Dirty South Bureau

January 28, 2009

Credit where credit is due

Filed under: Mid-City,New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 10:22 pm

So often in New Orleans, we write about the negative. Actually, the horrible, the gut-wrenching, the insane, the god-awful. And along with it goes the blame: the backwardness, the ignorance, the greed, the corruption, the incompetence which are often so easy to find, particularly in local governance.

But today Iíd like to give some credit where credit is due. First award: to the NOPD. Yes, I said it. While Iím still disturbed about the shooting of Adolph Grimes, I need to give credit to the NOPD for catching the rapist/burglar who has been assaulting people in the 6th/7th wards.

Like anyone in this city, I have often doubted the ethics, tactics and culture of the NOPD. And for a variety of reasons, some of which are entirely out of their control, I also have concerns about their ability to actually find violent criminals. With so many unsolved murders in the city, I had very little faith that the creep who beat my friend in the head with a beer bottle while trying to rape her in her apartment would get caught. Starting with a tip from someone in the neighborhood, the NOPD found this guy and heís now in jail.

Thanks NOPD.

Frankly, I know thereís a lot of good people in the NOPD, just like there were a lot of good people in the projects, trying to do their best in utterly untenable situations. And frankly, the NOPD doesnít get paid enough to do such a stressful job.

Second: Kudos to Gambit writer Alison Fensterstock for her coverage of hip-hop in New Orleans.

This one is long overdue. I wrote roughly a year ago about the failure of (white) arts and culture periodicals and radio stations to cover New Orleansí huge and idiosyncratic hip-hop scene. Now you may like hip-hop, or you may hate it. You may find it vapid, regressive, crude, repetitive and/or uninspired. Iím not a big fan of a lot of hip-hop either, frankly. I get sick of bounce pretty quickly, and thereís only a couple of Mystikal songs that I donít skip over on the CD player.

But hip-hop is here and itís here to stay; more importantly hip-hop is the musical and lyrical expression of the lives of African-American youth, and we are still in a majority black city. It deserves to be examined.

Fensterstock (likely with no prodding from me) stepped up to the plate. Her articles in Gambit about the “sissy” scene and Lilí Wayneís national success were excellent. Such attention has spilled over into the T-P: what prompted the hilarious Times-Picayune living section article comparing Lilí Wayne and Celine Dion?

And finally… a big thank you to LPSC member Lambert Boissiere, III.

(NOTE: The Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) is the body that regulates utilities in the state of Louisiana, including our very favorite monopoly, Entergy Corporation. So if you wonder why your power bills are so high, I recommend that you start paying attention to what the LPSC and the New Orleans City Council Utility Committee, which regulates utilities in our city, are doing, and arenít doing, in your name.)

The LPSC did two very important things on January 14, 2009, and both were spearheaded by Lambert Boissiere. First was to pass an ethics rule prohibiting commissioners and staff from receiving free meals from regulated utilities. For practical purposes, this is only a step; LPSC members need to stop taking campaign contributions as well. However in direction this was a major change, and I was impressed as all hell by Boissiereís leadership on this one. Credit also needs to go to Foster Campbell, Commissioner from northern Louisiana, who has long championed this very sort of ethics reform to a mostly unsympathetic commission. For the record, Jimmy Field voted for the new ethics rule as well.

Second, the LPSC re-opened an inquiry into the feasibility of passing the stateís first Renweable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which, if passed, would require that utilities purchase a set portion of their power from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass, a number that would increase modestly year by year.

For so many reasons- not only CO2 emissions but also energy independence and freedom from volatile fuel prices- this is huge. It may take a lot of political push to get it passed (thanks to the recalcitrance of our friends at Entergy) but if it does it means strengthening rural economies and the beginnings of clean, safe, reliable energy sources for the state.

Thatís all for now. So before I start sounding like Sheila Stroup, be sure to check in next week when we will return to our regularly scheduled programming of terror and failure. We would not want to let you down.

January 17, 2009

DWI (Driving While Integrated)

Filed under: Mid-City,Prison-Industrial Complex,Race — christian @ 2:59 pm

Iíll start this by stating that Iíve never really felt comfortable with the police. Maybe itís my upbringing, but Iíve rarely found them helpful or interested in my well-being. Far from “serving and protecting”, Iíve always had the feeling that theyíre here to give me tickets, take my money and potentially put me in jail, possibly for no good reason at all, and that I might get my ass kicked along the way if I’m not careful.

However any positive feelings Iíve had about the police have further eroded since a few months ago when a friend, who happens to be a black man who grew up in the 9th ward, moved into the vacant room in my apartment.

I try to understand the way black folk experience things; in the part of the west coast I grew up in, theyíre just werenít that many black people around. And while I have a basic intellectually understanding of the issues of racial profiling and the profoundly unequal way that police tend to treat black people, all that is very different from actual experience.

Because for the second time last night, I was harassed by police in my neighborhood, on the way to the store, for a DWI (Driving While Integrated). For those not familiar with DWI, it is a relative of DWB (Driving While Black), which is also related to WWB (Walking While Black).

Hereís how it works. I am driving on Broad, and notice that a car with a little rectangular row of lights on top is behind us (My older brother served jail time in California. I always notice the police). My housemate, letís just call him Big J, he and I are on our way to pick up food, paper plates and a garbage can for a party that weíre having. We decide to head up to Rouseís, so we turn on Bienville. The little row of rectangular lights follows us.

Do not look in the rear view mirror. Drive slowly. Relax.

