People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

The citizens’ revolt continues

Posted by schroeder915 on January 18, 2007

Anytime I write a post about the police chief’s and mayor’s grammar, you know I’m busy. There was much more that I wanted time to write about, and I’ll try to get caught up.

I scanned the radio dial this morning to find out what the redneck wingnut talk show hosts were offering today, and did a double-take when I heard a familiar voice. I’m sitting here now listening the Fox News channel’s lip-smacking convicted insurance commissioner “uh-uh-uh” Jim “smack” Brown’s self-promotion show. He’s interviewing Bart Everson, one week after Bart declared a revolution on the steps of City Hall.

Bart is firing on all cylinders, hitting all the relevant points — if only “uh-uh-uh” Jim “smack” Brown “uh-uh-uh” would shut the eff up (again, we need a true community radio station to broadcast unabridged, free-flowing conversations).

(After the show now) Bart emphasized that he wasn’t advocating for expanded police powers, but Jim Brown cut him off from explaining why — I can relate the story about a friend who was pulled over at a police checkpoint, who may not have been respectful of the police for whatever reason, and who was subsequently issued a traffic ticket — completely illegible because the carbon transfer didn’t work. It’s the second time I’ve heard a story where the citation was illegible — I saw one of those tickets, so I can vouch for their veracity. Unfortunately, traffic stops really do work at catching bad guys, but the rest of us are inconvenienced. Legally, the police have to be careful not to give the appearance of racial profiling, so they’ll issue traffic citations for just about anything. It’s an example of what happens when orders are issued from the lofty heights without surveying the sentiments of residents. The NOPD is making arrests of wanted offenders, but shredding already damaged community relations in the process. We need new thinking. We need more and better dialog to come up with solutions that work, or at least solutions in which the community accepts the tradeoffs — maybe a solution where people who aren’t wanted offenders, and who aren’t driving in a hazardous manner, can be released with a courtesy card instead of a traffic citation. There needs to be a conversation with the community so that we all sign on and understand the consequences.

A Metropolitan Crime Commission poll showed that more than 60 percent of Central City residents don’t feel the police can effectively reduce crime, even though patrols are regularly visible. Bart cited the poll to argue that the police need to be more accountable to communities to solve that problem. For the community policing concept to work, citizens have to be in charge of how policing works for them. There’s a discussion taking place right now at Think New Orleans about creating formal institutions, Citizen Crime Boards, which would require accountability of all of the actors in the criminal justice system to the neighborhoods they serve. If this is a revolution to overthrow incompetent rulers, and to take control of our own destinies, then let’s start with the criminal justice community.

To satisfy his uncontrollable self-aggrandizement, Jim Brown kept interrupting Bart and shifting the conversation, so I felt compelled to call in. Jim Brown dropped the call at first, and I know how fast hosts cut off other speakers, so I felt rushed and couldn’t clearly muster the words I wanted to say. Nevertheless, I got in one good jab at the other participants in the criminal justice system who weren’t mentioned: the judges and District Attorney Eddie Jordan.

I praised Bart’s courage for putting himself in the spotlight to speak out against a broken system even while he’s still mourning a tragic event. I concurred that we need to fix the crime problem, and we need to address all of the forms of violence that are manifested in our society — like denying children a good education, and denying people access to their homes. I said that when the police arrive, it’s already too late. All of the factors which produce criminals are re-manifested by violence perpetrated on the rest of society. We also, however, need to remember that the police are the last line of defense, keeping criminals away from peaceful citizens. Unfortunately, the police are the face of the criminal justice system, and it’s easy to villainize them. Of course, we need to have more and better dialog with the police, but other actors need to participate in the conversation. Police chief Warren Riley answered questions Tuesday night at the NOPD 2nd District community crime meeting (Adrastos has an excellent summary of that event). I said that the judges and D.A. weren’t represented in that conversation, but they need to be. They, too, need to answer to citizens for the broken criminal justice system.

We need to break down the barriers which shelter incompetent and crony-ridden government institutions from citizen anger. We need to create neighborhood entities that foster a dialog, name names, and call into question decisions made by autocratic public officials. Clearly, if there’s anything New Orleans citizens have learned since Hurricane Katrina, it’s that we need to take back control of our government.

Bart closed his interview by reminding listeners that nothing happened after Hurricane Katrina to attack the conditions which breed poverty and crime, despite all of the talk about how our society needs to have a conversation about race and class in our society. This conversation, too, could be hosted by Citizen Crime Boards. The dialog might be spun off into another realm, but Citizen Crime Boards would have the advantage on focusing attention on the end-stream results of the broken social systems which breed violence and return that violence to society by generating criminal behavior.

The local FBI director, Jim Bernazzani, said in an interview yesterday that we have tactical solutions to the crime problem. Those tactical responses to crime may need to be fixed, but what we really need to do is have a conversation about strategic solutions to the crime problem. I continue to assert that we can’t lose sight of the immediate goal of fixing the criminal justice system so bad guys don’t hurt peaceful citizens, and Bernazzani would agree, but he’s also right that we need to get to kids before they start getting involved in violence. We need to engage them in constructive activities, give them an opportunity at a good education, instill in them the virtue of fulfilling their potential, give them hope. As my friend Danna has said, in teaching art to disadvantaged children, we may not be able to promise them the dream world they see on TV, but we can promise them that pride in themselves is only achieved through hard work. The alternative is death.

Many of us are talking about the same thing. We’re on the same page. As citizens, we need to take charge of those institutions that are failing us. We need government to work for us, not against us.

Here’s an example of how citizen activism can work to defeat crime. I got a call last night in a chain call process after an armed robbery Uptown. The action was swift. The police were on the scene in five minutes. When the robbers hit again nearby, a tactical unit swept down on them and caught five perpetrators.

We can work with the police when we demand dialog. Now we need to make sure that those criminals don’t make it back onto the street until they’ve paid the price for their crime, and are reformed. We need to make the judges and D.A. accountable to us, and we need to make sure that incarceration, if that’s the punishment (which I believe it should be) isn’t just a school to train more violent criminals, but a place where real reform and opportunities are created. Yes, those are tough issues, but only citizen involvement will fix the problems our society faces.

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