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Orleans Parish Prison is not a place for teens

Orleans Parish Prison

Inmates exercising at Orleans Parish Prison (Bart Everson photo)


Suicide at Orleans Parish Prison

Seventeen-year old Dexter Allen is in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Facility in Gretna. In the city, the incredible mess that is Orleans Justice Center took another life. What makes this particularly sad is that this latest jail suicide was a juvenile.

Jaquin Thomas was pronounced dead at University Medical Center at 10:11 p.m., OPSO spokesman Philip Stelly said, after using a mattress cover to asphyxiate himself in his cell. The teenager had been jailed inside the Orleans Justice Center since his July 28 arrest on suspicion of second-degree murder and aggravated burglary, records show.

No Place for teenagers

Any suicide or attempt is a sad affair. Worse yet, locking up a teen in this prison is a terrible thing. Yes, he was charged with second-degree murder as an adult. That’s a serious situation. Jarvis DeBerry nails it, though, in his article on the suicide:

Jaquin was suspected of committing a crime more serious than Jerde’s, but if jail was considered inappropriate for the 21-year-old, it should have been considered the wrong place for the teenager. Charging a child as an adult does not magically transform him into an adult. It does not make that child any less vulnerable when thrown into a facility with people who are bigger, older and more hardened criminals.

Jailing teens in an adult prison is wrong. Still, it’s not a good idea to toss an alleged murderer into a juvenile facility. Teens accused of much more minor crimes are totally different. There has to be a way to balance this. Perhaps isolating serious juvenile offenders in one type of facility or the other.

Read the full article–Jarvis compares the situation Jaquin Thomas was in to that of a twenty-one-year old Tulane student. He demonstrates what #whiteprivilege gets you these days in New Orleans.


What’s DA Cannizzaro’s Motivation?

The entrance to the Louisiana State Penitentiary (courtesy Wikimedia Commons user msppmoore)

The entrance to the Louisiana State Penitentiary (courtesy Wikimedia Commons user msppmoore)

At a time when so many eyes are on Angola, which is widely regarded as a plantation run by slave labor, it’s odd that the DA would bump up a guy who steals candy to the point where he’ll end up doing 20-to-life:

On Feb. 3, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office chose to charge Grimes under a statute that boosts the alleged candy theft to a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. The statute applies to people who have been convicted of “theft of goods” at least twice before.

This isn’t something that one needs to do to retain elective office in Orleans Parish. Look at the judges, they’re elected officials, and even the judge presiding over this case is incredulous:

Grimes appeared Thursday for arraignment before Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich, pleading not guilty.

“Isn’t this a little over the top?” Zibilich wondered aloud over the threat of a “multiple bill,” an approach that leaves little discretion to a judge.

“It’s not even funny,” the judge said. “Twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four.”

Judge Zibilich should nullify this with a not-guilty verdict, it’s that ridiculous.

But to the point, does anyone know what Cannizzaro’s endgame is? Is he looking to run statewide, where impressing white people by being tough on candy bar thieves is considered a good thing? Does he have a financial stake in Louisiana’s for-profit prison industry? Is he just a jackass?

Governor Edwards made reducing the prison population in the state a priority and a major promise in his campaign last November. He seems poised to make good on this, as his term progresses. Sending a nonviolent offender to the plantation to be a slave isn’t who we are. This has to stop.

Diversity in Social Media conversations

I am all about diversity.

Boromir star wars-star trek meme demonstrates diversity

Disagreement and Diversity vs. hate speech

It’s important to recognize the difference between encouraging diversity in the public discourse while rejecting hate speech. I take great pride in the fact that my online friends are quite diverse, coming from multiple religious and ethnic backgrounds, many of which have little to nothing to do with New Orleans. There are numerous topics we can discuss that show this diversity:

  • Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars?
  • Should you read the book before or after seeing the movie?
  • The extent to which historic preservation should be carried
  • Antoine’s or Galatoires?
  • Government supervision of public education: federal, state, or local level?
  • Starbuck or Number Six?
  • Are leggings acceptable as pants?
  • Priorities for government spending
  • Wine Pairings
  • The role of the US Military in fighting terrorism

All these and so many more are subjects that generate a wide and diverse range of opinions, making for wonderful discussions.

