Civil Rights

Friday, April 7, 2017

Agents of change: Remembering Lolis Edward Elie and state Rep. Ralph Miller

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 1:57 PM

Civil rights attorney Lolis Edward Elie (left) and former State Rep. Ralph Miller, both of whom died recently, each was an agent of change in his own way. - ELIE: COURTESY THE LOLIS EDWARD ELIE FAMILY
  • ELIE: COURTESY THE LOLIS EDWARD ELIE FAMILY
  • Civil rights attorney Lolis Edward Elie (left) and former State Rep. Ralph Miller, both of whom died recently, each was an agent of change in his own way.

Change doesn’t come easily. It typically requires great risk by people willing to take on the status quo against daunting odds. Louisiana recently lost two agents of change with the passings of civil rights lawyer Lolis Edward Elie and former state Rep. Ralph Miller.

Elie fought in the trenches of the local civil rights movement, often representing clients that no other attorney would take. Though not large in stature, Elie had a lion’s heart. “He was fearless,” recalled longtime friend Don Hubbard, a businessman, veteran politico and a former leader in the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of Elie’s early clients.

Miller, also an attorney, worked the legislative halls pushing bills that opened local and state government to public view for the first time. They included strengthening Louisiana’s Sunshine Law (open meetings), Public Records Act and campaign finance disclosure laws. When Miller arrived in Baton Rouge in 1968 as a freshman lawmaker from his hometown of Norco (where he lived until his death), “open government” was a radical concept. Today, no investigative reporter could function without those laws.


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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Louisiana Legislature to consider banning the death penalty in this year's session

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 4:11 PM

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The Louisiana State Legislature is slated to consider a ban on the death penalty in this year's legislative session, after three former law enforcement officials introduced bills in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the chairman of the senate’s Judiciary C committee and former prosecutor in New Orleans, filed one of the bills.

He collaborated on the initiative, he said, with Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia. Landry, who was a state police superintendent under former Gov. Mike Foster, wrote another bill with support from Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Winnsboro, a former sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Both Claitor’s Senate Bill 142 and Landry’s House Bill 101 would eliminate the death penalty and instead mandate life in prison without the possibility of parole for defendants convicted of first degree murder, first degree rape or treason.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Consent decree or not, NOPD Chief Harrison wants "fair, constitutional policing"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 6:30 PM

NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison: "I remain committed and every member of my team remains committed to police reform." - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison: "I remain committed and every member of my team remains committed to police reform."

In a recent memo to the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered an “immediate review” of all department activities, including all existing and planned consent decrees with law enforcement agencies. “Local control and local accountability are necessary for local policing,” Sessions wrote. “It is not the role of the federal government to manage non-federal law agencies.”

Since 2009, according to The Washington Post, the department has opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies and enforced 14 consent decrees, among other agreements, in the wake of civil rights violations and corruption in police departments around the U.S. Those agreements include consent decrees with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, overseen by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), overseen by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. Since 2013, DOJ reforms within NOPD — detailed in nearly 500 points on more than 100 pages — aim to overhaul nearly everything within the department, from anti-bias measures and profiling to how officers handle domestic violence cases, efforts to ensure “constitutional policing” across the board.

Former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite — who was asked to leave his post even after he submitted his resignation as President Donald Trump cleaned house — said Sessions’ memo isn’t enough to end the agreements. “Not sure if Sessions knows this,” Polite said on Twitter, “but he can't stop Judges Africk and Morgan from ensuring that our NOLA consent decrees move forward.”

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Student zine, presentation March 30 highlight notable New Orleans black women

Posted By on Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 11:10 AM

Mwende Katwiwa (center) and program participants.
  • Mwende Katwiwa (center) and program participants.

In a time when pop culture is finally amplifying the voices and stories of more black women, participants in a Young Women with a Vision after-school program are finding heroes closer to home.

At a New Orleans Public Library presentation Thursday, they'll present a zine-style sample of their work so far on a book that ultimately will profile as many as 30 notable black women from New Orleans. The book, created almost entirely by the program's middle and high school students, will be published when the program concludes this academic year.

"We're living in this era of black girl magic, and  if you're a millennial of my age it hits you at the perfect time, but I realized ... a lot of that has not actually trickled down to young people," says program coordinator Mwende Katwiwa. "I was getting a lot of feedback from [the students] in school that they don't have access to a lot of black women who look like them. ... A lot of the people people that they see in places that are not home don't look like them and don't share similar experiences."

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Judge says Liberty Place monument can come down

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 9:40 AM

Liberty Monument. - PHOTO BY KANDACE POWER GRAVES
  • Photo by Kandace Power Graves
  • Liberty Monument.
A federal judge has ruled that New Orleans can remove a monument honoring a white supremacist uprising. It's likely the final thumbs up for city officials to begin removing four Confederate-era monuments after an appeals court ruling sided with the city to take down monuments to P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. The Liberty decision comes just two days after that ruling.

