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Like It or Not

Like it or not — and I don’t like it, not one bit — I seem to have become some kind of spokesperson on the subject of violent crime. I didn’t ask for this, I don’t relish it, and I’m not prepared for it. Indeed the very prospect makes my stomach churn. Violent crime is an ugly subject to consider. Yet I just fielded two calls from two different media outlets setting up interviews tomorrow. I need to get my head around this.

Some people might expect me to just keep reiterating the same speech that I gave at City Hall, but I don’t think that works. The point of that event was to express a general sense of outrage and despair to our political class, but media interviews offer a different opportunity.

What are the key points to emphasize? What can I say to keep the positive spirit of last week’s march on City Hall alive, while addressing any negative perceptions or anxieties?

I feel in my gut that the key is to be expansive as possible. We must transform our society in a positive fashion. But another part of me says it’s good to have a very specific, focused point to make. How to balance this contradiction? I don’t know.

Off the cuff, I’d be inclined to emphasize the following:

We do not need an expansion of police powers, but effective community policing. The level of distrust between the community and the police is incredibly high. Most people I’ve spoken to, regardless of race or class, have had extremely negative experiences with NOPD. The checkpoints instituted last week are not helping. A friend of mine was issued a bogus citation at a checkpoint because he got mad and yelled at the officer. That, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Better relations between community and police can only come when police are accountable to the community. Police are supposed to serve the community, after all. Put the community in charge. We need creative solutions — citizen oversight boards, perhaps.

Law enforcement is clearly a short-term measure. Some folks have said to me that there are simply no short-term measures that are acceptable. I was taken aback by this at first, but they do have a point: Our traditional system of arrest and incarceration simply reproduces the pathology of crime.

That’s why we need to think outside of traditional law enforcement measures and explore creative alternatives such as decriminalization of drugs. Pre-Katrina, 65% of New Orleans arrests were for drug offenses, while the national rate was 31%. Furthermore, two out of three convictions in our Criminal District Court were for simple drug possession. (I wonder if post-Katrina stats are available.)

But it’s a mistake to focus on law enforcement to the exclusion of everything else. We have to look beyond that in two directions.

On the one hand, the criminal justice system is broken. It’s worth noting that we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the whole world, but killers go free while we lock people up for non-violent misdemeanors. Something like two-thirds of prisoners are non-violent drug users who need treatment. They don’t get better in jail. Worse yet, the prison experience transforms petty criminals into hardened criminals. I don’t like the notion of locking people up, but I don’t like the notion of people killing with impunity either. I’m having a hard time with this contradiction.

On the other hand, we have to seek long-term solutions that address root causes of violence and crime: poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, lack of opportunity, lack of respect for human life, vast social inequities. In the wake of Katrina there was a lot of media hoopla about a dialog on race and class in America. It never happened, and it never will happen unless we make it happen. Furthermore, that dialog has to be truly inclusive across racial and class lines, or it’s worthless. If we want to talk about violent crime, we must acknowledge that violence afflicts certain communities disproportionately. We need to respect and listen to those who are suffering the most, and then we need to act upon that intelligence.

To stabilize our community we must re-establish basic public services. We should reopen Charity Hospital, reopen public housing, and provide quality education and job training for all. Each of these is a huge topic in its own right, multi-faceted and complex. But only through such long term measures will we ever achieve a more just and humane society.

A Man Prepares to Gut Home

Furthermore, it would be nice if I got a chance to clarify that I’m not a “leader” of a “movement.” The march on City Hall last week was a outpouring of mass outrage and sorrow. There was no coherent agenda, no set of demands agreed upon by all in advance. In fact, there was a diversity of ideas and agendas, with some in direct contradiction of others. Someone mentioned to me Monday that to stage such a protest without a coherent agenda was irresponsible. Well, perhaps so. Perhaps we have been made reckless by our grief. But then again, too many of us have been too complacent for too long. We need to find a balance and build a consensus as a community.

I don’t know. As you can see what I’m presenting here is raw and unformed. I could use some help. Your ideas are welcome. But please be gentle with me. I’m making 40 today. I’d rather be thinking about other things, but life doesn’t seem to be working out that way, and this is what I’m stuck with. Like it or not.

Update: I was on the radio this morning and Schroeder’s got the write-up.

Update: Will march help? in New Orleans CityBusiness.

Update: “Crime and Punishment: Rescue 504” appears is the January 27th cover story for Data News Weekly.

