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Promises for Juvenile Justice

On Wednesday, Sept. 10, the usual clutch of juvenile-justice reformers -- parents, kids who'd been through the system, activists and legislators -- congregated with TV news cameras on the steps of the capitol in Baton Rouge. Staff and volunteers from the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) also showed up as part of a larger group, the Coalition for Effective Juvenile Justice Reform.

Organizers had invited all the gubernatorial candidates to sign their intentions in ink, pledging to birddog the newly acted Juvenile Justice Reform Act (Act 1225) and to fight for even further changes.

The crowd applauded the architects of Act 1225, Sen. Donald Cravins (D-Arnaudville) and Rep. Mitch Landrieu (D-New Orleans). Then, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco stepped up, grabbed a pen and became the first to sign the "Platform for Juvenile Justice Reform," a two-page document that starts out with the sentence "Louisiana's juvenile justice system is broken" and ends with a promise to give the system adequate resources, training and supervision.

Part of Act 1225 is the closure of the Tallulah juvenile prison by the end of 2004 ("Little Angolas," Aug. 19). Blanco announced that once she was elected, she would sign a blanket order to close it earlier than that.

Candidate Randy Ewing couldn't make the event but told organizers that he, too, endorsed the platform. The following day, Richard Ieyoub and Buddy Leach also added their names to the list. Other candidates had not responded to event organizers by press time.

JJPL spokeperson Kelly Foote explains why the Platform is necessary: "Nothing's set," he says. Existing juvenile facilities are still violent, he says, and the state is paying $67,525 a year to incarcerate one kid at Tallulah, more than it would cost to send him to Harvard University. Reform has passed, but now it needs to be implemented, says Foote. "It's in the hands of the next governor to make or break anything," he says. -- Katy Reckdahl

It's Their Party ...

The top award from the Jefferson Parish Democratic Executive Committee this year goes to state Rep. Mitch Landrieu -- of New Orleans. This border-crossing beneficence only underscores a lack of Democratic elected officials in Jefferson, Louisiana's second most populous parish.

As the party heads into the fall elections and prepares for the presidential preference primary on March 9, Jefferson Parish Democrats have both good news and bad news to consider.

As of last month, Democrats made up 48 percent of registered voters in Jefferson Parish. Democratic candidates will retain the most powerful parochial offices after the fall elections for coroner, sheriff, district attorney and parish president, while Republicans will keep the offices of assessor and clerk of court. The GOP, however, will dominate races for the Legislature and the Jefferson Parish Council, a Gambit Weekly survey shows.

Of the 18 legislative districts that represent at least some portion of Jefferson Parish, 11 are guaranteed to Republican candidates; in contrast, only two seats are assured to Democrats going into the Oct. 4 primary. (Republicans will take four of the six Senate seats on the fall ballot. Of 12 House districts representing at least some portion of Jefferson Parish, Republicans are guaranteed seven seats compared to two seats for Democrats.)

Our survey also shows that Republicans should dominate the Parish Council. In the list of candidates for the two open at-large seats on the Parish Council, for instance, there isn't a Democrat in the bunch. In fact, all four candidates for the Division B seat are Republican, and all but one (who has no party listed) of the four candidates in Division A are in the GOP.

"We need to work with our elected officials and come up with some new and creative ideas to get more Democrats elected in the parish," says Jamie Beeson Balser, an elected Democratic Party official who is organizing the parish Democrats' awards banquet.

Landrieu, the frontrunner in the race for lieutenant governor, will be honored 7 p.m. Tuesday with the seventh annual Mike Yenni Lifetime Democratic Achievement Award for party leadership. Other honorees include Democratic gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, state Attorney Gen. Richard Ieyoub and former U.S. Rep. Buddy Leach. -- Allen Johnson Jr.


Anatomy of a Showdown

The saying goes that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it; a community forum planned for this week is designed to commemorate and analyze a singular event in local history.

By the fall of 1970, the racial and social unrest that plagued the country threatened to take hold in New Orleans. Throughout that year, the Black Panther movement had developed a major presence in the Desire housing development, where that group provided a stabilizing force to a neighborhood that had largely been disregarded by police. Panthers provided food, security and even after-school tutoring to impoverished Desire residents and successfully recruited many grateful community members to their revolutionary cause. As their tenure in Desire grew, so did the unease -- police and Panthers had run-ins, including a shootout in September. On Nov. 19, 1970, the conflict came to a head when police arrived to evict the Panthers from a building they were occupying illegally. The tense standoff nearly erupted in violence between police and the Panthers and residents who supported them, but with the help of mediators, religious leaders and Mayor Moon Landrieu, both sides managed to avoid bloodshed.

This week's event, "Showdown in Desire: A Reunion and Community Forum," reunites some of the figures in that episode including Landrieu, former Black Panthers Althea Francois and Malik Rahim, and civil rights attorney Ernest Jones. The panelists will recall the event, take questions, and discuss racial and social issues relevant today.

Held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center at 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., the forum will include a community meal. For more information, call 569-9070. -- Eileen Loh Harrist

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