Civil Rights

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Take 'Em Down NOLA marches against Jackson statue

Posted By on Sat, Sep 24, 2016 at 6:31 PM

Take 'Em Down NOLA and demonstrators march on Decatur Street demanding the removal of Andrew Jackson's statue Sept. 24.
  • Take 'Em Down NOLA and demonstrators march on Decatur Street demanding the removal of Andrew Jackson's statue Sept. 24.

Led by drums and chants of "no justice, no peace" and "Black Lives Matter," hundreds of people marched through the French Quarter Sept. 24 demanding the removal of Andrew Jackson's statue at the heart of Jackson Square. Take 'Em Down NOLA — a group that has urged for the removal of all symbols of and monuments to white supremacy, including the four Confederate-era monuments at the center of a lawsuit and city ordinance for their removal — had organized the march following what organizers consider the city's inaction. The city currently is locked in a court battle over the four monuments, waiting on a ruling from a federal appellate court — expected next week — before it can take them down.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Suppressing free speech on the bayou

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 6:26 PM

ExposeDAT, a website that drew the wrath of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.
  • ExposeDAT, a website that drew the wrath of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

Former LSU Law Dean Jack Weiss, a highly respected First Amendment lawyer, taught me a valuable lesson about some of our most cherished freedoms.

“First Amendment freedoms, including free speech, freedom of the press, open meetings and public records, don’t get eroded in large cities where big news organizations can fight back,” he said. “They die in small towns, where entrenched politicians control virtually everything and most people are too afraid or too poor to fight back.”

I thought about Jack’s lesson when I read about Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter’s deputies executing a search warrant on the home of Houma police officer Wayne Anderson in hopes of learning the identity of an anonymous blogger who had the audacity to criticize Larpenter and other Terrebonne bigwigs.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Y@ Speak: #AltonSterling and #BatonRouge

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 6:00 PM

Twitter allows us nearly minute-by-minute live accounts of anything happening at any time, including the overwhelming, war-like response to protests and marches in the wake of Alton Sterling's death by Baton Rogue police officers last week. Reports from the weekend's protests have used words like "standoff" to describe what was more like a one-sided riot response — where there was no riot. This week's edition follows last week's vigils, rallies and updates from Baton Rouge, all aired on Twitter by the hundreds of witnesses who were there.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

"This is what democracy looks like": New Orleans rallies for justice, Black Lives Matter

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 11:20 PM

Thousands of people surrounded Lee Circle as the sun set on New Orleans July 9, nearing the end of a tragic week in the U.S. — the killing of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police, the killing of Philando Castile by Minnesota police during a traffic stop, and a violent night in Dallas ending in the deaths of five officers during a rally calling for an end to police violence in the wake of the two men's deaths. Spanning the base of the Robert E. Lee monument, a banner read "Black Lives Matter."

The message was spread on posters, placards and T-shirts and in call-and-response, fist-in-the-air chants among a peaceful, emotional crowd holding hands, hugging and wiping tears from friends' faces. As the crowd circled the monument, Angela Kinlaw, addressing the crowd with a megaphone, said, "This is what democracy looks like."

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Rally, protest planned in New Orleans following police shootings

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 5:30 PM

Flyer for a rally at Lee Circle July 8.
  • Flyer for a rally at Lee Circle July 8.
Following the killing of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers, protests and vigils at the convenience store where he died, and the killing of Philando Castile, shot by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop, plans for protests and vigils are underway in New Orleans.

Event organizers for The 505 — a group named after Sterling as the 505th victim of a police shooting in 2016 — plan a "peaceful performative protest" outside New Orleans Police Department headquarters at 715 S. Broad St. Friday, July 8. It begins at 4 p.m. with a potluck followed by the sound of a gunshot at 5 p.m. to signal participants to lie on the ground until 6 p.m.:
"What police are doing in America today is unacceptable. The aim of this performance is to show our local police force how many people have died this year alone in the hands of their greater organization. We hope that they will see us on the ground as they head home to their families, and see us in their minds the next time they reach for their guns."
There also is a rally at 7 p.m. Friday, July 8 at Lee Circle.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A public defense crisis in Louisiana: 33 of 42 public defenders' offices restricting client services due to funding shortfalls

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 3:49 PM


Early last year, Louisiana prosecutors accused and a grand jury indicted local resident Darrian Franklin of second-degree murder after 35-year-old Trenton Gary was shot five times and left to die on the side of Behrman Highway.

In the coming months, Franklin may be released from Orleans Parish Prison. But it’s not because a jury has found him to be innocent of the crime.

Rather, it’s the symptom of what Orleans Public Defender Derwyn Bunton has called a “constitutional crisis” for lawyers representing those too poor to afford private attorneys.

Citing funding shortfalls, the local public defender’s office in January stopped taking complex cases. As a result, Franklin and six other inmates accused of rape, armed robbery and other serious crimes sat for up to four months in jail without seeing a lawyer. In April, Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter demanded their prosecution halt, and a higher court is considering their release.