Published inNew OrleansPolitix


  1. I have even less of a clue about how to focus your arguments, Bart — in terms of the right solutions.

    However, as a journalist (and also thinking about our past experiences being interviewed for profiles of the TV series), I would say this: If you’re talking to TV news people, don’t bother to have an array of solutions to present. You’d be better off having just one point that you work around to — quickly — in every answer to every question (gotta give it to Bush on one point: He knows how to stay on message). You’ll be lucky to get 10 seconds in a TV news segment; you can’t really present arguments, just platitudes and grenades.

    Dealing with print journalists, you’ll likely have more opportunity to elaborate. But even so, I can say that in my own work, I would not likely be given the leeway by my editors to center an entire story around what you have to say. No offense, but even given your recent public prominence in these issues, at the present time you are likely still more a secondary source than the kind of official around whom a full-blown news story would be anchored.

    Now, if you were running for Mayor or City Council, that’d be different. Maybe you should think about it. It would certainly be fun to host an episode of Rox in which we don’t just smoke a joint on the Courthouse steps….we light one up in the Mayor’s office.

    Anyway, back to the point: You might do well with print journalists to still keep your suggestions and quotables to a few well-chosen points.

  2. Happy birthday, Bart.

    Excellent post. I’m glad you’re following through on the march. The pattern in NOLA is that people get outraged and then don’t follow through. People should go to their district NONPACC meetings and try to get to know some of cops. The commanders get just as frustrated with the patrol officers as citizens do but they tend to get amorphous complaints without badge numbers or names. When that happens they can’t address the complaint even if they want to; Captain Hosli is very good about doing so in the Second District. So if people feel hassled get the officers name, unit or district and badge number. The complain away to their commander, the police chief or your councilmembers.

    The only way things will get better is through persistence. Things didn’t get this bad overnight and they won’t get better fast either.

  3. Jason C. Jason C.

    It occurs to me that the problem isn’t *only* between the police and the citizens. The prosecutorial aspect of it deserves a huge chunk of the spotlight. I saw statistics recently that indicated only 15% or fewer of the murders in Orleans Parish were ever convicted. Now while that sounds like a nice tidy statistic, it isn’t. There are many reasons that this could be the case. Shoddy police work, clever lawyering, judicial incompetence or malfeasance could all contribute to it. To a potential murderer, though, it says one thing loud and clear: you can get away with it more often than not.

    The system is broken, and in multiple ways. Yes, there is a real sense of contempt for the police force. There is a belief that they are corrupt and frustrated to the point they are ineffective. There is an ineffective effort to prosecute those the police capture. There are judges that create an almost revolving door for criminals in Orleans Parish.

    It is certainly attractive to target drug crimes in a decriminalization effort. I understand the dynamics of the argument in favor of decriminalization from lowering street prices and freeing up police resources from less important (read: violent) crimes. On an overly simplistic note, getting rid of crime by declaring certain acts no longer criminal is a sure-fire way of reducing crime. I somehow doubt that it will lower your murder rate, though. It is also a fight between local and federal that NOLA is ill-equipped to join (re: medical marijuana in CA).

    Like it or not, Bart…you’ve become the face of this effort. I’d like to see you offer a multi-faceted approach of reform. This isn’t a simple problem and it won’t be a simple solution that ultimately fixes it.

    You aren’t going to be able to fix all of the social ills that lead to crime and poverty. Focus your energies on bring real suggestions to concrete problems and you’ll find more success and less frustration.

  4. I’m a firm believer in trying to find the positive in the negative. You’ve been given another year (Happy Birthday!) in which to make a positive contribution in a very negative situation.

    I’m hopefuly (pessimistically so, but hopeful) that the Saints Vs. Bears might attract a few more bits of media attention to the situation in New Orleans and, no, I don’t mean teh surgery.

    Good advice from J.

  5. Adrastos, if they’ve already fired up one in the Mayor’s office, I’d rather be smokin’ Bartender J’s & EdB’s stash. The head is more on spot, cosmic and much better for the city in the long and short run. Damn, it would make a great BRox video.
    I’d second Bartender J’s salient dealing-with-the media points.

