The battle to keep the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board from shutting off the water of people who have not paid their bills for a variety of reasons, including flooding damages, overbilling, estimated bills, and other complications stemming from the agency that is tasked with keeping New Orleans dry.
Community groups including The New Orleans Peoples Assembly, Justice & Beyond and others have filed lawsuits, held candlelight vigils, and met with city officials and Sewerage & Water Board leaders to demand payback for several flooding incidents last summer, most notable the August 5th flood which dumped nearly a foot of water in parts of New Orleans, due to failing pumps and clogged drains, and to demand a stop to pending water shut-offs of 17,000 delinquent accounts by Sewerage and Water Board.
According to Malcolm Suber, a community organizer with the New Orleans Peoples Assembly, a lawsuit is being filed today to get reparations for the victims of the August 2017 flood. The New Orleans Peoples Assembly has identified plaintiffs for the legal action. An earlier lawsuit filed by the group was dismissed.
Justice & Beyond, a broad-based civil rights coalition, held an Ecumenical Candlelight Vigil on August 1. The event, held outside of the S&WB headquarters, was attended by community members and at least 12 ministers.
The group also met with Sewerage & Water Board Interim Director Jade Brown-Russell. “If you had a dispute over your bill, you must have filed a complaint by June 22. But that’s changed. You can now dispute any bill,” says Pat Bryant, co-chair of Justice & Beyond. “The S&WB also extended more than 50% of bills issued in January and February of this year.” The group is demanding an end to planned water shutoffs by the S&WB.
“Shutoffs are a last resort. The owners of delinquent accounts will receive a letter giving those 14 days to pay in full or arrange a payment plan. A payment plan requires 25 percent down immediately. The remaining balance is then scheduled across future bills for six to nine months,” according to an S&WB press release.
“The first step of the process will target about 17,000 delinquent accounts that are not in dispute and have owed more than $50 for over 60 days – only about 12 percent of total customers – with the goal of recouping more than $21.8 million in lost revenue.
“To delay the reinstitution of collections any longer would put this agency at great financial risk, jeopardizing its mission to drain storm water, treat and remove wastewater and provide safe drinking water for the City. The S&WB has invested $82 million in emergency repairs to its drainage system since the flood last year, which has strained the budget. In order for the agency to stay in good standing with our bond covenants, it must replenish those depleted funds.”
“We have never said we’d shutoff 17,000 at one time,” explains D’Seante Parks, S&WB Press Secretary. “Our priority is people. “The majority of delinquent accounts are industrial and corporate accounts,” she explains, “not necessarily regular customers.”
Parks says the agency has a program in place to assist seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income residents. Information on the Water Help program can be found by contacting the agency at 504.585.2298.
‘We have a team that handles water shutoffs and 13 people to check meters. The agency is hiring a lot more meter readers. “We’re moving away from bill estimating,” she says responding to questions about customer complaints overbilling due to faulty estimates. .
Parks also says the period to file claims for damages incurred during the August 2017 flood has been extended.
The S&WB system has been in place since 1903 and the aging system has had a myriad of problems, but there is still no guaranteed pumping system that protects the city from flooding during heavy rainstorms and hurricanes. For a city that is below sea-level, residents live in constant fear of torrential flooding in their neighborhoods.
Heavy rainstorms in July and August 2017 brought back floods of memories of the worst man-made disaster in U.S. History. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came to New Orleans and the levees broke, pumps failed, and 14-20 feet of water took the lives of at least 1500 people, and turned the city into Lake New Orleans. It took a full month for the water to subside.
On August 5, 2017, the trauma of Katrina revisited the city. Failing pumps, clogged drains, and water in the streets caused an outcry that is still being heard. Residents are continuing to demand a better pumping system and protection from both hurricanes and heavy rains.
“They (city leaders and S&WB) are not going to do any more than we force them to do,” Pat Bryant says.
Clearly, city officials can’t stop hurricanes or rainstorms but they have a duty to protect the city from excessive flooding.
This is how we can make NOLA safer city this year. First dispel old thinking. The recent uptick in murders is generating an evergreen false narrative. We do not need to be tough on crime if tough on crime means locking people up for minor offenses. We need to be smart on crime. Then we can more effectively and permanently reduce the murder rate. Much of the problem rests in our laws not our people.
Regressive laws impact poor people more significantly than people with higher incomes. Think about sales taxes. Sales taxes are regressive. People with money only really notice when they make big purchases. But for poorer people, sales taxes stealthy but steadily erode available cash. More importantly , sales taxes only marginally affect people with higher incomes.
