Sex Offender Notification

We got a Sex Offender Notification in the mail, about a guy who’s living six or so blocks away. The card lists the following offense: “03/27/1995 14:81 2-Molestation of Juvenile.” There’s a mugshot, as well as his name, sex, hair and eye color, race, height, weight, age, and of course his address. It’s also got his nickname: Merkey.

We got one of these years ago and it really creeped me out in two different ways. There’s the unsettling factor of contemplating a neighbor’s alleged crime. And then there’s the weird Orwellian factor of the notification itself. I’m not sure which disturbs me more.

1995. That’s fourteen years ago. Did he go to jail? For how long? And what exactly was he alleged to have done, anyway? Molestation of a juvenile… If this is to have any value beyond titillation and fear-mongering, I need more details. If he raped an infant girl, for example, I’m going to regard his presence quite differently than if he had consensual sex with a teenage boy.

Jordan the Hero

Often there’s little glory in doing the right thing. It can’t be easy to step down from a powerful political office. But Eddie Jordan did just that today. If we take him at his word, he did it for the good of New Orleans.

In January I said, “Shame on you, Mayor Nagin, Superintendent Riley, District Attorney Jordan. You have really let us down.” Months later I joined other local activists in calling for Jordan’s resignation.

In spite of all that, I am not jubilant over Jordan’s resignation. I can find no joy in another person’s pain. And surely this must be a painful moment for Jordan.

Recall that Jordan entered with impressive credentials. As US Attorney he’d prosecuted former governor Edwin Edwards. He was the first black DA in the history of New Orleans. Furthermore, he had an unparalleled flair for old-fashioned haberdashery.

But something wasn’t working for Jordan. The breaking point for me was when he dropped a quintuple murder case under extremely questionable circumstances. Some people say he was played by the NOPD, but I’m not sure I buy that. Then again, what do I know? Only this: something wasn’t working.

Jordan had a rare opportunity to make a painful choice for the greater good. Few thought he’d actually do it. But he did. You can view him as a sacrificial lamb if you like, but I prefer to think of him in a nobler light, as somebody who did the right thing even though it must have been difficult.

It must be noted that Jordan’s resignation doesn’t improve anything in itself. But to remain in office was detrimental to the recovery of New Orleans. Therefore, I salute Eddie Jordan as a hero, not for what he did as DA, but for being brave enough to confront his weakness and stand down for the greater good.

Another Failed Prosecution

Remember that retired teacher who got beat up on Bourbon Street shortly after Katrina? Sure you do, it was on television all over the world, a blatant example of police brutality and a huge embarrassment to the city of New Orleans.

Well, the latest news is that the accused officer was acquitted.

Some will say that Judge Frank Marullo has a pro-police bias. But I note the following from a Crouere’s Corner:

In the past, Marullo had legendary conflicts with former District Attorney Harry Connick and some believed that he was one of the more liberal judges on the criminal court bench.

And I’m sure some will say Marullo is dirty — nothing would surprise me.

But I am left to wonder about the prosecutor. This seems like such an easy case. It seems like another example of a botched prosecution.

We already know that District Attorney’s office can’t handle the job. Some of Eddie Jordan’s defenders have stuck by him out of a false hope that he’s going to clean up the police department. Unfortunately, he can’t, and this acquittal is further evidence of that. He’ll blow the Danziger case too. Mark my words.

Anyway you slice it, this is an ugly case. The other officer involved, who was also being prosecuted, killed himself last month.

And as for Stewart Smith, the third cop, who tried to stop the Associated Press from videotaping the incident? Charges against him were dismissed because the D.A. missed the deadline.

Citizens Demand Jordan’s Resignation Monday Morning

This just in via Karen Gadbois…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW ORLEANS CITIZENS TAKE TO THE STREETS TO DEMAND
THE RESIGNATION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY EDDIE JORDAN

New Orleans citizens, fed up with the resurgence of violent crime in their city, will stage a protest in front of the Cabildo on Jackson Square on Monday, July 16 at 6 a.m. to demand the resignation of District Attorney Eddie Jordan.

Although every component of the city’s criminal justice system has been in disarray since Hurricane Katrina, the district attorney’s office is widely seen as the biggest obstacle to reform because of its pattern of not pursuing charges.

In just the past two weeks, the D.A.’s office has dropped murder charges against suspects in two high-profile murder cases: that of Dinerral Shavers, gunned down in his car, and last summer’s quintuple murder in Central City. In both cases, the D.A.’s office cited lack of witnesses as the reason for the dismissals. However, in the Shavers case, there were other witnesses and evidence, inexplicably not used; and in the Central City murders, New Orleans police were able to locate the supposedly un-findable witness within a matter of hours of learning about the dismissal.

