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Old Habits Die Hard in New Orleans

Posted on Jun 20, 2011
Associated Press

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, at the podium, speaks at a New Orleans news conference in March about a U.S. Department of Justice report on the city’s police department. Mayor Mitch Landrieu had requested the federal inquiry.

By Michael Deibert

(Page 2)

“You have good officers but then you have a culture that really hasn’t had much input from the outside world,” Levine says.

* * *

Rather than welcoming the Justice Department’s report, several neighborhood associations from more affluent areas of the city have attacked the proposed changes in the paid detail system and in their ability to hire individual NOPD officers to provide security. Last month, Serpas announced that the NOPD was creating a civilian-administered Office of Police Detail Services that would set restrictions on how many hours officers could work and how they would be paid.

A May 25 letter to Serpas co-signed by leaders of the Hurstville Security District and Garden District Security District asked “how the citizens can be assured that the appropriate base level of police protection will be provided,” while a May 31 missive to Serpas from the Upper Hurstville Security District complained that residents would no longer be able to select the police officers who patrol their neighborhood.

“If we weren’t hiring them, what would they be doing?” says Karen Duncan, the chair of the Upper Hurstville district’s board of commissioners. “They wouldn’t be out patrolling less affluent neighborhoods. We’re not taking them away from something else.”


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Also taking aim at crucial city services is a poisonous political battle in Louisiana’s state Senate, up the river in Baton Rouge. Some legislators have been rushing to patch a $1.6 billion gap in the state’s budget by proposing, in part, $11.7 million in cuts from the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. In addition, $58 million in cuts are proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican. The reductions would affect precisely the kind of early-interception programs so needed in high-crime city neighborhoods such as Central City, Pigeon Town and Gert Town.

* * *

Quite apart from the concrete grimness of districts blighted by unemployment and crime elsewhere in the United States, many of the more impoverished parts of New Orleans have a ramshackle, semi-rural ambiance more reminiscent of Kingston or Belize City than anywhere else, a curious cultural and aesthetic echo in a place that is often called the northernmost city in the Caribbean.

It was an aura visible in Central City recently, at the dedication of a Head Start training center named after late longtime community activist Peter W. Dangerfield.

With a brass band gliding along this city’s distinctive “second line” rhythms and a feast of Crescent City cuisine underneath a tent, members of neighborhood groups such as the Central City Economic Opportunity Corp. (EOC) reflected on their struggle against often great odds to help redefine the experience of so many who live on the downside of advantage here.

“People need decent housing, they need jobs, they need child care,” says Priscilla Edwards, the EOC’s executive director and a 40-year Central City resident.

Among other services, the group has provided senior care in the neighborhood since 1970 and child care since 1980. With state funds, the EOC provided a multimedia after-school program for school-age children from 1970 until 2005, when the building housing the program was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve been affected greatly by the cuts in human services,” Edwards says. “They cut services on the backs of the poor, the most vulnerable.”

Indeed, to the visitor New Orleans, despite its great charm, can often seem like a city out of place and time, where the fortress-like class dynamic one sees in economically stratified societies such as those of Central America has somehow set down pernicious roots and remains obstinate and far more resilient than the delicate oleander blossoms that perfume the city’s streets in springtime.

New Orleans is a place where old habits die hard. It is a place where the city’s disenfranchised majority waits, like tourists gathered for the St. Charles Avenue streetcar as it approaches, clattering through the night and illuminated by lights from within. Like the city itself, trying to at long last reach its safe destination.


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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, June 24, 2011 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

You Yankees are pathetic. With love: @ Alexander Fleming

I am not a yankee, although there is as much variety among “yankees” as
is found among all other classifications of Americans.  I lived in the
Southern United States for forty-four years, graduated from two
universities in the south, and lived near New Orleans for one year. 

It is distressing to be reminded of all the suffering the folk of the
greater New Orleans area have lived through, and which has been refreshed
by the BP (queen´s men) more recent damage to the entire Gulf of Mexico
area. I am aware of specific information about the failure of the levees,
which was not caused by Katrina, which contributed to your suffering.

Your vitriolics against me, your ugly classification of me and your need
for release of your frustrations are equally distressing to me.  More
distressing to me is your hypocrisy, puking out all the hostility, and
then signing off with, “With love: New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf

Being aware of the gentle, loving nature of the Cajun folk, I am
confident that you represent neither the folk of New Orleans, nor the
Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Certainly, you do not represent the folk who
call themselves, “Christian.” 

If you have received psychotherapy for the experiences you mention in
your blog, you either terminated or were terminated too soon.

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, June 22, 2011 at 11:03 pm Link to this comment

“If you want the government to solve all your problems for you, don’t be
disappointed if the solutions are not 100% to your liking.” @ rico

Solutions by the USGOV to any and all problems
          is on a par
with vioxx as a solution to elevated cholesterol

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, June 21, 2011 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

ridding New Orleans of poverty
is an idea on the same level with
the idea of ridding New Orleans
of graft and corruption.

Neither of which will happen.

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By NolaAnarcha, June 21, 2011 at 11:04 am Link to this comment

Only Ending POVERTY will End Crime in New Orleans!
Less $ for cops!
Less $ for prisons!
Less $ for drug enforcement!

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By Diana T Brooks, June 20, 2011 at 10:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I came home again and nothing have or will change for those who are socio-
eco.political disadvantaged. We live in New Orleans just other inner cities
around world- a stratified society. Charity groups or traditional amerikan
religious faiths or law enforcement won’t change a thing. We need another
approach but not too many elitist or intellectuals want the answer. The
answer is simple-if a man feels self worth he values his life….when there is
no self worth, destruction is inevitable.

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