As we head up Bienville, Big J notices an old friend who works at a tattoo parlor across the street. He is about to jump out, when I inform him that the police are behind us. No sudden moves. Letís just pull over some place where we can legally park and get out.

So we turn on Jeff Davis (proper use of turn signal). The police are still behind us. Now it is clear that we are being followed. My mind races. My truck is as legal as itís ever been. I just fixed the turn signal flasher unit, and all the lights work. I have no warrants. My registration is up to date. Why is this happening?

We find a parking spot and big J jumps out. Immediately the spotlight comes out (readers should take the tip that the quickest way to identify undercover cop cars is the big, round black spotlight on the driverís side). Big J freezes in its glare. An order is barked for me to get out as well.

This cop is not fucking around. He orders Big J to put his hands on the hood of the squad car. For me, itís hands at your sides. The officer wants to know if we have ID. I reach in my pocket to get my ID, the officer barks something again about keeping my hands out of my pockets and itís hands on the hood for me as well.

Our fine NOPD officer informs me that this is about a hit and run a few blocks away, and that our vehicle matches the description. This must be because there are so many beat up í85 ford pickups on the road. I wonder: if this is for a hit and run, why are we being treated like we might pull a gun on him at any moment? He runs our licenses.

In the glare of the flashing lights, I see anger wash over Big Jís face, which quickly changes into a mask of contained fury. Iím a little more calm, but then again I have yet to visit the inside of OPP, like a fair number of my friends here. Looking at Big J, I realize that this is far from the first time this has happened. The rage, and the control to bury it, appear to be familiar reflexes.

Iím also remembering that we were pulled over not two weeks ago after getting a new lock for the front door from Home Depot. The officersí excuse then was a bad turn signal, but they admitted that they had already run my plates before this happened. Cops approached both doors, and ran both our licenses. I had never before seen a passenger get his ID during for a traffic violation.

I get it. I live in the Ďhood. But this seems a little excessive. I think our real crime here is violating the Separate Car Act, like Homer Plessy did in 1896. We were Driving While Integrated. After all, what good reason would a white man and a black man have to be driving around the Ďhood?

I get it. Except that we live here, and that we are friends.

After the licenses come back clean, the cop lets us go unceremoniously.

Driving back from Rouseís, Big J is silent. This gives me time to think. Will we be stopped again on the way home? How many more times we will get pulled over on shopping trips? Exactly how many times in his life has Big J been stopped by the police? What does it do to the psyche of a young black man to continually be harassed by the police? How many of those in OPP are there for any actual crime? What exactly did Adolph Grimes do, or not do, to get shot in the back so many times by the NOPD?

And how long will Big J stay in New Orleans, before he decides he canít live like this any more?

January 4, 2009

Marshall Truehill, Jr., RIP

Filed under: Class,New Orleans Politics,public housing,Race — christian @ 8:40 pm

Yesterday I had the honor to join the hundreds of mourners who came to pay their last respects to the late Reverend Marshall Truehill, Jr., who passed away so suddenly last Christmas eve. The ceremony was more joyous than somber, as appears to be the custom of the black Protestant church.

I did not get the honor of knowing Marshall Truehill personally and I am sad that I did not have the chance. He passed so suddenly, and to see his body lain out like that, a man still young and strong, gave a strange feeling of vulnerability.

Instead I know his work. Reverend Truehill was a consistent fighter for the rights of those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, especially public housing residents. He was an eloquent and powerful speaker, a man whose very presence radiated dignity and purpose. I recall many a time hearing his words before City Council, words that spoke truth to power, without pretence. The media has called Reverend Truehill ďa voice of reasonĒ, and this is true. However in todayís world Marshall Truehill was also a radical, and kept the company of radicals in many of the stands that he took.

What I did not know before his funeral is that Reverend Truehill was also born in the B.W. Cooper (Calliope) Projects, and spent decades before the storm working on the behalf of the residents of public housing as a man of faith.

The Judases were there at his funeral as well; four members of our esteemed City Council and Mayor Ray Nagin. While it is honorable that they attended, I personally found it distasteful that certain members of the City Council used the occasion to grandstand. I did not expect either temperance or good taste from such persons, however it was an inappropriate venue for elected officials, whose actions are so contrary to the vision of the man, to use his funeral in this way.

Because of all the speakers, I found what Reverend Truehillís sister said to be the strongest, that Truehill “did not just read the bible, he lived the bible.” In a city and a nation with so many churches, I have seen some but not enough of religious communities fighting for social justice, particularly for the human right to return for those evacuated from this city after Katrina. I wonder how so many can go to church on Sunday and walk by the homeless on Monday. Truehill was not one of them.

It is men like Reverend Truehill who have caused me to re-evaluate my opinions of the tradition of the clergy. It comes down to this: Jesus was a radical. He opposed the Roman state, and was killed for it. His reward in heaven did not stop him from changing things on earth: from driving the money lenders from the temple (they have returned in great numbers), from healing the sick, from championing the poor and dispossessed.

Jesus did not say: love some of your brothers and sisters, and others you can discard because they are unworthy: because they are poor, because they are black, because they are poorly educated, because their neighborhoods are dangerous and they have children out of wedlock. He said to love all of humanity.

If I have had little interest in the church, it is because I have seen a great many religious people who want to talk endlessly about Jesus, but they are not willing to follow his example or even his teachings.

Reverend Truehill was not one of them. A great man has passed. God rest his soul.