These incidents come on the heels of a protest march in January, in which 5000 New Orleanians took to the streets to demand that city officials address the rampant violence that had taken over the city. Notably, although mayor Ray Nagin and Superintendent of Police Warren Riley attended, Mr. Jordan did not. At that time, Mr. Jordan claimed a 92% conviction rate, although he declined to provide statistics on the number of cases he chooses not to pursue, raising questions as to the validity of the 92% figure he provided.

In the past, Mr. Jordan has shown disdain for anyone questioning the actions of his agency. Most notably, he stormed out of an Nightline interview with ABC’s Brian Ross when Ross pressed him about whether his office had performed as it should.

It appears that Mr. Jordan has lost the confidence not only of the citizenry, but of his fellow politicians as well. Mayor Nagin released a statement last week condemning the D.A.’s office for its “a disturbing pattern in which the DA dismisses charges without securing assistance from NOPD or any other entity in the criminal justice system.” Councilwoman Shelley Midura has publicly called for Mr. Jordan’s resignation, saying, “I no longer believe you have the consent and support from the public required to perform your duties adequately.”

Note: ABC News/Good Morning America is conducting a “town hall meeting” with Senator John Edwards. The town hall will take place on Monday, July 16th and hosted live by Diane Sawyer in the Cabildo in the French Quarter from 6:00am to 8:00am Central Time.

Update: The organizers add:

We hope that you’ll participate in this peaceful demonstration. Those interested should be in front of the Cabildo at 5:30 a.m. on Monday (to catch the live broadcast of Good Morning America). We ask that you bring signs and wear something white. For further information, please email [email protected] And please encourage your friends to attend!

Bloodletting

These lyrics keep going through my head.

I’m on the creep, with no sleep
I ain’t trynna rest till the enemy six feet
It’s game time, and I’m ready to play
Gimme my remote and my remote is my K
I spray with it, I’m from uptown
I gotta stay wit it
When we murder, we know how to get away wit it
We do our slick, one shot to the head is how we slank a bitch

— B.G. “My World – I Want It” from 2004’s Life After Cash Money

Yeah, he said it. “When we murder, we know how to get away wit it.” Some people would latch on to these words and think the words themselves are the problem, but of course that’s ass-backwards. B.G. is reporting on the situation in his hometown of New Orleans. The real problem is the society wherein murder is an acceptable strategy and the system wherein one can so easily murder and “get away wit it.”

I’m not a vengeful person. I’m not a law-and-order crusader. I am critical of the whole orientation of our criminal justice system.

But I also subscribe to the radical notion that murderers should not go free.

It seems that the District Attorney Eddie Jordan is unable to do his job. Dropping charges against an accused quintuple-murderer is just the latest and most glaring example — the last straw. As a reminder, five young men were slaughtered in Central City last year, and it made headlines around the world. The case was dropped earlier this week because the only witness had “disappeared.” When that news came to light, the police promptly produced the witness, who is willing to testify. The mind boggles.

It surpasses my understanding why Jordan is screwing up so badly, but I really don’t care whether he’s incompetent, corrupt or just plain evil. I don’t care. He just needs to go. It’s entirely possible that Jordan could be replaced by someone just as bad as he is. But the consequence of someone screwing up like this and staying in office is surely even worse.

People, it’s time to rise up. Tell your elected officials to join together and pressure Jordan to resign. If our authorities won’t do this in the next days, then grassroots organizations need to take the extreme step of supporting a national boycott of New Orleans. I think that’s the only thing that will show we’re serious.

I hate to use a violent metaphor, but blood must be let. If Jordan isn’t purged, we should threaten to open our own veins, which is exactly what calling for a boycott would be.

Midura to Jordan: Please Resign

Shelley Midura of the New Orleans City Council has asked our Distict Attorney Eddie Jordan to step down. I’m going to reproduce it here in full because her staff sent it to me directly (along with many others I’m sure) so I can claim as direct a line as the mainstream media:

July 12, 2007
Eddie Jordan
District Attorney
1340 Poydras Street
Suite 700
New Orleans, LA 70112

Dear Mr. Jordan:

I am writing to you today to respectfully request that you resign from the office of Orleans Parish District Attorney.

I have no doubts about your intentions or your dedication or your character. By all accounts you are a fine man. But the job of District Attorney is an admittedly difficult one with heavy responsibility and requires more than most fine men are capable of. After the events of the last 48 hours, which have eroded the public’s confidence in your ability to carry out the responsibilities of the District Attorney, I am asking that you resign from office. An elected official’s legitimacy and moral authority to govern is derived from the consent of the governed. I no longer believe you have the consent and support from the public required to perform your duties adequately.