  6. Carmen Carmen

    Happy 40th, Bart. Briefly, I’m not sure talking about turning New Orleans into Amsterdam will work in the short term, politically. But there is a case to be made that a dialogue needs to be opened up along the lines of the anti-drunk driving and safe sex practice campaigns. Teach responsible drug use. (Not saying you, but it may be a point to consider bringing up for those interviews.) Because it IS illegal, it’s also taboo to talk about openly, and you get either channel feeds to kids glorifying or demonizing it as a result. Demystifying it’s got to be the counter. There’s clearly a lot of white culture drug use in this town: how come the crime problem is (mainly) coming out of black culture use? Addressing that, for example. If you’re high, your judgement’s impaired, so don’t go out high. Don’t put yourself in a situation which comes back at you later because you ‘crack’d’. Drug dealers kill. Cause and effect stuff. For the ones that aren’t hardcore, and have passed the ‘educational’ phase directed towards wee ones.

  7. Happy Birthday!
    What happened with “Boozocracy”?
    Will you be celebrating your natal anniversary with cocktails or [grrrroan] ‘mocktails’??

  8. Happy B-day, B. Eliz is contemplating going off the veggie wagon and eating shellfish in May when she makes 40; any big plans for yourself, other than your own talk show?

    Unfortunately, my skeptical side says that they already know what they want you to say, and they’re going to feed you the lines and get you to reiterate it, but you’d know more after hanging with Mr. Cooper. I hope it’s not, “So, do you think that the problems are multi-faceted and that change needs to begin in the schools?” as I’ve sometimes seen.

    To me, the “answers” may well be beyond us. We have ideas and theories about what’s needed, and I think your points at the rally were excellent, although we know it’s not everything. I thought about what I would say if someone there had asked me what we should do. My imagined response: I don’t know, but I didn’t run for mayor or DA or accept a paycheck as police chief. If I didn’t have answers, I wouldn’t have run for re-election. But it’s not too late. There are experts in the country who spend all their time studying these issues, and we need to bring them in to help make a difference and bring an informed perspective. Nagin was doing ok (IMHO, I know not everyone’s) before and during the storm, but he should have realized that this thing was beyond his experience and abilities, and brought in the big guns and the creative minds who can do it. We’ve had a lot of brilliant proposals for architecture, etc, but we need to follow the lead of the people who really know this stuff and allow them to help us find the answers.

    What you’ve done, Bart, is illustrate the energy (positive and negative) that have been aroused by the tragedies in the city, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the answer man. I think it shows that you’re brave for getting out there, but don’t feel like you’re alone, even if people like me are too uncertain to know what to say and how to say it.

  9. Bart, there was a unifying theme to the march which was spoken of but has not been addressed with solutions, which is leadership change. There seemed to be a willingness to allow the current regime to try again now that we have made our rage a bit more obvious, but I don’t think ultimately that they will be successful, as you said.

    The existing leadership has to lead, there has to be a vision, it has to be communicated and it has to be implemented. Like it or not, Nagin is only a part of the problem. The DA is directly elected – he is not an employee of Nagin. Instead of viewing this as a three part failure with Nagin, Riley and Jordan, it’s really a two part failure with Nagin/Riley and Jordan. Nagin is responsible for hiring a police chief and holding him accountable, and issues in the Executive branch related to policing are Nagin and Riley’s responsibility together. Jordan, independently, has his own responsibilities.

  10. Happy Birthday, Bart. You state beautifully the angst that almost always accompanies finding oneself inadvertantly in the center of a spotlight. It’s something I’ve thought about for you, as this has progressed, and more than once, Sam’s speech to Frodo in The Two Towers has come to mind. It follows:

    “And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it when we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things that the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folks seem to have been just landed in them, usually–their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on–and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folks inside a story and not outside it call a good end. …But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”

    I know you don’t mean for this to be a “movement” but it might be, with or without intention. None of us can tell you which way to go, but you seem to be doing a wonderful job of taking the best, most important and most practical of what many suggest and making it make sense to even more.

    As for decriminalization, I don’t think anyone is anticipating Amsterdam on the Bayou. To me, the value of decriminalization is that it cuts off at the root the criminal wild-west *enterprise* that surrounds the illegality of the importation, distribution and sale of drugs, which establishes the culture of violence. If suddenly the commission of a crime with a firearm was certain lengthy jail time and possession was a ticket, it might really make a difference.

    You asked for our $.02, darlin’. That’s mine. Peace be with you, Bart. Thank you so much for being such a grand, if reluctant, spokesman, and, most importantly, Happy Birthday.