The Battle of Liberty Place monument originally honored a revolt from members of the Crescent City White League against Reconstruction efforts and the city's integrated police force in 1874.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Concerts for Indigent Defense to put spotlight on Louisiana's public defense crisis

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 7:16 PM

New Orleans' Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton. - CHERYL GERBER
  • CHERYL GERBER
  • New Orleans' Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton.
March 18 is the 54th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, a landmark ruling guaranteeing the right to counsel for defendants who can't afford an attorney. But public defense for the indigent in Louisiana — which relies on fines and fees to fund its public defenders — has been at the center of a "constitutional crisis" in which caseloads overwhelm under-funded and under-staffed offices, halting many cases altogether while the state struggles with a perpetual budget mess. A recent lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center takes aim at the state's public defense services.

"Without adequate representation, there is no justice," New Orleans Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton said in a statement. "Our entire system fails and poor people are the ones hurt the most.”

New Orleans, appropriately, will host the first event in a planned series of national concerts to raise awareness of the right to counsel and the crises faced by public defenders offices nationwide. The New Orleans installment of Concerts for Indigent Defense features the Original Pinettes Brass Band, Zena Moses and Rue Fiya, Junko Beat (also featuring Orleans Public Defender Will Snowden), Caren Green, Mystic Beez, Casme, Britney Chaunte, Dedrick West, K.Levy, Justin Parker and others. In conjunction with the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the concert begins 5 p.m. Saturday, March 18 at WonderLand Production Studios (3233 St. Bernard Ave.). The concert also will be streamed on its website.

"The Supreme Court says you have a fundamental constitutional right to have a lawyer, and yet state after state, if you're poor and accused of a crime, you often don't have access to a decent lawyer at all," says event founder Stephen Saloom. "If you do, it’s not in a timely fashion. When they represent you they are often overwhelmed by a caseload that nobody thinks is appropriate."

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Federal appeals court: Confederate monuments can come down

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 6:13 PM

PHOTOS BY DERICK HINGLE & KANDACE POWER GRAVES
  • Photos by Derick Hingle & Kandace Power Graves

Nearly two years after Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced plans to remove controversial Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans, a March 6 ruling from a federal appeals court gave the city a green light to begin removing the statues..

In 2015
, the New Orleans City Council voted to take down monuments to P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and the Battle of Liberty Place, but removal efforts stalled after a lawsuit from the Monumental Task Committee challenged the vote. Today's ruling from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling against the suit.

“This win today will allow us to begin to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future," Landrieu said in a statement. "Moving the location of these monuments — from prominent public places in our city where they are revered to a place where they can be remembered — changes only their geography, not our history. Symbols matter and should reflect who we are as a people. These monuments do not now, nor have they ever reflected the history, the strength, the richness, the diversity or the soul of New Orleans."

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

At "milk carton" protest, constituents clamor for absent senator's response

Posted By on Sun, Mar 5, 2017 at 5:46 PM

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Senator John Neely Kennedy's photograph peered out sheepishly from the side of a super-sized cardboard milk carton in front of the Hale Boggs Federal Building Sunday afternoon. "MISSING," said the legend above the photo.

The milk carton was constructed by Step Up Louisiana, one of several progressive groups who co-organized the protest March 5 to highlight what they say has been a lack of communication and response from the just-elected senator, especially about his position on high-priority issues such as the protection of the Affordable Care Act and the Trump's administration's moves to restrict immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.

"You are missing and you are making bad decisions while in office," Step Up Louisiana co-director Maria Harmon said, addressing the absent Kennedy. "We don't serve [legislators]. They serve us."

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Tales of the Cocktail co-founder steps down over blackface furor

Posted By on Sat, Mar 4, 2017 at 7:55 PM

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When is blackface appropriate — if ever?

That's the question raised by a widely circulated image of a New Orleans entrepreneur — a white woman — being painted up to ride in the Krewe of Zulu parade, whose members (mostly African Americans) traditionally parade in blackface.

Ann and Paul Tuennerman — known in their professional roles as "Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail" for their founding of the New Orleans-based Tales of the Cocktail festival — were swept into a social media storm this week after Paul Tuennerman posted a photo of Ann in blackface as she prepared to ride in Tuesday's Zulu parade.

Since then, Paul Tuennerman has stepped down from the festival, and Ann Tuennerman has issued a formal apology and agreed to appear in a Facebook Live chat on Monday afternoon with Ashtin Berry, a bartender at the Ace Hotel New Orleans who had objected both to the image and to Ann Tuennerman's comment on the photo:
Paul G Tuennerman, interviewing me on Mardi Gras Morning from the Zulu Den. As he said "Throw a little Black Face on and you lose all your media skills." He did his best as the interviewer.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Town hall on transgender violence follows recent murders in Louisiana

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 6:00 PM

A memorial during 2016's Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience in Armstrong Park.
  • A memorial during 2016's Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience in Armstrong Park.

Following the deaths of Ciara McElveen and Chyna Gibson in New Orleans and Jaquarrius Holland in Monroe, advocacy group Transitions Louisiana will host a town hall on transgender violence next week. The meeting is 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Friday, March 10 at First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (2903 Jefferson Ave.). NOPD's LGBT liaison Sgt.​ Frank Robertson and At-Large City Councilmember Jason Williams also will be present. The violence in 2017 follows two of the deadliest years for transgender people in the U.S., including several deaths in Louisiana.

"This is a crucial moment in New Orleans and ​in ​the country itself," Transitions Louisiana Executive Director J. Mercedes Cardona told Gambit.

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