I do not know that there is any excuse for dropping charges against a quintuple murderer without a thorough exhaustion of all possibilities to prevent such a thing from happening. Months ago you and Superintendent Riley pledged to the City Council several reforms and improvements in your lines of communication to ensure that lack of coordination between your offices would no longer lead to dropped cases against those who pose serious threats to our public safety. It has become all too clear that you have been unable to hold up your end of this bargain. Mr. Jordan, you must know as well as any of your fellow New Orleanians the great urgency our city feels in combating the violent crime problem. We have lost the room for these kinds of error. I thank you for your service and your efforts as District Attorney, yet I maintain my request on behalf of my constituents that you resign your office as soon as possible.
Sincerely,

Shelley Midura

cc: Mayor C. Ray Nagin
New Orleans City Council

Midura has no authority over Jordan. As far as I know, Jordan answers only to the voters. Therefore Midura is exceeding her authority here. She’s sticking her neck out, taking a risk. She may pay a price for it. So… is she merely pandering to her constituents, or is this an exercise of true leadership? I tend to think it’s the latter. Big props to Midura for saying what needs to be said. I’m not in her district, but she’s representin’ for me.

Nolle Prosequi

A new phrase has been added to my vocabulary: nolle prosequi, Latin for “unwilling to pursue.”

The District Attorney said nolle prosequi about David Bonds’ case last week. Bonds was accused of killing Dinerral Shavers. I never knew Dinerral, but I was disturbed by news of his murder, which I wrote about in December.

The official line is that the prosecution couldn’t make their case because the young witness is being prevented from testifying by her mother. But it’s surely more complicated than that. Ken Foster says “no one felt it was their responsibility to get a conviction.”

That got me thinking about L— H—’s case. L— was accused of killing a young boy near our home in 2004. I wrote about his case in February. Yesterday I checked Docket Master, and sure enough, nolle prosequi.

03/22/2007 LONDONC
>DEFENDANT, L— H— APPEARED WITHOUT COUNSEL FOR PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE
>FOR COUNT 1 RS 14 30 FIRST DEGREE MURDER NOLLE PROSEQUI.
>RELEASE ISSUED.
>CASE CLOSED, THIS DEFENDANT.

After three years in prison, L— has been released into a city that’s been devastated by disaster. How strange that must be. The murder rate in New Orleans is higher than when L— went into prison. In fact, it’s higher than anywhere else in this nation. Much higher.

Postscript: Natasha Robin of Fox 8 interviewed me yesterday about a recent string of violent incidents. I told her I am not an expert on violent crime, but she said she wanted to get “the voice of the people.” They shot some footage of me distributing flyers for a community BBQ. I wasn’t able to catch the news so I don’t know how it played.

B Stupid Cops a Plea

I read in the paper last weekend that B-Stupid copped a plea.

B-Stupid

In exchange for pleading guilty in federal court Thursday to drug-trafficking and gun crimes and his agreement in state court that he was involved with a friend’s murder, a 22-year-old New Orleans man will face a possible sentence of 25 years instead of life, according to federal prosecutors.

Following his 2006 arrest in Kenner on a fugitive warrant, Ivory Brandon “B-Stupid” Harris called his associates from jail asking them to try to track down the witness who had fingered him in the Fat Tuesday 2006 slaying of Jermaine “Manny” Wise, the prosecutors said in documents handed to the judge.

I work with Manny’s mother, Donna. I wondered what she thought about all this. She was out Monday and Tuesday, and I figured maybe she was upset by the news. But today when I talked to her she said the deal is fine by her. After all, the witness had to be moved three times already — who knows how much longer she could have held out, especially as B Stupid was trying to discover her identity for presumably nefarious purposes.

Donna says she plans to speak at the sentencing hearing.

A Night in Jail

A co-worker’s son spent last Friday night in jail here in New Orleans. Of course, people have to deal with our dysfunctional system all the time, and their voices are usually not heard, or they are ignored. But it just so happens that my co-worker is a writer and a blogger, so you can read all about it.

Endless Outrages

I was just talking to a lady who works a janitorial detail here at the University. Her son, Jermaine Wise, was murdered last Mardi Gras by none other than B Stupid, aka Ivory Harris. Remember him? He was public enemy #1 until he got arrested March 20th. She pointed out he’s being charged with second degree murder, which she didn’t understand since it was apparently a premeditated slaying. There’s a witness to this murder who is actually willing to testify (a rarity) and who is being protected by the D.A. Here’s what really got me. The guard assigned by the D.A. to protect this witness attempted to rape her. I’m at a loss for words. Somehow “outrageous” seems inadequate.

