By Bill Quigley. Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans.
Summary. Hurricane Katrina hit eleven years ago. Population of the City of New Orleans is down by over 95,000 people from 484,674 in 2000 to 389,617 in 2015. Almost all this loss of people is in the African American community. Child poverty is up, double the national average. The gap between rich and poor in New Orleans is massive, the largest in the country. The economic gap between well off whites and low income African Americans is widening. Despite receiving $76 billion in assistance after Katrina, it is clear that poor and working people in New Orleans, especially African Americans, got very little of that help. Here are the numbers.
35 The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority reported that 62 percent of pre-Katrina service has been restored. But Ride New Orleans, a transit rider organization, says streetcar rides targeted at tourists are fully restored but bus service for regular people is way down, still only at 35 percent of what it was before Katrina. That may explain why there has been a big dip in the number of people using public transportation in New Orleans, down from 13 percent in 2000 to 9 percent now.
44 Over two of every five children in New Orleans lives in poverty about double the national rate. The current rate of 44 percent is up 3 percentage points from 1999 and up 12 points from 2007. Overall, there are 50,000 fewer children under the age of 18 living in New Orleans than there were in 2000. In 2000 there were 129,408 and the latest numbers have dropped to 79,432 according to the Census figures reported by The Data Center.
50 Since Hurricane Katrina, home values have risen 54 percent and rent is up 50 percent. The annual household income needed to afford rent in New Orleans is $38,000, but 71 percent of workers earn on average $35,000. The average yearly income for service workers is $23,000 and only $10,000 for musicians. New Orleans has only 47 affordable rental units for every 100 low-income residents. Thirty-seven percent of households in the city are paying half of their income for housing, which is much higher than recommended. 36 percent of renters pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing, up from 24 percent in 2004. The New Orleans metro area ranks second in the top ten worst metro areas for cash strapped renters, according to the Make Room Initiative. Government leaders bulldozed over 3000 apartments of occupied public housing right after Katrina but now say there is a critical immediate need for at least 5000 affordable low income apartments.
93 Ninety three percent of New Orleans’ 48,000 public school students are in charter schools, the highest percentage in the US. Before Katrina, there were over 65,000 students enrolled in New Orleans public schools, less than 1 percent in charter schools. There are now 44 governing bodies for public schools in New Orleans. There are seven types of charter schools in Louisiana. The public schools are 87 percent African American. Widespread charter school problems for students with disabilities are getting a little bit better according to a federal court monitor report. The public has very mixed feelings about the system reflected in the most recent poll which shows 43 percent of whites think the schools are getting better compared to 31 percent of African Americans, while 23 percent of African-Americans thought schools were getting worse, in contrast to 15 percent of whites.
2,000 Black median income in New Orleans rose from $23,000 in 2005 to $25,000 eight years later while white median income rose by $11,000 from $49,000 to $60,000 during the same time.
6,811 White population of New Orleans is down from 128,871 in 2000 to 122,060 in 2015 according to The Data Center.
7,023 Hispanic population in New Orleans grew from 14,826 in 2000 to 21,849 in 2015. There has been significant growth in the Hispanic population in metro New Orleans area from 58,545 in 2000 to 109,553 in 2015 mostly in Jefferson Parish.
64,000 Over 64,000 working women in New Orleans earn less than $17,500 per year. One source of good jobs, working for the school board, was eliminated when 7500 employees were terminated right after Katrina.
95,057 The population of the City of New Orleans is 95,057 less in 2015 when it was 389,617 compared to 2000 when it was 484,674, according to the Data Center.
95,625 There are 95,625 fewer African Americans living in New Orleans (Orleans Parish) now than in the 2000 Census, according to Census figures reported by The Data Center. The percentage of New Orleans that is African American has dropped from 66 percent to 58 percent. Overall African American population in New Orleans dropped from 323,000 in 2000 to 227,000 in 2015. Black residents of New Orleans continue to be unfairly and disproportionately stopped and searched by police and also more likely to be arrested for marijuana use than other residents. That situation is even worse for other New Orleans metro residents as Gretna Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River, was recently cited as the arrest capital of the entire nation.
