Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mike Ainsworth and The Criminalized Society

Many people have been commenting on the callous absurdity of the NOPD's policy of releasing murder victim's criminal records, especially in light of the recent killing of ex-criminal and good samaritan Mike Ainsworth.
Ex-con drug dealer and good samaritan Mike Ainsworth.
The NOPD has been trying to paint homicide victims as "criminals" to show that the city's high murder rate is a result of "criminals" feuding and not of random killings. But, the problem is that many people in New Orleans have arrest records due to the nature of the apartheid police state system in place.

The NOPD and the entire power structure should really be called out for their demonization of "criminals" as a category, which includes many people capable of the kind of selfless heroism Mike Ainsworth lost his life displaying. The real problem to be addressed is not that the city is demonizing the dead by calling them criminals, it's that the practice implicitly vilifies anyone with an arrest record in the first place as bad people!

The NOPD's policy is akin to saying "if you like the Saints, you might be more likely to be murdered." While true, it is a completely inconsequential correlation. The characteristics that are consequential to one's likelihood of becoming a murder statistic are, not coincidentally, also the same factors that lead to someone having arrest records in the first place.

So while it's true that you have a higher chance of becoming a murder victim if you have a criminal record, and that this fact should not be used to speak ill of the dead by the NOPD, it's also true that a person has a higher chance of being murdered if they are from the 'hood, are poor, are not white, are young, and are a man; these are the very same factors that also lead to a higher chance of having a criminal record.

In America, 40% of youth under 23 have been arrested. In New Orleans it's surely higher than that. With New Orleans racking up 74,455 arrests in 2010 alone -- in a city with a population of only 300,000 -- many people here have arrest records, with most, like Mike Ainsworth, having non-violent charges or arrests resulting from the apartheid-esque "War on Drugs" (~70% of all arrests at OPP are for such offenses).

So maybe instead of NOPD making murder victim's lives appear less valuable through demonization-by-criminalization the city should acknowledge that the very same people who often become victims on the streets are also the people being locked up by the police and prison system (and this means those institutions are failures both at preventing violence, and also as effective institutions at ending it). The city must then stop treating them like criminals, because they are victims, too, and begin to heal and repair the neglected communities that have created the conditions for becoming both a "criminal" as well as a potential murder victim in the first place. 

What if instead of making money off of "criminals" as the raw material justifying our criminal justice system, we valued the lives of criminalized human beings while they are still alive, instead of only after they show up as the murder statistics that make our tourist industry nervous? 

How about we ALWAYS refuse the demonization of those with criminal records by the very same cops who locked them up, and not only when they are murdered? And not only when they are murdered while being a good samaritan.

If nothing else, hopefully this lesson is clear from Mike Ainsworth's life and will not be overlooked: when the system is guilty, criminals may be the only ones with any integrity left. May his heroic act help bring an end to the criminalization of large parts of our city, a situation which only benefits the few rich and powerful who don't care if people keep dying because they profit immensely within the violent status quo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Local History: The Deacons For Defense and Justice

The Deacons for Defense and Justice were a network of armed groups active in the civil rights struggle in Louisiana and Mississippi, mostly in smaller rural communities, where Ku Klux Klan terrorism and the official wing of the apartheid police state operated hand in hand against working class black communities. They bravely defended themselves and their neighbors, as well as civil rights activists organizing and protesting in their towns, including when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr visited their communities.

Faced with no other options, these armed African-Americans defended their communities with guns and managed to scare the cowardly white supremacist movement away, to maintain a modicum of safety for their neighborhoods. The Deacons are an excellent example of working class self-organization, and one that can be seen as a predecessor to the better known Black Panther Party as well as other working class African-American movements such as The League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

To learn more on this quintessential radical Louisiana history, read Lance Hill's book (a professor at Tulane University), which is an excellent and inspiring account, called  The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement. There is also a made for TV movie about the Deacons For Defense.

UPDATE: This is still living history. The Hicks family in Bogalusa were recently fire-bombed by cowardly racist morons. Robert Hicks had been a central member of the Deacons in Bogalusa and a continued to be a fearless defender of civil rights there for decades. The family is now living in fear due to some racist idiot who doesn't understand how this system actually works, and has been tricked by the powerful into blaming the powerless for their problems. Pathetic. Consider ways you can show the family some solidarity.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On The New Curfew: Posters Make The Implied Explicit

The City Council, with the support of the Vieux Carre Property Owners Association and other bigots class warriors, recently passed an 8pm curfew for kids under 17 years old in the French Quarter and Marigny. This law effectively teaches kids to get used to living under permanent Martial Law (preparing them for the future as George Orwell so eloquently predicted it: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.")

A few posters recently were seen around the borders of the curfew zone which make explicit the policies of the "apartheid police state" (to quote Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow) we exist within today.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Legalize Squatting and Solve Multiple City Problems At The Same Time!