Much like regressive sales taxes, punishment based criminal laws stealthy but steadily erode the stability of New Orleans neighborhoods and eventually the city as a whole. And these regressive punishment based laws significantly impact poor people, while people with money hardly notice.
These regressive measures are rooted in the past. Then a racist mischaracterization of the nature of black men was pervasive amongst lawmakers. Today, Louisiana is still one of the biggest incarcerators in the world and New Orleans is still the biggest supplier of black bodies for the prison cells. The good news is that the current crop of local legislators are conscious of these factors and are willing to rewrite the arcane laws that incentivize police harassment. Further our new police chief focuses on violent offenders who plague us all. He has a force that seems less inclined to engage in unnecessary agitation.
Not withstanding COVID, New Orleans should be an enriching city for African Americans. Every policy and regulation possible should support this notion. And given the egregiously regressive and burdensome past, city government should fast track currently available solutions. A simple look at the current condition of the plight of hard-working African Americans in the city is ample evidence for urgent need for change.
How to Make NOLA a safer city this year
Our current paradigm has created and sustains the crime plagued, underperforming city we all wring our hands about. Low performing schools contribute to the highest dropout rates in the country. Gentrification and low paying jobs force many into the rental market in our city. People who own their homes are nearly 90% less likely to be commit crimes as compared to those who rent. Shootings have increased and murders are the highest since Katrina. African Americans in NOLA die at alarmingly high rates especially for young people. We have to change serious and deeply entrenched problems quickly. It can be done with surprising ease if a coordinated attempt is implemented.
THE POSITIVE CITY MODEL
Characteristics of the sanctuary should include community-based policing, jobs training, living wages, home ownership programs, good neighborhood schools, quality healthcare and ample business opportunities with direct access to available financing. Combined these forces will dramatically reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of all our citizens. With access to good paying jobs and providing pathways to home ownership, then crime will drop precipitously. Working men, who earn living wages, will increase city coffers via property and sales taxes. Needing fewer police officers, more money can be shifted into jobs training programs that will prepare young people to enter the workforce. And this will make NOLA a safer city this year.
SWB JOBS PROGRAM
The Sewerage and Water Board can be the greatest jobs program in city history. With billions of FEMA dollars scheduled to be spent repairing the crumbling infrastructure, the board must hire, train, and demand excellence from the repair people. From the street hustler to the street plumber, new profitable opportunities must be made available to our men. Work financing for home purchases can be matched with local banks who can partner with the city and water board.
85% of people who commit crimes do not own their homes. Neighborhoods where people own their homes are cleaner, safer, and provide ancillary activities (kids sports programs, block parties, etc.) that promote healthier living. Living wages help people qualify for mortgages. City provided home ownership classes motivate and inspire people to save for down payments and improve their credit scores. Expand the soft second mortgage program.
Working families need close and convenient good schools for their children. Our experiment with charter schools must shift to emphasizing local school excellence. Good neighborhood schools reduce stress, increase participation and reduce dropout rates and strengthen families. Parent/school partnerships are easier when parents can access school personnel close to home. Friendly rivalries centered around athletic and academic achievement can transform the educational process in the Bowl. Businesses can offer cash prizes to the students who perform best and the schools that achieve great success.
New Police Chief Shaun Ferguson has risen through the ranks and is a man from our streets who now leads the men and women who patrol our streets. He says, “The community and police must form a partnership.” He is correct when he says the NOPD needs citizen support. Currently our style of governance contributes to criminal behavior. Arresting and jailing people for minor crimes, even for just short periods has dramatic results that create more crime. Instead, community policing operates in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect. Too often, police have operated with a rigidity and oppressiveness that have stifled the community support they need and deserve.
For too long New Orleans and other municipalities have focused on fines and fees to finance government. Often the police are the arbiters of who gets pulled over and issued a ticket. Further, rigid rules and immediate late fees from municipal utilities create stress. In the 21st century our cities must uplift the lives of the citizens who make these places home.
It happens everyday in America!
By Jeff Thomas
Black men kill each other at alarming rates all across America every day. Nearly every city’s daily news casts reports, “Today in our city three (or thirty depending on the size of your city) men were shot and killed in three (or thirty) separate shootings. Police have no suspects in any of the cases.” And immediately and innately you know that the people killed were black and the killers were black. This has been going on for the last 30-40 years and no end is in sight. New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates nationally. Why do black men kill each other?
First Let’s Dispel a
First thing you have to know is that 99.999% of black men do
not commit murder ever in their lives.
That is a fact! This is not a
black man issue. There is nothing
genetically or intrinsically wrong with black men. But the fact remains that
daily hundreds of black men across this country are murdered everyday by
another black man. Why does this happen
with this subset?