Last Louisiana continues to rank dead last in poverty, racial disparities and exclusion of immigrants. But New Orleans has plenty of wealthy people, in fact Bloomberg ranked New Orleans the worst in the entire country in income inequality. Louisiana also ranks last in national rankings of the quality and safety of school systems. Louisiana incarcerates more of its citizens than any of the other 50 states at a rate double the national average. And Louisiana has the highest healthcare costs because of high rates of premature deaths, diabetes, and obesity. In a welcome but too rare piece of good health news, Louisiana’s new Governor expanded Medicaid coverage and enrolled 250,000 additional people in the health care program in July 2016.
76 Billion dollars came to Louisiana because of Katrina. This information makes it clear who did NOT get the money.
Special thanks to The Data Center a terrific source of information showing how the community is doing.
This is the chapter written by Professor Mari Matsuda
Media Advisory for Monday July 11, 2016
Louisiana Police Violently Violate Constitutional Rights of Civilians Gathering Peacefully to Protest the Murder of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge
“WE WANTED TO BE SURE THAT PEOPLE WERE ABLE TO ENGAGE IN FIRST AMENDMENT ACTIVITY AND WERE INSTEAD MET BY AGGRESSIVE LAW ENFORCEMENT”
On Sunday thousands of protestors gathered in Baton Rouge to peacefully protest the killing of Alton Sterling by the Baton Rouge Parish Police Department. The large protests followed days of building local mobilization.
Between Friday and Sunday, more than 150 non-violent protesters were arrested, and dozens documented incidents of civil and constitutional violations including excessive use of force and unlawful infringement on First Amendment rights. “Over the past few days, law enforcement in Baton Rouge have escalated every interaction with the public civilian population, creating a more dangerous environment for everyone,” says May Nguyen, Secretary of the National Lawyers Guild Louisiana Chapter.
On Saturday afternoon, following a permitted peaceful protest, protesters were met by more than 100 law enforcement officers including Baton Rouge sheriffs deputies, Louisiana State Police, and Baton Rouge Police in full riot gear and military assault rifles. Law enforcement formed deep lines that cornered hundreds of protesters onto the sidewalks of two residential streets, and a resident’s small front lawn, with permission but with no place to exit. Anyone who moved was aggressively tackled to the ground and arrested. Law enforcement also targeted snatch-and-grab arrests of individuals who posed no threat to public safety, charged at the demonstrators chasing them with assault rifles, and entered a resident’s home who had begun sheltering demonstrators.
Professionally-trained negotiators attempted to intervene with law enforcement at the confrontation, but they refused to cooperate and deescalate the situation. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal, a local attorney and Vice President of the Louisiana National Lawyers Guild, said “myself and members of the NLG tried many times to intervene and ask law enforcement to de-escalate. Many of them were holding assault rifles with fingers on their triggers and those guns were pointed at the protesters. I had a clear view of both sides of the street; I did not see one thing was thrown by the protesters. I did not see any rocks or asphalt being thrown by protesters.”
Over the last few days, in addition to escalating the confrontation against peaceful protestors the police arrested at least two National Lawyers Guild legal observers and 3 members of the press including WWNO reporter Ryan Kailath. “We are also seeing that protesters are being charged with crimes unrelated to any activity documented at the protests. A legal observer standing and documenting the protest was charged with obstruction of a highway and resisting an officer. Protesters who were dragged and tackled into the street are being charged with blocking traffic,” said Sima Atri, a civil rights attorney supporting local organizers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. “Protesters are also being mistreated in jail after their arrest. We have documented reports of protesters engaging in peaceful vigil and song being maced, medication being withheld, 40 to 50 protesters being caged in small cells, and sheriffs making aggressive, violent, and discriminatory comments.”
Protesters continue to be held at East Baton Rouge Prison. None are being released without bond.