In the direct action struggle over housing in New Orleans, the current situation is roughly as follows: there are many squatters, numbering at least in the hundreds. Many of them are people of color, all of them are poor. Many squatters are arrested and jailed regularly, especially african-american squatters who dare to attempt it, as well as other vulnerable populations (youth, queers, women, etc..).

Understandably, not everyone wants to risk the arrests, financial insecurity, hardships, and precariousness of the squatting life to directly challenge capital and the state in their everyday lives (in exchange for certain freedoms when you are successful, it must be's not all bad!). And many other people, due to skin color, children, or other reasons, cannot sustainably and safely squat in New Orleans without more legal protections.

Fortunately, for those who can't or don't want to become squatters and engage in the direct occupation of vacant buildings themselves, there are other ways to participate! Those who are fortunate enough to not have to squat by necessity should do everything possible to support those who do, and not just leave those who need places to live to deal with city hall and the prison industrial complex all on their own.

Non-racist landlords and a small amount of "affordable" housing (that's too expense for many people anyway) is not good enough for many of us. We want OUT of housing systems where we have no power and can be constantly pushed around by those with more money. Any time a neighborhood starts to make itself nicer to live in, richer people come in and steal our neighborhoods, and we are forced out. The rich always take everything nice away from the poor. No more!
Thousands of homes sit empty in New Orleans.
Squatting legalization campaign:
Build up an alliance: renters sick of high post-Katrina rents, housing advocacy groups, neighborhood organizations, anti-blight groups, homeless advocates, anti-crime groups, anti-racist groups, young entrepreneurs groups,criminal justice reform groups, economic development groups, national policy groups working on vacant property issues (ie- National Vacant Properties Campaign --who've already been involved locally), firefighters. Get all these groups to sign on, then bring this list of endorsers to City Council to show how broad the support for putting homes and vacant commercial properties back to use is.

The multiple reasons for the alliance partners to support such a "homesteading legalization campaign" include:
  • vacant buildings facilitate crime
  • young entrepreneurs have a hard time accessing capital, including property, to start a business out of
  • would-be homeowners can't get mortgages now because of mortgage crisis (especially minorities)
  • there are multiple positive economic development impacts and economic multipliers that come with new businesses and formerly vacant properties being used as housing
  • it is a ground-up, grassroots model of development that builds widely shared wealth and stability, rather than the current top down development model that enriches a few development companies and creates instability for those displaced in grand schemes
  • the city will be able to decrease public safety spending both because of full neighborhoods (which reduces crime, as their are neighbors to watch out for one another and no abandoned houses for criminals to hide within) as well as less crime due to an easing of economic hardships surrounding housing that create desperation
  • it will stabilize turnover rates in neighborhoods and increase neighbor-connectedness, and therefore safety
  • the city will benefit from increased property taxes with an increase of houses in circulation and new businesses operating
  • the city will have to spend less on infrastructure maintenance costs for cureently semi-empty neighborhoods as neighbors do things like keep gutters clear and lawns mowed and stopping destruction by vines
  • it will allow a huge decrease in the city's blight remediation expenses
  • it will decreases city costs associated with homeless services 
  • it would lessen the reliance on prison as a solution to homelessness and poverty, providing a hand up and helping the city give a better impression to visitors by solving much of the "problem" of visible homelessness
Vacant commercial properties impede the growth of the economy and keep wealth and power concentrated in the hands of the idle rich.
The campaign strategy could look like:
A campaign for the legalization of "homesteading" in properties vacant for more than a certain number of months, perhaps 12 to 24. As a "compromise" measure the campaign could ask for de-criminalization (which would actually be better anyway so house flippers/investors can't squat for profit).
It must have limits to the specifics of how one can squat in order to succeed. These would need to include such restrictions as a building having to be empty for a certain period of time to be eligible, it must not be an owner's primary residence, a homesteader must not be able to sell the property for more than the cost of repairs for a period of time after occupying it, maybe for like 15 years after it is occupied. Priority in conflicts stemming from multiple people trying to claim a building should go to the resident who has been in New Orleans longer (so carpetbaggers from Brooklyn or where ever don't take over everything and leave out people trying to come back post-Katrina). There are many more details than these that would need to be fleshed out.

The campaign should use some examples:
There are already several squatted buildings that show how a squatted building can improve a neighborhood. Testimonials from neighbors, housing advocates and researchers, and other stakeholders stating it has improved the character of the neighborhood could do wonders to sway the city.
There are also other cities where unwanted homes have been sold for $1 to anyone willing to fix them up and live in them. This has been very successful in Detriot and some other rustbelt cities.

The improvements for the city that come with this idea far outweigh the benefits of allowing property owners to sit on empty properties that make tourist areas like the French Quarter seem derelict and dangerous, and that make our neighborhoods easier places to commit crimes against residents.

