in the community. I am sad that you, as a non-native New Orleanian, have to be the person to make those comments. I am glad that you and your wife have chosen New Orleans as your home – it’s a richer place because of both of you. I am sad that you are enduring the insufferable and unpredictable in the potential rebirth of a great but broken city. I am glad that you are so well spoken and caring and involved in the rebuilding. I am sad that you are there and I am not. Thank you for everything you do for my home town and your home. No matter how hard or difficult it gets for you, know that all of your efforts will help those who decide to come back whenever they do or are able. I hope one day soon to be one of those who returns, but I am glad that you are speaking and acting and caring for me. You are a great man.
    Thanks for being you.
    Stephen

  13. You were absolutely magnificent today. That is it. You were the man. By the way Mark and i are in the almost 300 (1727). We will not leave. This is my home, I will never leave, ever, ever , ever. I am pissed, but I will not leave.

  14. I was hit hard by your speech today. I stood with my picture of Francis and tried not to weep so openly as to draw unwanted attention to myself.

    I also just watched you on 360 and felt as if, again, you voiced my thoughts exactly. Shame on us. Shame on Nagin and them, too, but we all need to shoulder our share of the responsibility. I’m glad you made a point of that.

    Thanks.

  15. I was there today too. I didn’t think it was the time to come up to you and say hello, but I am going to say I was glad to see you there, speaking up and out for so many folks who feel the way that you do about this city and this time. Thank you very much for finding this strength in your time of grief.

  16. Bart – I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now. In fact, I read it almost everyday – and I live in Seattle. I’m going to send the text of your speech around. I’ve alredy turned a bunch of folks on to your blog.

    Peace.

  17. Terrific job, B. I didn’t even know it was you (couldn’t see, and yours was the only speech I could hear) til Michael told me, but I should have known. I hope “they” were listening.

  18. Bravo on the speech!

    It was good to be out in the streets with all you people yesterday. Thanks to the organizers and especially to the NOFD guy with the big red-splattered SOS flag. From mingling in the crowd, I learned a lot about what has been going on.

    What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?

  19. I see my wife has already posted. You delivered the right message and well. I saw many many bloggers there as well as people of our acquaintance, and people from every aspect of our society were there.

    A couple things:

    1. Has anyone mentioned to Anderson Cooper that there are other places to film besides the Lower Ninth Ward which still, after 500 days, have had little or no progress.

    2. Has anyone figured out how many people were at the march, and what percentage of our returned population that represents? Seemed significant. Newscasters were saying thousands – I know it had to be at least 1000, maybe 2000 or more, but I’m not a good estimator. That can represent whole percentage points!!!

  20. I’m so sorry that I missed you on Anderson Cooper. That was an excellent speech that you gave yesterday, and I’m very happy that you are still in NOLA to speak for us.

  21. I know you must be exhausted this morning. I’m just writing to say that you were wonderful on CNN. I also know that this doesn’t feel good right now, that you wish none of this had happened and you hadn’t had to speak and you hadn’t had to be on national television. We are all sorry that it came to this, and grieve for the losses, those tangible and those intangible, that brought you here, but we are glad that when the time came for someone to rail against the wrong, Bart and Karen were there to do so, for everyone. Peace, darlin’.

  22. Great speech, Bart! Also on Anderson Cooper. Made me proud to be from Mid-City, and strengthened my resolve to do more than fix up my own house. An inspiration to me and I’m sure many others.

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