  • There are some subjects, however, that just don’t make the list:
  • Basing public policy on religious faith rather than scientific fact
  • The virtue of interring people whose ethnic background is different from the majority
  • Inciting violence in political discourse
  • Threatening people because they disagree with you
  • Demanding everyone adhere to your religious beliefs

There was a time when the two political parties in the United States reflected the diversity of the country. In the last thirty-five years, however, the parties have split to the point where it’s a challenge to have a discussion about partisan politics without the participants shouting past each other. The biggest problem in this election cycle is the disconnect between people who identify as “conservative” and the incredibly hateful rhetoric their candidates put forth. Look at the current top four in the Republican field:

  • Trump wants to lock up Muslims like we did the Japanese in WWII, while barring entry to the US to Muslims from other countries.
  • Carson doesn’t think Muslims should be allowed to hold public office
  • Rubio wants to class LGBT citizens as being in a lower class than straight citizens
  • Cruz openly advocates Christian Theocracy as a form of government for the US

It’s one thing to say you support many of the traditional conservative positions that are part of the public discourse. It’s another to espouse one religion over others, advocate discrimination, and espouse outright hatred that incites violence. We’ve come to that point in our national political debate where one of the two political parties does these things. When you vote for Republicans at the state and local level, it enables the horrible things we see at the national level. That’s a discussion we can have as rational human beings.

Those who openly support internment of people for their religion, those who demand we all follow the specific tenets of their religious faith, and those who are OK with violence to further their political goals are unacceptable to me. Those who enable these various types of hate are unacceptable to me. If you show me that you hate, or enable hate, I’m done. That includes saying you “Like” Donald Trump on Facebook.


An Open Letter to the Members of the “Ain’t There (dere) No More – New Orleans” Group on Facebook

Screenshot from 2015-10-18 13:09:50

Dear ADNM Folks:

I’ve been away from this group for over two years. I grew so weary of the anger and racism that invariably came out in comment threads. It grew increasingly difficult to actually talk about the photos and articles shared. Then Froggy created the “Ain’t There No More” group, and its much smaller membership made interaction easier. The smaller group is much less stressful, since the racists are kicked out when they start.

A couple of months ago, I friended someone who regularly participates in ADNM, and it reminded me of just how many people are members of the group. Even if there are 5,000 racists in ADNM, that means there are over 33,000 people who aren’t, and enjoy the nostalgia. Those are 33,000 people who might buy my five books on New Orleans History. I realized that I’m doing myself a disservice if I don’t at least try to interact with them. There’s nothing wrong with me wanting people to buy my books; I’m very proud of each and every one of them.

So, I’ve re-joined ADNM, but I’m not going to stress out over the hateful people in the group. You want to call Maurice Landrieu “Moon the Coon”? Fine, but I’m blocking you when you do. I’m also going to screenshot your racism, and I’ll be posting it here and on my Facebook page. Maybe your employer/friends/church parishoners will see it, maybe they won’t. I’m not going to stress over it. I’m going to continue to share stuff from the books, particularly photos that didn’t make it into the books, because of space or quality issues. I’m going to comment and reply to people who want to reminisce and have fun. Life’s to short to be worried about terrible people.



Are #essenceproblems really just #whitepeopleproblems?

Screenshot from 2015-07-05 08:53:44

You hear it every year:

Essence people don’t go out

Essence people don’t spend money in New Orleans

Fourth of July weekend is so slow in New Orleans, in spite of the Essence Festival

The griping usually comes from folks in the tourism/restaurant/hospitality/service industries, as well as the musicians who gig around town.