  11. Bart, welcome to the fourth decade! Mine has been… interesting so far, I hope yours is stellar. You deserve it. Iwould agree with the first comment made that brevity is important when dealing with the media. Another important aspect is being aware that you WILL be misquoted or quoted out of context.

    I wish had some useful input for you other than that, but I fear my own logic has become slightly suspect of late. Y’all have a home cooked dinner on us, just let me know when you want to come claim it.

    Hapy Brithday,brother! You are truly one of the best of us!

  12. Dealing with the journalists I think it would be important to divine where these reporters are coming from–that is, what’s their hook, who have they spoken to already and where are they going with the story? Just comparing the coverage between the New York Times and the Washington Post of the City Hall march was telling. The Times painted a picture of a predominantly white crowd (not where I was standing!), while the Post trumpeted the size of the crowd (even speculating that 1 in 50 current New Orleanians attended) and, if I recall correctly, accurately noted the diversity of the crowd. It seemed the Times reporter had his story mostly written before the march.

    Political action of the most obvious kind–running for office or fielding a slate of candidates to run for office–should be a key component to moving forward. Yes, we need specific ideas to push in the interim, and I think you’re right Bart about decriminalization, community policing, and some sort of citizen’s oversight board (but based on my viewing of the HBO series The Wire, I’m thinking the cops will freak over that idea). Community policing and a move away from petty drug crimes–even if it’s not out and out decriminalization–are essential. The only way the police will build any trust with the community will be if they get out of their cars and get to know us and let us get to know them. Only positive action by the police will develop trust, not to take away from the complexity of the crime problem, i.e. an inept DA’s office, a terrible school system, and a pitiful economy.

    If we spend the next couple years building a broad, bi-racial coalition, we could very easily win a seat or two on the city council–or more. I’m inclined to think it’s time for a new political party in Orleans Parish, leaving behind the Dems, Repubs and even the Greens (create our own, less easily caricatured and unique brand!). We need all new faces who DON’T KNOW (and aren’t related to) the right people, if you know what I mean. We only need to see the example set by the recent assessors races, the levee board consolidation, and the election of a few newcomers to the council. The time is ripe for it and it’s only going to get riper.

    On tv and even in your City Hall speech you come off as a thoughtful person who has clear ideas about what might work to solve problems but also someone hungry for improving even your own ideas. It’s quite a contrast to Nagin’s glib the-market-will-sort-it-all-out approach. You’re not dogmatic and you’re also tall. The tallest person usually wins, at least in politics. Happy birthday! G Bitch joins you in the 40 club this weekend . . . I’m already there.

  13. Happy Birthday, Bart.

    I’ve thought of you often this last week. Personal issues here at home have kept me from posting much, but I’ve been reading as much as I get a chance to. And there you are: a photo here, a quote there, a video on that other link.

    The day of the march I was so proud of you and the courage it took to get up there and say what you said. Once the afterglow wore off, I kept feeling that you might be feeling a bit like the guy who wakes up in the morning with a blond you don’t remember bedding, and we are the blond. But you being you, you haven’t grabbed your trousers and snuck out the door.

    I think, as someone who’s done many interviews in the past from the interviewer’s chair, that J’s advice is sound. Once the tape of the interview gets into that editing room and someone decides how much time the piece is allowed to be, your control is completely over. You can wind up looking like a genius or looking disingenous and won’t have anything you can say about it til after the fact. Then you’ll look smug or like a kid with a handful of sour grapes. All that no doubt sounds very disheartening.

    That having been said, I think J’s advice about choosing ONE topic to hammer away at is a good one (and although I think we SHOULD be Amsterdam on the Bayou, I don’t think that’s necessarily the one to choose on your first trip to bat). Once you establish your credibility on the one point you choose, they’ll come back for more, then you go on to your second topic and so on. It also keeps you from looking like you’re all over the map, even though our problems here, are indeed all over the map.

    If you stay on point, as J said, then no matter how they cut it, it’ll be a cohesive statement. Now you just have to decide which point you want to make first, and hell, B, they’re all so important you could pretty much put them into a hat and pull one out and no one would blame you. Oh yeah, and you’d still keep your credibility because not one of the points you made was off the wall.

    Please know we’re out here for you. Email me, call me, meet me for a drink. Whatever you need, there are many of us out here who want you to know that you’re not in this alone.