This fire destroyed a vacant building in the French Quarter last year. It likely could have been prevented if such buildings were not allowed to sit empty.
Why radicals should care about this reform:
Will this destroy class society? No. Will it end the more privileged being able to gain greater advantage in our society? No. Will it slow down gentrification? Maybe. But, while an imperfect reform, it's a reform that can create more space for autonomy from the demands and impositions of the state and capitalism, which would allow radicals to focus on creating greater revolutionary power and having more time to ourselves in which we can do so. Territory is extremely important to radical movements, and land has been a central struggle within capitalism since the struggles over the enclosures of the commons.

This is obviously just a rough outline of what a homesteading legalization campaign could look like, and perhaps it's pie-in-the-sky, but what else is working?

For more, see Squatting The Apocalypse and Homeless in New Orleans: You have to fight the entire city just to survive

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Reality: America Is an Apartheid Nation

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s memory, here is a heart-wrending segment from Democracy Now! on the apartheid police state. One point especially relevant to New Orleans is that once this apartheid disenfranchising of young black men occurs, mainly through the drug war, their permanent status as excluded persons with few opportunities certainly contributes to the desperate, kill or be killed attitude that is the engine of our out of control murder rate.

Therefore, it is the very same police-focused "solutions" to the local murder problem that are making it get worse!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Angola Warden Burl Cain on "Black Pantherism"

(h/t Justice Roars)

Last week, the newsletter of the International Coalition to Free the Angola Three published recently transcribed testimony of the October 2008 deposition of Burl Cain, Warden of Angola Prison, questioned by Nick Trenticosta, an attorney representing former Black Panther and Angola Three member Albert Woodfox. The testimony, quoted below, reveals a lot about Cain's view of Black Panthers and others who have engaged in prison organizing.
Stupid ass old racist fucking pig Burl "Mr. Racism" Cain. How can someone this brazenly stupid run a prison?

NICK TRENTICOSTA: I would like to show you State's Exhibit 30. Are you familiar with this document? It purports to be a letter, and who is it from?

BURL CAIN: Albert Woodfox.

NICK TRENTICOSTA: Is this letter significant to you?

Yes, it is. You can read here, "I view amerikkka" - and he spelled it real crazy, more like the Black Panther would, I suppose - "and her lies, capitalism, imperialism, racism, exploitation, oppression, and murder of the poor and oppressed people as being highly extreme. It is my opinion that anyone who views these situations as anything other than extreme is petty bourgeois or a capitalist fool!!! History has taught us that revolution is a violent thing but a highly necessary occurrence in life. Revolution is bloodshed, deaths, sacrifices, hardships. It is the job of the revolutionary forces in this country to manufacture revolution instead of trying to avoid it. To do otherwise is the act of an opportunist." This is very scary because it means that it needs revolution. Violent revolution is scary for America, for us.

NICK TRENTICOSTA: What is the date of that letter?

CAIN: September 9, 1973.

NICK TRENTICOSTA: And do you know whether his political views have changed since that time?

That is what is scary to me. I think not because even in 1997 we had the protest in front where - "Release the Panther" and "Angola is a shame, Burl Cain to blame" - there was a Black Panther demonstration there. Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace is locked in time with that Black Panther revolutionary actions. Even when Robert King Wilkerson came with Congressman Conyers to Angola, they gave me a little pack of pralines, Congressman Conyers did, and on that pack of pralines was a Black Panther.

Let's look at State's Exhibit 3. You stated, if I can paraphrase, Woodfox was throwing human waste?

Apparently they were throwing human waste at each other. It's on their cell bars, both of them. So either he was throwing it out or throwing it in.

Could it possibly be someone throwing human waste at Mr. Woodfox?

It could be, and I would ask why. How did Mr. Woodfox provoke him to throw human waste at him?

You have some mentally ill people that live on CCR, don't you?

I have 1,900 inmates taking psychotropic medicines. I don't know where they live, but I would hope the medicine would tame them down.

An inmate only gets human waste thrown on them when they provoke it to happen? Is that your testimony?

Not only, but if you're throwing human feces at somebody, you have to have normally a reason. You just wouldn't throw it at the wall.

Are you aware that a federal judge has ruled that Mr. Woodfox's conviction is now reversed?

Until we get release papers, he's in our prison guilty of the murder of Brent Miller.

So it's your understanding everybody in jail is guilty? Come on.

In Angola. Because he's in Angola.

In the last five years he has done pretty good, hasn't he?

He's like a man on death row could do good, but he is still on death row. He's just good because he is locked in CCR, not because he's good at heart.

He didn't cause very much trouble, correct?

Because the lion in a cage can't cause much trouble, you see.

Let's just assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of Brent Miller.