Thing is, the complaints are true, but don’t blame the folks who come to town for Essence for them. Blame the folks not going out on Fourth of July Weekend.

First, some background. Just what is the Essence Festival?

Rembert Browne is one of the people I listen to, on a number of subjects. Rembert likes Essence Fest. I would, too, if I was 28 years old, in a target-rich environment of a festival sponsored by a magazine catering to middle-aged women. Rembert starts with a bad number, though: 400,000. No, 400,000 folks don’t descend on New Orleans for Essence. That’s a four-day aggregate number. Think about it, you simply cannot put 400K people into Da Dome. You can easily put 100K people a night for four nights, though. So, with that note for perspective, here’s Rembert’s description of Essence:

Four. Hundred. Thousand. And I’m pretty sure 162 percent were black.

For the majority of Americans, regardless of race, this is not a comforting figure. Throw in New Orleans, alcohol, an oft-religious lean, and 90-degree weather, and that sentiment only intensifies.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Essence is very black. So black. So black, it’s post-urban. I’m talking 2008 Inauguration-black. And by all that I mean, to many, worringly and uncomfortably black.

This is the foundation of the list of #whitepeopleproblems concerning Essence. To say it’s “worringly and uncomfortably black” nails it.

Then there’s his description of the attendees:

Yes, a reality of the festival is that it’s organized by a magazine aimed at black women, thus the crowd mirrors the readership. So the festival may be perceived as a “by us, for us” (BUFU) event, which I have to assume alienates Essence’s non-target audience. They may not feel “invited.”

“Alienates” – you ain’t kidding, Rembert. But that’s #whitepeopleproblems. The Bayou Classic “alienates” white folks. So does Jackson Avenue on Carnival Day. This isn’t because those involved in these events go out of their way to make white people uncomfortable; their blackness is all that a lot of white people need. But let’s put that basic concern about black people aside. There’s not much that’s going to change that attitude. Alas, it’s an attitude that takes money out of the cash drawers of restaurants in New Orleans on the Fourth of July weekend, though. It’s not because Teh Black People have invaded, either; it’s because white people don’t go out.

Rembert, Da Paper, and Hizzoner all make a big deal about all the people coming to town for Essence. Locals read/hear that 400,000 people are coming to town, and we tend to batten down the hatches. It’s not simply because they’re black; you can’t get me anywhere near Canal Street or Da Quarters on the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, for the same reasons.

There are two main expectations when a big event comes to town: First, folks coming to town will fill up restaurants, clubs, and Bourbon Street. Second, because of the first, they don’t need my local support for the duration of the festival. With respect to Essence, both of these expectations are dead wrong. But anyway, back to the complaints.

Essence people don’t go out

Essence Festival is incredibly insular. It revolves around two locations. In the daytime, there are events at the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center, and at night, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Keep in mind, Essence is a music festival. Rembert on the music:

Beyoncé Knowles headlined the 2013 Essence Music Festival.

No, not India.Arie. Or Melba Moore. Not Evelyn “Champagne” King, either.

B E Y O N C E.

That about sums it up. You’re heading to Da Dome for the music. You came to New Orleans to go to Da Dome to hear the music. You’re not coming to New Orleans for the garlic chicken at Tujague’s, or to see some band at Le Bon Temps at 10pm.

You’re also making a night of it at Da Dome. Look at this year’s main stage schedule for Essence:

Screenshot from 2015-07-05 08:32:28

Assuming on-time starts for these acts, COMMON took the stage at 7:35pm. Usher’s set on Saturday night didn’t end until 1255am, so the house lights in Da Dome didn’t go on until well after 1am.

