Civil Rights

Monday, January 28, 2013

ACLU reaches agreement with city on Clean Zone lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Under a proposed agreement filed today, the city of New Orleans will not be enforcing limits or bans on unsanctioned content appearing on non-commercial signs and banners within the Super Bowl "Clean Zone."

The agreement comes after the ACLU filed suit last week, challenging the ban as a violation of the First Amendment. Federal Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on sign enforcement except in the area directly around the Superdome.

Today's proposed agreement will dissolve the TRO — restoring the old boundaries of the Clean Zone. In return, the signage ban "shall apply to commercial activity only, and shall in no way be applied or enforced to encumber or burden noncommercial expressive activity," according to court records. And temporary signage will not be required to "consist of at least 60% Super Bowl/NFL branding, look and feel, and no more than 40% third party commercial identification," as the original ordinance demanded.

“What this does is essentially eliminate the First Amendment violations that were in this overbroad ordinance that the city adopted," said Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana's executive director.

(Side note: Meanwhile, one sanctioned sign that doesn't violate the original or rewritten law is so far getting a mixed reception from residents.)

In addition, the the ban on commercial advertising will only apply to "off-site" signs, that is, ads for products or services not affixed to their business' premises, as well as mobile ads. This part of the agreement results from the addition of real estate agent Andrew Grafe of French Quarter Realty. Grafe was concerned that the "For Sale" signs on his properties would be deemed violations of the ordinance.

(More after the jump)

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Y@ Speak: Arty Gras

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Carnival got going this weekend with some bigger krewes rolling Uptown. But the real show was Downtown, where creativity abounded in the form of costumed canines, Sci-Fi enthusiasts and miniature floats by the grown-up versions of the people who always made the best dioramas in the fifth grade. Also this week: the city prepares for Super Bowl, Chris Paul isn't so into the New Orleans Pelicans and Trina Edwards contemplates eating.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

ACLU sues city over Super Bowl "Clean Zone" UPDATE: Judge grants temporary restraining order, city can only enforce signage bans directly around Superdome

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 4:12 PM

Update (4:30 p.m.): U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt granted in part a temporary restraining order, banning the enforcement of Clean Zone provisions banning non-sanctioned signs and banners. Engelhardt's order, however, does not apply to areas directly around the Superdome. Thus, the Clean Zone, which once roughly extended from Earhart Boulevard to Port Street, and Broad Street to the West Bank levee, an area that looks like a wolf...


...will now only be in effect here, per Engelhardt's order:

The area bounded by Earhart Boulevard to Loyola Avenue; Loyola Avenue to Tulane Avenue; Tulane Avenue to North Broad; and North Broad to Earhart Boulevard; and including the Louisiana Superdome Property (Champion Square), and the New Orleans Arena.

[Original story]
The ACLU today filed suit against the city of New Orleans seeking a halt to the implementation of the so-called "Clean Zone," set to go into effect on Monday, Jan. 28. The city's Clean Zone ordinance, passed by City Council in early December, bans signs, "inflatables, cold air balloons, banners, pennants, flags, building wraps, A-frame signs, projected image signs, electronic variable message signs" except for those sanctioned by the city and the National Football League in the Central Business District and surrounding areas until Feb. 5, two days after the game.

The ACLU alleges that these provisions of the law are unconstitutional.

(More after the jump)

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

LGBT youth group to NOPD Chief Serpas: "Keep Your Promise & Release Your Draft LGBTQ Policy to BreakOUT!"

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 10:13 AM

The New Orleans-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) youth advocacy group BreakOUT! is demanding that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) release to the group a long-awaited policy addressing LGBT discrimination by police in a petition on BreakOUT! is also asking NOPD representatives, including Superintendent Ronal Serpas, meet with members of the group before releasing a final policy.

From the petition site:

"Over a year ago, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) first made a promise to BreakOUT! to meet with them before finalizing an LGBTQ policy in the NOPD. In an October 2012 City Council meeting, NOPD representatives again promised to meet with BreakOUT! before finalizing a policy. BreakOUT! also submitted their own model LGBTQ policy for the NOPD's consideration on this date."