  14. Scott Scott

    The unwillingness to be a witness for the prosecution might be tackled by using the crime stat computer program to locate cams that record the activities at that location.

    We’re all supposed to be techies. Let’s try to use that for improvement.

  15. Happy Birthday, Bart! I also think you should consider running for office. Even if you don’t win, you get TV time, debates, etc.

    Everyone is right about the need to make a point or two, but the problem is which if the many, many outrageous issues here should make the cut? If it was me, I would try to develop some memorable one-liners to get each point across and maybe make it to a sound bite.

    Cade Roux is right about the shocking lack of leadership. People see the things that are happening – like murders – but they don’t see the things that are not happening – like no programs at all for the youth of this community, no housing for the poor, no help for the nearly-poor, and the mayor doing nothing for a year and half except working on his garbage contract.

    Roux is also right about the division of the responsibility between Jordan and Nagin. Jordan is a political rival of Nagin. His office is dropping the ball on putting violent criminals in prison, and I hate to see him get away with dumping the whole thing on Nagin. Did you see the T-P article about the DAs office being unable to find a retired cop to get him to testify at a trial? The news reporter from one of the TV stations found him at his house. This shows the lack of coordination and cooperation between the executive and judicial branches of city government.

    Instead of using the word “decriminalization,” which is a hot-button word in a country that’s been brainwashed to believe that drugs are more dangerous to people than guns, try putting it in terms of the effect on the youth. When a young black man in New Orleans is busted for simple possession, the sentence is that he will never be able to get a legitimate job again. But, that’s OK, because in jail he will make new friends and learn skills that will help him transition into the illegal drug trade – the very thing that his family, his neighbors and this community want to keep him away from. It’s the only job skills program available to him.

    Of course, the biggest problem of all is something beyond the reach of the mayor, the DA, or probably even God, by now. Yes, I’m talking about the New Orleans Public Schools. There has been a lot of money made off the poverty industry in New Orleans, and most of it has been made off the public schools. We will probably find out that many of the murders of teenagers lately originated in schoolyard rivalries. These kids are learning to do unto others before they do unto you. They are being criminally miseducated. Kids spend most of their day at school. What goes on there is crucial, and that is where these children have been let down. Jazz Park and City Hall Complex? What about saving these kids from a snake pit?

    I think it’s kind of a big elephant in the livingroom that no one talks about getting handguns under control. I guess we have just thrown in the towel on that. Or, I guess we have decided to handle that issue by increasing penalties for crimes committed with a gun. For that to work, someone has to be in a position to get sentenced, which brings us back to Eddie Jordan.

  16. A coherent agenda in NO? Ha! I’m not laughing AT whoever said that, I’m laughing near them. The march was a success to the extent that a march can be. NO got much national exposure about the murdering which mostly goes unnoticed year after year and the participants came off as sincere. Good work. I am not in disagreement about decriminalization but I don’t think the world is ready for that and I think the mentioning of it (IMHO) will not advance your cause. Whatever you have to say to whomever you have to say it, keep it simple and be yourself. You have high sincerity and that will work for you. Happy Birthday. You are an old fuck now, congratulations.

  17. chrissieroux chrissieroux

    Happy Birthday 🙂

    I’m for decriminalization but I agree with Jim–it probably won’t be taken seriously. As may be obvious from my previous comments I think serious discussions of race/class are desperately needed, but those are long-term solutions to very pressing problems.

    Stablization is the key, IMO. We need Charity, we need psych beds, we need public housing and some very basic “social services.” The system(s) that support poorer people in this city are more than broken–they are dismembered. Rebuild the infrastructure and we are one huge step closer to a livable city (for everyone).

  18. Happy 40th!

    Bless you for sharing your misgivings about becoming a public figure. There is a major amount of risk involved in being an activist AND a media focus. Just ask Cindy Sheehan. It’s quite a tightrope to walk, and I concur with all the other commenters here – your heart and your well-organized thoughts are in the right place. Hang in there.

  19. Carmen Carmen

    From Mamish’s link: “Such reforms would in no way excuse drug users who commit crimes: driving while impaired, providing drugs to minors, stealing an iPod, assaulting one’s spouse, abusing one’s child. The message is simple. Get loaded, commit a crime, do the time.”