Common factors to Black
men murdering other black men
The first thing about murder is that people usually kill
people who are similar to them in many ways, particularly race. White men normally murder other white men and
black men normally murder other black men.
In the black community, these killings are normally city events. Rarely do you hear of a drive by in the country. Most of these daily killings occur on the city streets. People kill others who they interact with.
Young men engage in risky and violent behavior. Most of the men dying on our streets are
between the ages of 17-35.
But these are often cited, unsurprising factors. More salient is what goes into the psyche of a guy who can look into the eyes of another man and pull the trigger at close range or jab a knife with the intent to murder another man? What are the other factors that contribute to becoming a murderer? Why do Black men kill each other
The guy who ain’t never scared and always looking to
escalate a situation. Down for whatever. Nothing to live for and anticipating the day
he will either kill or be killed. This
mindset is cultivated in a limited option, few chances, success deprived
life. This guy has had a number of
arguments and fist fights throughout his life.
He hates authority and frequently feels angry or resentful towards
people. He often seeks to overcome a
feeling of powerlessness. This guy is a
walking heap of rage. He is always nothing
but a gun and an argument away from murder.
The Disrespected Man
A man who feels like everybody but him gets respect.
Unemployed or stuck in a low wage hard work job
where his contributions are unrecognized
Lives with his mother and has little control over
his home environment
Has a child but no custody and a bad relationship
with his baby mama
Been profiled and harassed by the police
Observes community members driving nice cars
Rejected for better jobs
Feels unable to change his life status and is
insignificant in the world
Seeks to overcome feelings of impotence
For this guy, respect is everything and options to express
anger or refutation are often limited. He
often seeks to overcome a feeling of impotence. If another who seems unworthy
of disseminating criticism or scorn or generally crosses the line of imagined
respect, then a high level of response will be meted out.
Little life happiness
Thrill seeker often brags and talks about his toughness and ‘hood status.
Wants to make a real name for himself
Will recklessly escalate a situation or
When challenged by a non-believing skeptic, this man often
acts in unnecessarily violent ways in unnecessarily violent situations. Often seeks to overcome a feeling of powerlessness.
Too often black men suffer an inferiority
vilifies and criminalizes black men on a daily basis.
American culture is based upon the notion that
black people and specifically black men are less intelligent, completely
unpredictable, beast like, lazy etc., etc.
Black men internalize this notion and are
conditioned to see little value when they look in the mirror.
Beset by internal angst and torment.
Unresolved pain combined with poverty,
ignorance, oppression, violent police, violent neighborhoods, etc.
symptoms of an inferiority complex include a high sensitivity to criticism, perceiving
others as a threat, jealousy, a lack of dreams.
The daily feeling of isolation, powerlessness and impotence is like being a prisoner of war. One reason black men grab their genitals is to stress their vitality. Men who have been literally stripped of the ability to display their manhood – great jobs, big houses, educational attainment and all the other accoutrements of modern society- are literally killing to express their power in life. Twisted but true.
BY STACY CONRADT
There’s more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that slaves were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here’s what you should know about the historic event and celebration.
1. SLAVES HAD ALREADY BEEN EMANCIPATED—THEY JUST DIDN’T KNOW IT.
A page of the original Emancipation Proclamation, from the National Archives.ALEX WONG, AFP/GETTY IMAGES
The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, so technically, from the Union’s perspective, the 250,000 slaves in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.
2. THERE ARE MANY THEORIES AS TO WHY THE LAW WASN’T ENFORCED IN TEXAS.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES
News traveled slowly back in those days—it took Confederate soldiers in western Texas more than two months to hear that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Still, some have struggled to explain the 30-month gap between the proclamation and freedom, leading some to suspect that Texan slave owners purposely suppressed the announcement. Other theories include that the original messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed or that the Federal government purposely delayed the announcement to Texas in order to get one more cotton harvest out of the slaves. But the real reason is probably that Lincoln’s proclamation simply wasn’t enforceable in the rebel states before the end of the war.
3. THE ANNOUNCEMENT ACTUALLY URGED FREED SLAVES TO STAY WITH THEIR FORMER OWNERS.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Obviously, most former slaves weren’t terribly interested in staying with the people who had enslaved them, even if pay was involved. In fact, some were leaving before Granger had finished making the announcement. What followed was called “the scatter,” when droves of former slaves left the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions.
5. NOT ALL SLAVES WERE FREED INSTANTLY.
Texas is a large state, and General Granger’s order (and troops to enforce it) were slow to spread. According to historian James Smallwood, many enslavers deliberately suppressed the information until after the harvest, and some beyond that. In July 1867 there were two separate reports of slaves being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose slaves were only freed after his hanging in 1868.