The National Lawyers Guild has been supporting individuals engaging in protest through legal observing, posting of bond, and additional criminal defense legal support. NLG is also operating a 24/7 Legal Hotline at225-341-2287.
Movement lawyer, organizer, advocate. That is how Ahmad Abuznaid describes himself. Whether he is helping organize a historic 31 day sit-in in the Governor of Florida’s Office, presenting before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva, working as Legal and Policy Director for Dream Defenders, or leading a delegation of Black Lives Matter activists to Palestine, Abuznaid, who has been a lawyer for five years, is all about justice.
Ahmad Abuznaid was born in East Jerusalem, Palestine. His father was a professor at Hebron University and later a diplomat who dedicated his life to the Palestinian cause. As a one year old his family moved to the US. His father had US citizenship, Ahmad and his mother received citizenship later. He returned to Palestine as a 7 year old to live there for five more years. ““As a seven-year-old boy being strip searched next to your mother… that obviously has a lasting effect,” he remembers. “Living in the occupied territories for a few years, I experienced harassment, strip searches, checkpoints and curfews that would extend for weeks. Like millions of Palestinians across the world, I am denied my legal right to return to my homeland by the settler colonial state of Israel. The Apartheid system they have enacted makes it possible for a Jewish child born today in Alaska to have greater rights in historic Palestine than me and my entire family, simply because we do not subscribe to Judaism.”
Returning to Florida he “started hanging out with all the Black and Latino kids. Because of my experience in Palestine, the blinders had been taken off of my eyes. I began to recognize the existence of US systems of injustice which disproportionately affected black, brown, and poor people. It was very easy for me to see parallels in different oppressions. Maybe because of what these systems have done to us, I felt a similar spirit of resistance.”
In college Abuznaid started organizing. In 2006, while he was attending Florida State University, 14 year old Martin Lee Anderson was murdered in a state-run boot camp youth detention facility in Panama City Florida. Though law enforcement said Anderson died of sickle cell anemia, surveillance tapes came to light showing he collapsed during mandatory exercise and five officers kneed the dying youth and hit him trying to force him to continue to run.
Abuznaid, who was student body vice president at Florida State University in Tallahassee, joined FSU Senate President Gabriel Pendas, Florida A&M University student body vice president Umi Selah (formerly known as Philip Agnew) and many other student leaders including some from Tallahassee Community College to organize a two day sit-in taking over the office of Florida Governor Jeb Bush. They called themselves the Student Coalition for Justice. “We took over the state capitol and organized a year of campaigns to get justice for Martin Lee, his family, and for accountability of those involved.” Under considerable pressure, Florida shut down the juvenile boot camps. “This group gave me the feeling of organizing and winning by affecting people’s lives. It was addicting.”
After college, he worked as the Florida field director for the United States Student Association. Fortunately, Abuznaid, Selah and Pendas stayed friends after they graduated.
Abuznaid went to law school at Florida Coastal in Jacksonville. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer way back in Palestine as a young child. I imagined that being armed with knowledge of the law and its institutions would mean that I could fight back against the colonization of my homeland and the abuse of my family, my people. When I returned to the US I kept that mindset and so for high school I enrolled into a Pre-Law magnet program for high school. I kept focused on that goal until completion in 2011 when I graduated from Law School and passed the Florida Bar.”
One of the highlights of law school was his work in the immigration clinic where he help Iraqi refugees and others seeking to be accepted into the US. Another was the opportunity he received to serve 300 hours of pro bono work in an internship with the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. While some law school faculty members were really helpful and were invested in his future, he could tell he was going down a different path from many of his classmates. While he saw the legal system as inherently flawed, it was clear to him that others in his class really wanted to uphold the system as is.
Trayvon Martin and Dream Defenders
In 2012, less than a year after Abuznaid graduated from law school, 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford Florida.
“After the murder of Trayvon Martin, my colleagues and I who had organized together way back in Tallahassee around Martin Lee Anderson decided to join back together to create something lasting. We realized that we were short sighted and reactionary back in those days and we wanted to make sure we didn’t make those same mistakes again. So we decided to create what is now called the Dream Defenders.”