    That’s the idea, severing the connection between drug use and violence or violent crime. Another man was murdered overnight. You don’t need to politically decriminalize drug use to advance moral responsibility towards life and property. Amsterdam works not because drugs are quasi-legal, but because of personal use and accountability. Drugs don’t have to lead to crime. I’m not even a drug advocate, but I can see that selling a kid down the river when he’s grown up in gangsta culture means he’s probably going to die before he learns white Republicans snort cocaine in their offices. Or else learning that will make him even harder, because he knows he doesn’t have a chance.

    Lighter sentences these days ought to involve community service of the house-gutting variety. All deadly-weapon assaults need to be taken more seriously, with sentencing so harsh that rolling on an illegal guns dealer starts to sound attractive. Let us know where to look for your interviews. 😉

  20. Happy Birthday.

    I have my own thoughts about what should be done both short and long term. Thats for me to put out there on my own.

    If you don’t want to be a leader, you can simply say you have no further comment and soon enough they will stop calling. If you keep answering the questions, they will keep calling at least until the next bright shiny thing catches their attention. That said we could do a lot worse in the leadership department.

    I’d say also that effective crime suppression should be a part of any strategy. It’s hard for me to see how any strategy can be effective in the current environment without it. I don’t think the massive road blocks I have heard about will be of much help and they seem to absorb a large percentage of the available police manpower. I think they’re mostly an effort by the mayor to do something visible.

    About on the par with airport security.

  21. Happy Birthday Bart. You did a great job on 99.5!

    All of the longer-term solutions you suggest are great, and there are more.

    Fundamentally, however, ask yourself what you want to happen when someone puts a gun in your face, or xy’s, or Helen’s?

    You want protection, right? You want justice, right? That’s what we need to focus on in the short term. The longer term solutions must, absolutely must, follow. When the police answer a call, they’re already too late. We have to solve the underlying problem, but in the meantime, we have to save lives and protect the well-being and freedom of peaceful citizens.

  22. Steve Godfrey Steve Godfrey

    Hey old man, I’m pulling in soon after you, I turn 35 next month. You’re the kindest 40-year old that I know, I’m almost positive. Congrats on keeping a very grounded perspective in spite of the surrounding mania. Your sensible, respectful, thoughtful and peaceful tone has got to be of great comfort to all who are concerned about the pained condition that exists in New Orleans. I know it’s been extremely comforting to me here in Central Louisiana. I only hope that I’ll be a small portion of the positive light vessel that you are serving as at age 40. Continue to be human of course, but get used to the fact that many are going to consider you an angel for quite a while. Wishing us all the very best man.

  23. MF MF

    I’ve always thought putting people convicted of minor drug possession to work would be a better solution than putting them in jail or fining them. In the case of a lot of minor drug crimes, the accused are young and have a lot of energy. Why not put them to work doing a bit of public restitution? Don’t have enough people to clean up streets or parks? Too expensive to hire people to do it? Let some kid found with marijuana do it, rather than spend money to send him to jail, where he’ll just twiddle his thumbs. I’m not talking about the chain gang or anything, just like ten hours doing something like sprucing up delapidated buildings, working at a soup kitchen or working with the elderly or something. It would be useful and could have a good influence on some of the young people.

  24. daddy o daddy o

    Happy B-day; long time reader, first time poster…

    Good insights, but you repeat too many cliches. The criminal justice system is not broken–it works perfectly well. The criminal defense bar wins and “criminals go free” via the “revolving door” because every American (even poor black New Orleanians) are entitled to due process and NOPD and the DA’s office simply don’t put together compelling cases that they can prove before juries.

    Don’t say the criminal justice system is broken, emphasize that the cops and DA, his trial chief and his deputies are inept, absent from the courtrooms, and too focused on conviction percentages and other bullshit stats. These are people more interested in wasting everyone’s time by dragging out possession cases and threatening multiple bills on anyone with priors than actually building and proving cases against violent offenders. “But witnesses don’t cooperate!!” they howl at every opportunity. No shit. With clowns like this charged with protection and prosecution, I wouldn’t show my face at Tulane and Broad either. So, these same clowns force ADAs to go to trial and lose most cases because nobody believes the cops.

    Back to my original point–the criminal justice system works exactly as it is supposed to, the leaders of law enforcement are just inept.

    Focus on getting Jordan, Brandt, Freeman, Holohan, Famularo, Defillo and Riley (aforementioned clowns) to fight violent and property crimes. The junkies will always be with us and they don’t rob and kill folks.