6. FREEDOM CREATED OTHER PROBLEMS.
Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren’t too eager to part with what they felt was their property. When legally freed slaves tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. “They would catch [freed slaves] swimming across [the] Sabine River and shoot them,” a former slave named Susan Merritt recalled.
7. THERE WERE LIMITED OPTIONS FOR CELEBRATING.
A monument in Houston’s Emancipation Park.2C2KPHOTOGRAPHY, FLICKR // CC BY 2.0
When freed slaves tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later, they were faced with a problem: Segregation laws were expanding rapidly, and there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use. So, in the 1870s, former slaves pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed “Emancipation Park.” It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.
8. JUNETEENTH CELEBRATIONS WANED FOR SEVERAL DECADES.
Scene from the Poor People’s March in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 1968.ARNOLD SACHS, AFP/GETTY IMAGES
It wasn’t because people no longer wanted to celebrate freedom—but, as Slate so eloquently put it, “it’s difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides.” Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People’s March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The march brought Juneteenth back to the forefront, and when march participants took the celebrations back to their home states, the holiday was reborn.
9. TEXAS WAS THE FIRST STATE TO DECLARE JUNETEENTH A STATE HOLIDAY.
A statue of former Texas state representative Al Edwards, who introduced legislation to have June 19 officially declared a state holiday.ניקולס, FLICKR // CC BY-SA 2.0
Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, the first state to do so.
10. JUNETEENTH JUST BECAME A FEDERAL HOLIDAY
Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it just became a federal holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn’t pass then or while he was president. However, President Joe Biden signed the legislation into law on June 17, 2021. All federal employees get the day off.
11. THE JUNETEENTH FLAG IS FULL OF SYMBOLISM.
Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the slaves and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting “new star” on the “horizon” of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.
12. JUNETEENTH TRADITIONS VARY ACROSS THE U.S.
Juneteenth celebration participants taste the sweet potato pie entered in the cook-off contest during the festivities Richmond, California, in 2004.DAVID PAUL MORRIS, GETTY IMAGES
As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In southern states, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, “red soda water” or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.
New Orleans is really about the number 85. 85 more good jobs for black men is far better than 85 more police officers. We need more jobs, not more police.
First one: 85% of eligible African American men in NOLA do not own homes.
The bedazzlingly incompetent former Mayor Mitch Landrieu sank more money into funding for more police without seeking a complementarily and equally funded jobs program. This was the proverbial Band-Aid as cancer treatment. That was over a decade ago. And nothing has changed. Turn on the news today, listen to the radio, open an app on your phone and for all you old schoolers out there, look at a newspaper, and stories of crime abound. Usually every story will include the lack of police in NOLA. And the former spin masters in City Hall have convinced many that there is a culture of violence in New Orleans. (Insert smiley face here cause people don’t recognize the crying face)
“The only way to stop crime is to reverse this culture of violence in our city,” Landrieu claimed. The previous mayor slandered black men like a champion.
This claim – that a majority of black people wake up thinking about the best uses of violence – is as unsubstantiated as former President Trump’s claim of that he won the election. But while all the citizens of New Orleans view crime is a major problem, they consistently rejected the previous administrations attempts to dedicate more tax dollars for increased police. We deserve a real solution. For starters, most agree that the city must take drastic measures to halt the violence that plagues our city. Yet, for far too long the city has viewed crime from a single minded perspective. And crime continues to plague our great city.
Any focus on claiming some black criminal proclivity as the basis to hire more police has been disastrous. The department is struggling to keep 900 active officers on the force. But many citizens’ demand a jobs creation program. We can transform the city and create a vibrant local economy.
PREVENTING CRIME IS NOT A POLICE JOB.
Make no mistake. Hiring more police will lead to more arrests. But the majority of proactive arrests new police make are nonviolent drug offenders. Arresting these people does not address the underlying problems. Read my article here about how arresting people for nonviolent crime actually increases crime. If we really want to break from the crime problem/mass incarceration bankruptcy cycle, then we should address the real problems. 46% of African American men are unemployed in New Orleans. Of those employed, only 59% earn more than minimum wage.
So fully 85% of black men in New Orleans need a good job.
For people to support the NOPD, better utilization of current manpower is the first step. We currently have enough police officers to handle the number of calls we get. But the current top heavy structure of the department, places an emphasis on people’s careers rather than responding to citizen calls. Recent shifts of more officers from headquarters to answer calls has dramatically increased police response times. We still have an unacceptable 3 to 1 manager cop to street cop ratio. We just need more boots out of the office and onto the street. 85% of the officers on the force should be shifted to the street now.