At the October meeting, Ortha Sandifer, NOPD commander of training and education, did say that police representatives were planning to meet with BreakOUT! members before finalizing a policy. According to the group's petition letter, addressed to Serpas, BreakOUT! later resubmitted its draft policy to the NOPD by email in November.

"They were notified on December 3, 2012 that an LGBTQ policy was in its final stages in the NOPD and that once it was finalized, a meeting would be scheduled with them for review. They still have not heard back from your Department."

The consent decree between the NOPD and the U.S. Department of Justice requires the police department to "develop and implement a specific policy to guide officers' interactions with members of the LGBT community, which shall prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression." The provisions were included after a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found evidence of significant discrimination, harassment and abuse of LGBT residents by New Orleans police officers.

BreakOUT! "Chief Ronal Serpas: Keep Your Promise & Release Your Draft LGBTQ Policy to BreakOUT!"

Reached by phone this morning, NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden could not comment immediately as she was unaware of the petition.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Leah Chase Foundation in the works, public birthday celebrations planned

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 11:38 AM

leah chase
  • Courtesy of the Chase family.
  • Leah Chase surrounded by her husband and their children.

A legacy that extends far beyond food runs through the dining rooms of Dooky Chase Restaurant, a landmark of the civil rights struggle, a trove of African American art and a daily example of the power of community.

As the Chase family prepares to celebrate the 90th birthday of their matriarch, the legendary chef Leah Chase, they are planning a pair of public events to honor her and raise funds for a new foundation to ensure that legacy endures.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Read the proposed OPP consent decree

Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 11:50 AM

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) today unveiled a 53-page proposed consent decree addressing longstanding safety issues at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). The decree was filed in U.S. District Court by DOJ, the Sheriff's Office and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiff class in the class-action lawsuit filed against the jail and Sheriff Marlin Gusman last spring. Court records indicate that The city of New Orleans, which would ultimately be responsible for funding the provisions of the agreement, did not sign off on the filing, court records show.

The filers have requested a Feb. 19 fairness hearing on the consent decree before Judge Lance Africk, who would then have to sign off to give it the force of law. Africk would then have to determine how much funding would be required to enforce the consent decree.

Like the proposed New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) consent decree, today's settlement requires a federal monitor to follow OPSO's progress toward compliance. Unlike that one, though, which has a four-to-five year recommended expiration date, the OPP consent decree would expire "when Defendant has achieved substantial compliance with each provision of the Agreement and have maintained Substantial Compliance with the Agreement for a period of two years," the document reads.

(More after the jump)

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Federal judge orders draft consent decree for Sheriff's Office

Posted By on Mon, Oct 8, 2012 at 11:54 AM


U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk on Friday ordered Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the U.S. Department of Justice submit a "proposed interim consent judgment," according to court documents.

The proposal, which will be submitted as part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the jail, will be due to the court by October 15. As we reported last spring, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit on behalf of all Orleans Parish Prison inmates in April:

The alleged details of daily life in OPP — including charges of dangerously overfilled cells, inadequate medical care and a culture of indifference to the inmates' welfare on the part of guards, supervisors, wardens, all the way up to Gusman himself — have inundated SPLC's office. On an average day, OPP is home to more than 3,200 inmates, or the equivalent of nearly 1 percent of New Orleans' total population.

In an interview for that story, SPLC attorney Katie Schwartzmann said the evidence against the Sheriff's Office was "overwhelming."

Attached to the 38-page lawsuit are 19 affidavits signed by current or former inmates, including 10 named plaintiffs. The witnesses paint a picture of an institution where brutal violence is the norm, with little intervention from guards, and where medical attention arrives late if at all.

The federal government has been negotiating an agreement with the Sheriff's Office for more than a year, following several years of federal scrutiny. Last month, Justice intervened in the lawsuit. Africk has also granted a request from Gusman that the city of New Orleans — which controls the the sheriff's budget — be named as a third-party defendant.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

No decision after arguments on motions to intervene in the NOPD Consent Decree

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 5:37 PM

After two hours of oral arguments — interrupted briefly by the evacuation of U.S. District Court for what turned out to be a false fire alarm — Judge Susie Morgan today did not make a decision on four motions to intervene in the federal consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). Morgan said she would rule on the motions before a hearing on the whole agreement, set for August 29.