That’s typical for a music festival. Think about it, Jazz Fest acts start around 11-11:15am, and the closing acts wrap round 8pm. Shift the focus from afternoon to evening, you’ve got the same basic situation. It’s that time shift, however, that gives Essence a bum rap with NOLA locals. Back to the first complaint: Essence folks don’t go out. This is spot-on! They’re in Da Dome! They’re not at a classic Creole-French restaurant. They’re not at Jacques-Imos, or some small-plates place on Magazine Street. They’re in Da Dome, having the cultural/social/musical experiences that keep bringing Rembert back.

Here’s where the white-people-disconnect happens. A lot of white folks know how Da Fest works. We all have that friend (Hi, Kerri!) who gets out to the Fair Grounds before 10am and doesn’t leave until after 9pm. We all know folks who pass on the last act of the day, to get back to the hotel, shower, change, then have a nice dinner somewhere. The hours from 7pm-10pm are re-charge time. Sit, have a cocktail (something you don’t have many of at Da Fest, because of the prices), then head out to a late show at some bar/club.

Essence folks do none of this. Well, most of them don’t; I’m sure there are folks who come to town and don’t go to the concerts. They’re at Da Dome in advance of the first show they want to see. If you’re making a full night of it, that means you were there last night between 6:30-7:30 to catch COMMON. Earlier if you’re prepared, later if you’re with that gal who can’t get her shit together in the hotel room in less than two hours. And let’s not forget, there’s a lot of shit to get together. Essence isn’t about shorts and sandals. Rembert, again:

Fashion is not a game at Essence. It’s a sport. A professional sport. And everyone who shows up is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

We nabbed some of the best on Friday and Saturday night as they entered the Superdome. Most had plenty to say, usually about their own outfits, and occasionally about my own.

Getting dressed up takes time. That’s going to start between 3pm-5pm, so there goes the early-bird dinner at wherever.

So, why do folks complain? Because white people don’t know how Essence works. They don’t know the schedule. They don’t know talent that comes to town.

Keep in mind, though, that not everyone who goes to a big music festival goes every day. There’s always a hardcore cadre who refuse to miss a minute of the music, but there are also folks who look at, say, the Friday schedule and think, we’ll pass. Maybe we’ll just have a nice dinner. White folks will notice that four-top of black folks in the restaurant, but they quickly forget about the overwhelming numbers in Da Dome.

Essence attendees don’t spend money in New Orleans.

Yes-and-no. They spend money on hotel rooms. They spend money on food and drink in Da Dome. They take taxis and shuttles to and from Da Airport. All that money goes into the economic impact estimates touted by the city. The money is concentrated in a few hands, though, and those hands aren’t those of waiters and bartenders.

I tried to crowdsource thoughts on the subject of “Black people don’t tip”, hoping to add that at this point. I can’t. It’s too all over the place. I’ll have to treat that subject separately.

Fourth of July weekend is so slow in New Orleans, in spite of the Essence Festival

Yeah, it probably is. Fourth of July is, for many people, an “escape” holiday. It’s a chance to leverage one, maybe two vacation days into a proper vacation. Want a good table at Antoine’s or Galatoire’s? Go on Fourth of July weekend. Everyone’s in Florida. Locals who stay around are at the lakefront, picnicking, in the backyard, grilling, or over at their brother-in-law’s house. You know that family member who has the swimming pool.

The bottom line

Fourth of July is a mixed-bag weekend for New Orleans. There is a positive economic impact to having Essence in town. It’s a limited impact, however. The fact that it’s a very-black event stirs a pot of racial bullshit that is just incredible. It’s not indecipherable, though. It’s #whitepeopleproblems.


Happy Nash Roberts Day!


I’m declaring that June 1st is Nash Roberts Day in New Orleans. If we’re going to have The New Orleans Advocate putting Katrina in the Gulf on the front page of their print edition today, we should pause and remember the man who gave us decades of solid, common-sense advice on the weather.

Nash was one of the Legendary Locals of Louisiana, a scientist, and a broadcasting pioneer.

He also was the best NOLA weatherman. Ever.

Happy Nash Roberts Day!