    I’d happily buy a frosty Liuzza’s Amber or Coors Light to anyone who can point to a conviction the Orleans Parish DA’s Office got on a car theft at trial post-K or a residential burglary that NOPD solved and successfully brought to conviction.

  25. Greetings brave New Orleanians! I’m a former resident and frequent re-visitor to the Crescent City who somehow (well, love and graduate school) ended up living in Minneapolis. This city is in many ways NOLA’s polar opposite. We’re at the opposite end of the Mississippi and of the weather spectrum. A lot of things that are good in your hometown are bad or nonexistent here (shellfish, early spring, parades, accents, indigenous music) and vice-versa (reasonably competent and uncorrupt politicians and police, little violent crime, good public schools, state subsidized health care for the poor, money for the arts and social programs, strong neighborhood organizations).

    But what made me want to write today was reading MF’s comment about putting noviolent drug (and other) offenders to work–an organization here in Mpls is doing just that:

    “The restorative justice approach recognizes that crime is wrong and should not occur. But in its aftermath there are both ‘dangers’ and ‘opportunities.’ The danger is that the community and the crime victim emerge from the experience more damaged, disrespected and feeling less safe. An offender may frequently be more alienated and less cooperative with society. The opportunity is that injustice is recognized, people are restored and future behavior is clarified so that participants are safer, more respectful and more empowered to make things right.”

    Read more about the program at

    I am sure that setting up such a program in post-Katrina New Orleans would present a great challenge. Here it was iniated by and remains under the jurisdiction of the city’s strongest neighborhood group and receives funding from government and philanthropic sources (this area is replete with foundations formed by many of its industrial and retail giants like 3M, Target, General Mills, etc.) as well as fees charged to participants.

    At any rate, I thought I would pass on some hopeful and maybe helpful information on a successful restorative justice program. Just one of many approaches that can help disrupt the culture of violence and apathy that fills so much of so many urban Americans’ lives.

  26. My two cents would be that you seriously re think your decriminalization piece of drugs, in your brainstorming. You argue your side well but, there is another side… the side of children. And children are your future.

    Drugs are 95% of the reason children end up in foster care. That is a conservative number. and a decriminalizing the use of such, will in time bring a new wave of addicts to your city. And part of that , in time will be a wave of unattended to children. The social cost of this are immesurable.

    Drug addicts don’t think like you , clearly and rationally. they just dont just work that way. You cannot say if I give them this consequence, or that or remove this consequence of that they will do X. They are addicts. They ill do anything to get a fix. I am not speaking of the dealers, not the casual users, but rather the addicts. Anything you do to increase the pool of addicts you bring future social havoc.

    Addicts do anything, including leaving their children behind and babies home alone. They love drugs more than anything including their children. But, when New Orleans is up and running again, you will notice the welfare of children. Children of addicts are left behind, neglected, needing to be removed form their homes. And yes addicts have sex, and children.

    Addicts have migrations to certain states. You’d be adding the your city to that migration. And addicts don’t think rationally. They just cannot.

  27. bart,

    many good thoughts here, but i’d just like to add from the perspective of someone working in city hall and someone who’s been doing criminal justice and juvenile justice reform work for a few years now.

    number one, i hope that anyone who does take a leadership role makes sure they are educated on the issue. it’s important that as we demand change and reform that we know what we are asking for. i thought most of the platform presented at the rally was pretty reasonable stuff, but it’s really important that we not ask to implement bad ideas. sounds obvious, but bad ideas get implemented all the time in cities around the country and countries around the world in reaction to public outrage. public anger often supplies the political cover to make bad ideas into bad public policy. my concern with the rally and march was that it might unintentionally give cover to some radically bad ideas in the name of public safety.

    there are a lot of progressive folks in new orleans who have made crim justice reform their life’s work. mary howell, david utter, xochitl bervera, some of the folks at the justice center and at jjpl really know this stuff and have a local context. they have the research and they have the progressive vision. i hope that the organizers of the rally connect with some of the local experts to turn good ideas into good public policy.

    we spend a third of our general fund on police and detention. pre-katrina we had the 4th largest jail in america. we were averaging over 100k arrests per year in a city of 460k people. we are number one or two in the country, right there with nyc, in numbers of law enforcement officers per capita. but despite hundreds of millions of dollars, despite leading the world in incarceration, despite hundreds of thousands of arrests, despite more law enforcement than anyone — these policies have still failed to make us safer. our jail has grown from a capacity of 850 in 1974 to a max capacity of 8500 by 2004, despite a 25% decrease in the city’s population in that same time frame. there has been no corresponding increase in public safety. in fact, our crime rate went up along with the size of opp.