I would still keep him in CCR. I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison, because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kinds of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the whites chasing after them. I would have chaos and conflict.

Warden Cain, what is Black Pantherism?

I have no idea. I know they hold their fists up. I know that they advocated for violence.

Assume that he did not kill Brent Miller and he is not a member of the Black Panther party, because you don't know what the Black Panther party is, then why are you considering him so dangerous?

You would like me to say yes to everything you say so you can go say I did, but you can't go there, and you're trying everything in the world to get me there. I'm happy. I'm laughing at you. I'm not mad. You just ain't going to get me there. That's just Angola. What can I say? He's bad. He's dangerous. I believe it. He will hurt you. They better not let him out of prison.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Photo Essay: Party Like It's 1960s South Africa!

This article is a photo essay of the direction, motivation, and consequences of the profound and fast-paced changes happening in the CBD and lower mid-city in New Orleans. Since Katrina, the re-colonization of the city by rapacious Capital has accelerated to a head-spinning pace. The neighborhood documented is not unique, the same kinds of activities are taking place city-wide. When colonization occurs on such a massive scale, only a total revolt can change the dystopian future the present developments are creating.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

From Carnival to Rebellion: #Occupy Mardi Gras

In NYC, someone recently published an article entitled Occupy Wall Street: Carnival Against Capital? Carnivalesque as Protest Sensibility which talks a lot about local anarchists and other unruly carnivalesque  factions, such as the Krewe of Eris, local professor John Clark's writings, and even mentions this very blog, if we may humbly admit. It discusses the Occupy Wall Street movement and it's adaptations of carnivalesque qualities in it's recent actions against the ruling oligarchy.
Mocking the rich in Louisiana...
....and in New York
While no doubt just another notch in the author's belt on their attempt to climb the heights of the vacuous, dangerous, and bankrupt institution of the academy and high art world, perhaps some locals will appreciate the insights it draws out about carnival and rebellion.

In the same vein, the local newspaper in Lafayette wrote an op-ed connecting the Occupy Wall Street movement to the roots of Mardi Gras, which turned social hierarchies on their head for a while, called Rich or Poor, We All Occupy Mardi Gras. While the columnist admires the inclusiveness of Mardi Gras, perhaps it would have been better to demand more than just some feigning, illusory gestures by the ruling elites in the form of bead and dubloon throws.

For the 99% of Louisianians to have any chance at a free and happy existence, we must demand the very real re-distribution of wealth (and it's attendant power) out of the hands of the motherfuckers who currently control our lives in a very totalitarian and un-carnvialesque way (that is, unless you consider OPP some type of House of Horrors kafkaesque amusement ride). The parades and carnival and costumes are very fun and cherished occasions, but they'd be even more fun if they ended in the looting of the rich, like they have during moments of explosion throughout history.
It looks like a second line to us!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

NYE Noise Demo at OPP: In solidarity with all prisoners/Against all prisons!

On December 31st around 6 pm in New Orleans, LA a group of 30 or so people came together for a second time in months to protest the existence of Orleans Parish Prison and usher in a new year of resistance. With saxophones, clarinets, buckets and bass drums, the band took position at the entrance to OPP's main holding facility, the House of Detention, where prisoners could be seen through the windowless facade of the building. Like a penal colony from times of creole imperialism, the 10 floors of HOD holds its inhabitants captive with nothing but steel fencing to protect them from the biting cold and scorching heat of New Orleans' weather.

On this night, however, the exposed insides of HOD worked to everyone's advantage, as prisoners and protesters were able to ring in the new year in open jubilation. Fiery footage of the London riots was projected two stories tall onto an adjacent building for the inmates' viewing pleasure. Banners were displayed with the messages, "Fuck OPP", and, "Abolish prison", along with some chants to that same effect. With fists raised high we yelled and hollered across the fences until we were hoarse, as the pigs looked on dumbfounded. Prisoners even began lighting toilet paper on fire and throwing it from the windows!

Eventually the guards got control of the prisoners’ party and they were taken out of sight, presumably to be locked up. The band marched around OPP, continuing to make noise in hopes that prisoners were still listening and feeling the solidarity from inside their cells.

Undeniable was the meaningfulness of wresting from the state an opportunity to communicate freely with the very people that it most wants us to forget. This new years’ noise demonstration was testament to how little it takes to reconnect with those held captive by the state, and to the power of just a few people's well-directed audacity. If we take the same action and put it on a larger scale, the implications are clear. In a city that is so small, but yet has such an enormous hatred for its prison, OPP doesn’t have nearly as much power as it suggests.  

For now at least our insufficient numbers require that we settle on making whatever warm gestures of solidarity we can to help the prisoners get through the cold winter—but may we keep stoking the fire until the day when we are all warmed by the prisons’ cinders!

Cops and prisons, we don't need 'em
Happy new years, burn the prisons!