Attorney Bill Quigley, representing intervening citizens group Community United for Change, said that one of the criteria for determining whether a group should have a right to intervene is "demonstrated interest," which the group had established.

The problems addressed in the consent decree "didn't start with Hurricane Katrina, did not start on the Danziger Bridge," Quigley said. He said that members of the group had been active in police reform for at least 30 years, since the Algiers 7 case. Quigley said that many of the reforms addressed in the decree had been promised, each time without giving citizens any real authority.

The lack of real citizen oversight has meant those past attempts didn't pan out. Quigley brought up a large number of NOPD civil rights abuses in the past several decades.

"All of this has continued," he said.

The proposed NOPD consent decree calls for community advisory boards. Quigley emphasized "advisory" and said the idea was essentially meaningless. He noted that two other similar agreements, in Cincinnati and Los Angeles, community groups were allowed to intervene.

"To us this is literally life and death, to us as the victim community ... the people who are the statistics the Department of Justice is talking about," Quigley said.

"We want the system to work. We want a civilian control position inside of this. We want a term longer than four years," he said. "This is a systemic issue."

(More after the jump)

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Louisiana school ordered to change policy on pregnant students

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 11:15 AM

The Delhi school targeted this week by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was ordered by the Louisiana Department of Education to change a policy that forced pregnant students and students suspected of being pregnant from school.

Delhi Charter School president Albert Christman — who previously had said he was unaware of the policy's discrimination — said it was "intended to protect students from ridicule and harassment," according to the ACLU of Louisiana. Louisiana Department of Education policy director Michael Higgins wrote a letter to the school, demanding it rescind the policy by Aug. 16. The letter demanded a policy that "does not discriminate against pregnant students or students perceived to be pregnant” and that “under no circumstances shall the school require any student to take a pregnancy test.”

"They ordered them," said ACLU of Louisiana president Marjorie Esman, "so they have no choice." The school policy was to subject students to a school-selected physician for a pregnancy test, and if they didn't comply or are found pregnant, the students would be asked to leave:

If an administrator or teacher suspects a student is pregnant, a parent conference will be held. The school reserves the right to require any female student to take a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not the suspected student is in fact pregnant. The school further reserves the right to refer the suspected student to a physician of its choice. If the test indicates that the student is pregnant, the student will not be permitted to attend classes on the campus of the Delhi Charter School.

The ACLU of Louisiana also submitted a letter to the school on Monday, demanding the school remove its policy, which violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibiting sex discrimination in schools and programs receiving federal funds. An online petition asking the same collected more than 100,000 signatures.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Louisiana school kicks out pregnant or suspected pregnant students

Posted By on Tue, Aug 7, 2012 at 12:35 PM


The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has challenged a Louisiana public school that requires female students to take a pregnancy test if they're suspected of being pregnant. At Delhi Charter School, students are subject to a school-selected physician and risk expulsion if they don't comply. In a statement, Louisiana ACLU director Marjorie Esman said, “The pregnancy policy violates the rights of every girl at Delhi Charter School. ... Every girl is at risk of being subject to intrusive medical testing, and possibly forced out of school, for reasons that have nothing to do with her education.”

According to its student handbook

If an administrator or teacher suspects a student is pregnant, a parent conference will be held. The school reserves the right to require any female student to take a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not the suspected student is in fact pregnant. The school further reserves the right to refer the suspected student to a physician of its choice. If the test indicates that the student is pregnant, the student will not be permitted to attend classes on the campus of the Delhi Charter School.

It continues, saying "any student who is suspected of being pregnant and who refuses to submit to a pregnancy test shall be treated as a a pregnant student and will be offered home study opportunities." If "home study opportunities are not acceptable," the school will offer counseling for other education opportunities.

The ACLU says the policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools and programs receiving federal funds. It states that students can't be excluded from any activities “including any class or extracurricular activity, on the basis of such student’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.”

The ACLU demanded in a letter that the school suspend the policy, or it will consider filing a lawsuit against it. No word whether the school still uses this handbook, which is dated 2006.

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