    so it is critically important that as we ask for solutions that we make sure we ask for something different than what we’ve been doing if we want a different result. and we need to make sure what we want is not only in line with good progressive politics, but also backed up by good science, data, research, and evidence to prove the public safety benefit. and as much as i believe in the power of citizen activists, that kind of research doesn’t usually emerge from the dining room tables of our neighborhood association meetings. it requires some technical expertise and assistance, which we are fortunate to have on tap with several local orgs.

    i organized the september crime summit. i continue to be the city council staffer taking on the bulk of the criminal justice reform work. and i’m available anytime to meet with and work with local citizens who want to fix our broken criminal justice system. anyone should feel free to contact me anytime if i can be of assistance with anyone who wants to fix our cj system.

    best regards,

    seung hong
    legislative director
    councilmember shelley midura’s office

  28. Carmen Carmen

    With all due respect to anyone trying hard to work within the system, including you, Seung, you need to actively and consistently look outside the thinktank of experts you presently field. Clearly the September crime summit didn’t work to stop the January murder spree. When you find them, like here, don’t tell them to come to YOU. Go where THEY lead.

    We HAVE been “educated” on the issue: we live it out every day. The system isn’t working. We know what we’re asking for: that it WORKS. Don’t let politics corrupt focus. Federalizing the system may or may not work; I’m with you on the magician’s handkerchief trick of not providing the political cover for bad ideas. But your “good” ideas might be turned to someone’s bad ideas, too, so it’s best not to politicize the process at all. I’m sure it doesn’t matter to anyone here if the victims of our streets are progressive or conservative, Democratic or Republican or Independent.

    We ARE the data, we ARE the research, we ARE the evidence. I’ll put my faith in God over science, so we’ll disagree on that point, come what may.

    The other important thing to remember is this isn’t a New Orleans problem. This is an urban cities problem. Los Angeles is having a devil of a time on its own.

    By the way, I like Shelley. You’re working for one of the good ones.

  29. Folks like Seung and the experts he mentioned are also citizens and part of the research and the evidence. Seung and colleagues live their lives in the same crime ridden community we live in.

    Even if the same things are happening in other cities, if it is happening in New Orleans, it is a New Orleans problem and because we live here, we need to fix it. I think that what Seung was getting at is that even though we are short of police and jail space post-K, our tendency to add more and more of both has failed to work for over 30 years. That’s all the evidence I need to convince me we need to do something different. Improvements to the criminal justice system is SORELY needed, but leaving it solely to the criminal justice system just plain doesn’t cut it.

    As for God and science, as a person of faith, I believe that science is another means by which we seek to understand that which God has created. Faith and belief in science are not mutually exclusive, and I thank God for the experts who have the passion, the time, and the skill to try to point us in the right direction. That said, I’m grateful for the pointing in the right direction they did at the crime summit, but now it’s time to actually MOVE in that direction.

  30. Tag in VA. Tag in VA.

    I just started reading your blog because I’m trying to get a handle on what’s really going on down there. A little background: I grew up visiting my aunt and uncle every summer in New Orleans. Did this for 40 years and I usually stayed for two weeks, so I feel a kinship with the place. My 94 year-old aunt lost her home in Lakeview during the flood, and now lives across the river in Angier. She has handled the whole debacle remarkably well, but she also has short-term memory loss now. I think it is a blessing in disguise.
    My daughter has received a scholarship to Tulane, and I am trying to figure out if I really want her to consider accepting it. She is also looking at other places, but do I encourage a move to a city we both love, but yet feel frightened in? I have been back several times during the past three years and have walked alone through the city, but do I want my 17 year-old daughter doing the same thing? Then again, going to Tulane would be a totally different college experience. She has said she would get involved with the resurrection of the city, and I know that would be avery good thing for her. Ultimately, she will make the final decision, but I just don’t know if I can encourage going at this point.
    Thanks for letting me vent, and the best of luck in your new parental role. The world does indeed change when you become a parent…

  31. […] 40: “Please be gentle with me. I’m making 40 today. I’d rather be thinking about other things, but life doesn’t seem to be working out that way, and this is what I’m stuck with. Like it or not.” […]

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