The three friends, Abuznaid, Selah and Pendas, created a Facebook invitation for a conference call to plan organized action on behalf of Martin. The call drew 150 participants. One of the people on the call suggested the name Dream Defenders and it stuck.
Forty leaders immediately organized a 40 mile three day protest march from Daytona Beach to Sanford. Many of those people stayed on to found Dream Defenders. When Martin’s killer was acquitted, they organized a 31 day sit in of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office. Abuznaid wrote in Law at the Margins, “We are demanding justice not only in the name of Trayvon Martin, but also in the name of every young person who has been and/or will be profiled, marginalized, and criminalized under the current system. We will work to educate, organize, and mobilize this generation. They are ready. We will never forget his name, nor the anger we have felt since he was taken from us. Be the power.” Dream Defenders then turned their energy to the legislature to fight stand your ground gun laws and to fight to stop the school to prison pipeline.
Abuznaid has served as the Legal and Policy Director for Dream Defenders since he helping co-found it. At the beginning it was all volunteer work. He supported himself with short term contract jobs until Dream Defenders had enough money to hire him full-time. “I have learned so much since we founded this organization that it is hard to put into words, I feel like a gained a life’s worth of insight and wisdom within these short 4 plus years. I get satisfaction from touching people’s hearts with our work and winning.
“Personally, I have evolved as a lawyer and organizer just the way Dream Defenders has continued to evolve as an organization. I specialize in counteracting violence against communities of color in Florida as well as making connections internationally with human rights defenders in Palestine. This is an effort to revive the internationalism we have seen historically from the radical left in the US.”
Abuznaid has returned to Palestine many times. In 2015 he co-organized a trip to Palestine for black journalists, artists, organizers from Ferguson Missouri, Black Lives Matter, Hands Up United, Justice League NYC, and Black Youth Project 100 in order to connect and build relationships between people on the ground leading fights for liberation. “In the spirit of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and many others, we thought the connections between the African American leadership of the movement in the US and those on the ground in Palestine needed to be reestablished and fortified.” He also organized another trip to Palestine in 2016 which connected Black Lives Matter activists, Puente Arizona, PICO National Network and others with grassroots organizations and Palestinian civil rights activists in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Haifa to explore their parallel fights.
With Dream Defenders his legal work has included advocacy before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference.
“Mass incarceration and state violence are particular cases of interest to me. They hold back so many of our people, often eliminating them from the possibilities of advancement. These are old issues that we face all over the world at different levels and so the fight against these systems is also a rallying cry for us all.”
He has a clear vision of how social change comes about. “Justice comes when the people at the grassroots level are able to create enough momentum, attention and energy to shift the culture. The problems with our system are often that it is top down from the government to us. We have to reverse that dynamic, only then do we see real justice, “by the people and for the people”
To sustain himself, he mediates in the morning and enjoys reading. He admits to a sneaky sense of humor and tries to walk to the beach whenever he has the chance. When asked for books he recommends, he suggests The Autobiography of Malcom X and Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere.
For students looking for advice, Abuznaid suggests, “Lay out a plan for yourself. Try to identify what work you would really like to do, the type that gets you going in the morning. Attend the meetings, gatherings, conferences and meet the people you want to learn from. Also, get involved in your local community, build relationships, learn and grow. The greatest impact always happens on the local level.”
Dream Defenders is an organization with transformational vision. It describes itself and its vision “as an uprising of communities in struggle, shifting culture through transformational organizing. We believe that our liberation necessitates the destruction of the political and economic systems of Capitalism and Imperialism as well as Patriarchy. We believe in People over profits. We believe that nonviolent resistance is “the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” and are fundamentally committed to nonviolence as our means of struggle against a violent oppressor. We want an immediate end to the police state and murder of Black people, other people of color, and other oppressed peoples in the United States, the immediate release of the 2.5 million prisoners of the United States’ War on the Poor, and trials by juries of our peers. We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression (domestic & abroad). We want a democracy that is fair and protects the right to vote for all. We want free, fully-funded public education for all that teaches us our true history and our role in present day society. We want community control of land, bread, housing, education, justice, peace and technology. We want more. We deserve more. We will organize, train, act and win.”