Like It or Not

Like it or not — and I don’t like it, not one bit — I seem to have become some kind of spokesperson on the subject of violent crime. I didn’t ask for this, I don’t relish it, and I’m not prepared for it. Indeed the very prospect makes my stomach churn. Violent crime is an ugly subject to consider. Yet I just fielded two calls from two different media outlets setting up interviews tomorrow. I need to get my head around this.

Some people might expect me to just keep reiterating the same speech that I gave at City Hall, but I don’t think that works. The point of that event was to express a general sense of outrage and despair to our political class, but media interviews offer a different opportunity.

What are the key points to emphasize? What can I say to keep the positive spirit of last week’s march on City Hall alive, while addressing any negative perceptions or anxieties?

I feel in my gut that the key is to be expansive as possible. We must transform our society in a positive fashion. But another part of me says it’s good to have a very specific, focused point to make. How to balance this contradiction? I don’t know.

Off the cuff, I’d be inclined to emphasize the following:

We do not need an expansion of police powers, but effective community policing. The level of distrust between the community and the police is incredibly high. Most people I’ve spoken to, regardless of race or class, have had extremely negative experiences with NOPD. The checkpoints instituted last week are not helping. A friend of mine was issued a bogus citation at a checkpoint because he got mad and yelled at the officer. That, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Better relations between community and police can only come when police are accountable to the community. Police are supposed to serve the community, after all. Put the community in charge. We need creative solutions — citizen oversight boards, perhaps.

Law enforcement is clearly a short-term measure. Some folks have said to me that there are simply no short-term measures that are acceptable. I was taken aback by this at first, but they do have a point: Our traditional system of arrest and incarceration simply reproduces the pathology of crime.

That’s why we need to think outside of traditional law enforcement measures and explore creative alternatives such as decriminalization of drugs. Pre-Katrina, 65% of New Orleans arrests were for drug offenses, while the national rate was 31%. Furthermore, two out of three convictions in our Criminal District Court were for simple drug possession. (I wonder if post-Katrina stats are available.)

But it’s a mistake to focus on law enforcement to the exclusion of everything else. We have to look beyond that in two directions.

On the one hand, the criminal justice system is broken. It’s worth noting that we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the whole world, but killers go free while we lock people up for non-violent misdemeanors. Something like two-thirds of prisoners are non-violent drug users who need treatment. They don’t get better in jail. Worse yet, the prison experience transforms petty criminals into hardened criminals. I don’t like the notion of locking people up, but I don’t like the notion of people killing with impunity either. I’m having a hard time with this contradiction.

On the other hand, we have to seek long-term solutions that address root causes of violence and crime: poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, lack of opportunity, lack of respect for human life, vast social inequities. In the wake of Katrina there was a lot of media hoopla about a dialog on race and class in America. It never happened, and it never will happen unless we make it happen. Furthermore, that dialog has to be truly inclusive across racial and class lines, or it’s worthless. If we want to talk about violent crime, we must acknowledge that violence afflicts certain communities disproportionately. We need to respect and listen to those who are suffering the most, and then we need to act upon that intelligence.

To stabilize our community we must re-establish basic public services. We should reopen Charity Hospital, reopen public housing, and provide quality education and job training for all. Each of these is a huge topic in its own right, multi-faceted and complex. But only through such long term measures will we ever achieve a more just and humane society.

A Man Prepares to Gut Home

Furthermore, it would be nice if I got a chance to clarify that I’m not a “leader” of a “movement.” The march on City Hall last week was a outpouring of mass outrage and sorrow. There was no coherent agenda, no set of demands agreed upon by all in advance. In fact, there was a diversity of ideas and agendas, with some in direct contradiction of others. Someone mentioned to me Monday that to stage such a protest without a coherent agenda was irresponsible. Well, perhaps so. Perhaps we have been made reckless by our grief. But then again, too many of us have been too complacent for too long. We need to find a balance and build a consensus as a community.

I don’t know. As you can see what I’m presenting here is raw and unformed. I could use some help. Your ideas are welcome. But please be gentle with me. I’m making 40 today. I’d rather be thinking about other things, but life doesn’t seem to be working out that way, and this is what I’m stuck with. Like it or not.

Update: I was on the radio this morning and Schroeder’s got the write-up.

Update: Will march help? in New Orleans CityBusiness.

Update: “Crime and Punishment: Rescue 504” appears is the January 27th cover story for Data News Weekly.