Franklin’s is one of more than 340 cases that have been refused so far this year in New Orleans. The problem extends statewide, as 33 out of 42 public defenders offices in Louisiana are refusing cases or placing clients on waitlists. Thousands are now sitting in jail, with no foreseeable legal assistance.

As the legal drama comes to a head, the indigent clients, defense lawyers, local judges and legislators all have been in the spotlight, many opining on how best to handle defenders’ dwindling fiscal resources amid the state’s $600 million budget gap.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Who tells the story of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans?

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2016 at 6:40 PM

  • Photos by Derick Hingle & Kandace Power Graves
While 100 people gathered for a panel at the Tulane Hillel building on Broadway Street on May 17, the Louisiana Senate nearly unanimously passed a "Blue Lives Matter" bill that classifies any offense against a police officer as a hate crime.

Similar measures were floated in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and growing unrest against police violence — but Louisiana was the first state to bring a measure to the governor's desk. “We have to stop this malicious trend before it starts," said Savannah Shange in a statement with Black Youth Project 100 New Orleans. "We cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents." The statement added that including police — a public agency — as a protected class in hate crime legislation would "provide more protection to an institution that is statistically proven to be racist in action, policy and impact." The measure passed 33-3 without any discussion or debate.

The panel at Tulane — part of The Big Issue series on controversial topics in New Orleans — was to explore "what comes next" for the four Confederate monuments the city voted to remove last year, and what we stand to lose or gain with their removal. Predictably, the panel and the room exploded into a heated debate over the legacy of white supremacy, who gets to determine the city's future and interpret its often-painful history, and how mostly white supporters of the monuments respond to black critics sharing their pain and experience.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Louisiana students rally in Baton Rouge for the "Raise the Age Louisiana Act"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 5:49 PM

Carlos Wilson and Jasmine Jeff were two of the students who traveled to the state capitol today in support of state Sen. J.P. Morrell's "Raise the Age Louisiana Act," which would stop the prosecution of 17-year-olds as adults. - DELLA HASSELLE
  • Carlos Wilson and Jasmine Jeff were two of the students who traveled to the state capitol today in support of state Sen. J.P. Morrell's "Raise the Age Louisiana Act," which would stop the prosecution of 17-year-olds as adults.

In many ways, 17-year-old Carlos Wilson is trying hard to mature into a responsible adult. He has a job, he says, and a one-year old son whom he calls “his pride and joy.”

But he’s constantly reminded that he’s not yet of age to do some adult things. He pays taxes, for instance, but cannot vote to help determine how that money will be spent. And last year, he was unable to sign his own son’s birth certificate, because he was too young.

He also can’t serve on a jury, join the army or buy beer or cigarettes.

Yet if Wilson were to get arrested, he would be sent to an adult lockup, even if charged with a minor offense. That’s because Louisiana is only one of nine states in the country that prosecutes 17-year-olds as if they are adults.

“We as 17-year-olds deserve clarity,” said Wilson, a senior at the New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy. “Are we adults, or are we still children?”

Wilson has been part of a steering committee for his school that for the past year has been researching the possibility of raising the age in Louisiana for criminal infractions from 17 to 18.

On Wednesday, Wilson traveled with about 300 youth from Lafayette and New Orleans to present his findings during a rally on the steps of the state capitol, and to ask that legislators stop prosecuting 17-year-olds as adults.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

The USA vs. Big Freedia: on "affordable housing" in New Orleans

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 6:15 PM

Several fans shouted their support for Big Freedia as the queen of bounce walked to a black SUV parked outside U.S. District Court on Poydras Street. That afternoon, Freedia pleaded guilty in a case that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Though Big Freedia had depended on public assistance for housing, as her career took off — in the studio, on TV, on stages around the world — she no longer qualified to receive it. Freedia relied on Section 8, shorthand for the Housing Choice Voucher program, which subsidizes a portion of rent through a local public housing agency, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In New Orleans, that agency is the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO).

On March 16, Freedia faced U.S. District Judge Lance Africk and pleaded guilty to receiving those vouchers. According to federal prosecutors, Freedia, over five years, was earning more income than the threshold for voucher eligibility. Freedia admitted to the charges in the weeks before her hearing.

"Housing vouchers are a vital lifeline for many people I know in New Orleans and around the country, including struggling artists," Freedia said in March 1 statement following the U.S. Attorney’s announcement of her charges. "I truly believe there needs to be more programs for artists and musicians to teach basic financial literacy and planning. Coming from where I came from, I know that I could have used that kind of assistance.”

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Confederate monuments can't be moved until appeal is heard, says 5th Circuit

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 11:36 AM

A federal appellate court put the brakes on the city’s plans to remove three Confederate monuments and a statue honoring a white supremacist revolt.

A March 25 ruling from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction against Mayor Mitch Landrieu and city officials, preventing the removal of the monuments before the plaintiffs have a chance to have their appeal heard. The monuments’ removal was decided by a New Orleans City Council vote in December following Landrieu’s proposal and several public meetings. The Monumental Task Committee, the Louisiana Landmarks Society, the Foundation for a Historical Louisiana, and Beauregard Camp No. 130 filed a suit against the city following that decision, but their case was dismissed in federal court.

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