Abuznaid and Dream Defenders demonstrate what a movement and a movement lawyer can do for social justice.
By Bill Quigley. Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans. He is part of the legal team in this case.
Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE) and 8 individuals filed a class action voting rights challenge for 70,000 people in Louisiana saying they are illegally prohibited from voting. The VOTE suit charges that the Louisiana legislature wrongfully and unconstitutionally passed a law disallowing people convicted of felonies from voting if they are on probation or parole.
VOTE’s suit points out that the Louisiana Constitution only prohibits people who are “under an order of imprisonment” from voting and that this was intended only to prohibit people actually in prison or escapees from voting. The VOTE suit further notes that the Louisiana state constitutional convention voted down an attempt to restrict voting for people on probation.
The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the 70,000 people in Louisiana who are probation or parole. The US Department of Justice reports over 41,000 people in Louisiana are on probation and over 27,000 are on parole.
It was filed in Baton Rouge and names the State of Louisiana, the Governor and the Secretary of State as defendants.
VOTE is an organization that began in 1987 as the Angola Special Civics Project, a group at the Louisiana Penitentiary run by prisoners who had become paralegals. VOTE, now run by Norris Henderson, was officially created in 2003 when it focused on voter registration for pre-trial detainees and people convicted of misdemeanors. Henderson is a nationally recognized expert in human rights for prisoners and ex-offenders.
VOTE has registered thousands of people to vote. It educates the public about the collateral consequences of convictions that inhibit successful reentry. Vote has partnered with Tulane Medical School to provide medical care for people leaving prison and has partnered with other organizations to win several recent victories including Ban the Box and a new public housing policy.
Eight individuals also joined VOTE in filing the suit in Baton Rouge. All work and pay taxes but are not allowed to register or vote. The individuals who filed the suit include the following.
Kenneth Johnston, 67, served in Vietnam and attended University of New Orleans before becoming addicted to heroin in part to address the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he acquired in Vietnam. He spent 22 years in prison after a felony conviction and has been out for 23 years. Because he is on parole for life he will never be allowed to vote.
Bruce Reilly, 42, Deputy Director of VOTE, is a graduate of Tulane University law school who has won numerous awards for his work. He spent 13 years in prison in Rhode Island and has been out for 11 years. Although he can vote in Rhode Island when he moved to Louisiana, he lost the right to vote until 2035 when his parole ends.
Dwight Anderson, 40, who attended Southern University, works for CeaseFire New Orleans counselling high risk young people and others in order to reduce shootings and violence in the city. After spending five months in jail for felony drug convictions he was sentenced to probation for ten years and is not allowed to vote until 2017.
Randy Tucker, 57, has run his own business since 2006. He serves as a Deacon at Israel Baptist Church. As a result of a felony conviction he spent 25 years in prison till his release in 2003. Because he is on probation until 2065, he will likely never be allowed to vote.
Bill Vo, 31, is a student in Information Technology at the University of New Orleans. Because he spent six months in federal prison for felony drug possession and is on probation until 2017, he is not allowed to vote.
Checo Yancy is the president of the Louisiana chapter of Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). He is an active member of the Grace and Compassion Church in Baton Rouge, a member of the Kairos Angola Advisory Board and an active volunteer with Promise Keepers – Men of Integrity. He served 20 years in Angola for a felony conviction and has been out on parole for 12 years and will remain on parole until 2029.
Ashanti Witherspoon, 66, is a pastor and has earned a Doctorate in Theology. He is involved with the Baton Rouge Violence Elimination Program (BRAVE) and speaks before schools, universities, churches, government and community organizations. He was convicted of a felony in the early 1970s, was imprisoned for 25 years until he was released on parole in 1999.
The case is expected to be heard in the next several months.