African-American organizations and others are holding dialogues across America to bring home the lessons from Ferguson as a basis for creating change in their communities. Former Mayor Marc Morial, national president of the Urban League, is in the forefront of this movement through his weekly column which appears in newspapers and e-letters around the country and local action through the Urban League chapters.
The NAACP will begin a series of statewide meetings, the first this Saturday in New Orleans (1 p.m., Christian Unity Baptist Church, 1700 Conti Street), moderated by Pastor Dwight Webster, co-convener of the grassroots coalition Justice & Beyond, a co-sponsor of the meetings.
Their message is that if African-Americans want police (and other elected officials) to be more accountable, transparent, and sensitive to their needs, they must become more involved in the electoral process. The National Democratic Party is adding their voice to this dialogue in a effort to turn out African-American voters for the mid-term election.
According to the New York Times, Democrats are using surrogates such as Georgia Congressman John Lewis to spread the message to African-American voters in swing states. Polls have repeatedly show that Republicans are generally more likely to vote in mid-term elections, which could make it harder for Democrats to retain control of the U.S. Senate and for Senator Mary Landrieu to win re-election to a fourth term. Another thing that could hamper Mary’s re-election is the small number of local races on the New Orleans ballot. With many of the judges, the DA, and the Constable getting a free ride, fewer races on the ballot could bring out fewer voters on election day.
One candidate who could benefit from a big Republican win in November is Hillary Clinton. She would use the Democrats loss as a tool to galvanize traditional Democratic voters to support her presidential bid.
While some do not feel the pain from Ferguson or from Florida teen Travon Martin’s murder, many African-Americans clearly do. We attended a large ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday for The First 72+, a transitional house for the formerly incarcerated, which drew Congressman Cedric Richmond, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Judges Laurie White, Arthur Hunter, Robin Pittman, Paula Brown, Regina Bartholomew, Tracy Fleming Davillier, as well Councilmembers James Gray and Nadine Ramsey. The speakers were constantly interrupted by a heckler who asked where these leaders were in the Ferguson/Travon dialogues.
New Orleans was lucky that our civil rights movement was not the blood bath many other cities experienced. Perhaps it is because historically there was more blending of races here. But that doesn’t mean change is not needed even in New Orleans.
In April 2001, the killing of an unarmed African-American teen in Cincinnati caused four days of riots, looting and attacks on innocent citizens by police. Before that event, Cincinnati police were “insular and authoritarian,” reported the Wall Street Journal. Today they are “proactive and transparent.”
Black and white leaders in Cincinnati learned valuable lessons regarding race relations that probably hold true for New Orleans. They include police telling the public everything about major incidents immediately while also encouraging public support for the good many and women who risk their lives every day to protect citizens. We must continue to weed out the bad apples but show appreciation for our dedicated officers.
Originally a majority-white inner-ring suburb, Ferguson, Missouri grew over the decades to a place where two-thirds of the residents are African-Americans. Yet the ratio of black-white elected officials and black-white law enforcement officers did not match population figures. In the predominately African-American wards, voter turnout in 2013 was 2% versus 12% citywide.
White residents in Ferguson are more likely to be homeowners, more vested in the community and more likely to vote. Political disenfranchisement, the economic gap between blacks and whites, and the sense that government – through the police department – was profiling African-Americans probably added fuel to the fire.
Blacks in New Orleans definitely feel their clout has been diminished since Katrina, that the Katrina billions were not spent equitably, that they are being pushed out of many neighborhoods, and that the police are insensitive.
These are some of the likely comments that will be heard at Saturday’s town hall meeting. Improving race relations is a dialogue that should take place across our community, and especially in our schools.
While many whites surveyed nationally say they would be willing to live in an integrated community, their definition of that community is 90% white and 10% African-American. African-Americans see integrated communities as half black and half white, reported a study at the University of California, San Diego. This vision gap of integrated neighborhoods could be a recipe for disaster not just in New Orleans but across the country.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.