We have a jobs problem not a culture of violence
Texas, Alabama and Georgia have drastically reduced crime by focusing on drug addiction treatment and job creation rather than increased policing and more prisons. For these states, the savings are growing steadily and reaching over $85 million per state. Factor the reduced need for police, and probation and courtrooms and DA offices and indigent defenders and the savings these states will realize projects into the billions. This does not include the improvement in the local economy because of reduced crime.
The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect different results. Hiring more police and filling prisons will not reduce crime! WE ARE STILL A LEADER ON THE ENTIRE EARTH IN PUTTING PEOPLE IN PRISON. AND WE STILL HAVE THE HIGHEST CRIME AND MURDER RATES IN THE WORLD. More police will not solve the problem. We need a comprehensive jobs creation program.
More Jobs Not More Police
Our new city government and our citizens have to become more engaged. If New Orleans is to become the world class and great city we all want, then the elevation of the African American family is the greatest single element in the formula. Strong African American families will have men and women working in good paying jobs that allow them to own nice homes in safe neighborhoods. Only then will crime be reduced. Murder will fall because people will be busy paying their mortgages online instead of hustling the mean New Orleans streets to cobble a living.
Simple solution: Many senior citizens need work done to their homes. Invest in home renovation training for man in Orleans Parish. Hire local New Orleans residents to renovate the property of seniors. Provide regular maintenance like painting and roofing and grass cutting services to the 30,000 seniors in New Orleans who might need help. Jobs for men mean stronger families! Strong healthy families dramatically reduce crime. Creating homeowners in New Orleans is a real solution to the New Orleans crime problem.
But the best 85 is: home owners commit crimes 85% less frequently than renters. We need more jobs not more police.
If you are a woman being raped in Louisiana, you will now have to beg your rapist not to cum inside of you. Yes, it’s an unusual request. One that your rapist will probably reject and consider an undue burden on his attempt to rape you. But after last week’s Supreme Court ruling, this request might be your best bet on not having to go through with this type of pregnancy. Because abortion is now illegal in Louisiana.
If you are a woman in Louisiana, you can also no longer trust that your man has a strong pull-out game or has invested in the type of condoms that don’t break easily. Those days are over. These days, you have to take your reproductive health in your own hands. You have two options. You can either flat-out stop having sex or provide your own birth control. Otherwise, Louisiana law will demand you go through with your pregnancy unless you’re on the verge of dying.
That’ll be the case unless you find two brave doctors who aren’t afraid of lawsuits or jail time.They’ll be facing either or both because they’ll have to the pregnancy should come to an end because of possible deadly complications. Good luck and good fortune with that.
There is one other thing resembling an option, though. Presently, you can fly, drive, or walk 700 miles to the nearest state that still legalizes abortion. But at the rate Democrats vote in local elections, you may end up having to make a cross country trek in the future.
How did we get here? You know how we got here. While Republicans were crafting legal arguments against abortion in state legislatures, Democrats were running around making emotional pleas, the chief one being – you can’t tell a woman what to do with her body.
Well, there are all kinds of things women can’t do with their bodies. Like selling parts of it for sex or putting certain drugs into it. Yes, I know, those are prohibitions shared by all humans, and being pregnant is not. Still, simply being pregnant doesn’t legally grant a woman free reign to make decisions about her body.
Why? Because over the years, Republicans have used modern medical technology to chip away at the Roe vs Wade standard of legalizing abortion up to the point of fetal viability, which was 23 weeks. They have now successfully argued that present medical equipment has changed things. For example, they now claim that a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected way earlier than before. The same goes for its ability to feel pain.
This new standard has been the backdrop of the bills they’ve passed. They have incrementally limited the time span of when a woman can have an abortion. The point being that when a fetus develops a heart and can feel pain, it becomes a person and has a right to life just like any other person. Democrats have had no convincing legal or medical answer for this.
Abortion is Now Illegal in Louisiana
Saying that old white men are making medical decisions for women and that a woman can do what she wants with her body were not convincing rebuttals to Republicans equating abortion with murder. Arguing that an early fetus is not a person could have been one.
Framing abortion as not just some everyday medical procedure, conservatives in the Supreme Court pounced. They ruled that it is not protected under a right to privacy like other medical procedures. And just like that, abortion became a states’ rights issue.
You can foresee what’s about to happen next. There will be marches, like the one we’ve just had. There will be all kinds of vows and stern finger wagging saying how this will not stand and how there will be a blue wave of retribution blowing through Congress. Then November will come. And Republicans will take over the House and Senate.
That’ll just be the first round of course. Our politics are cyclical. Eventually, Democrats will bounce back, and may even find themselves with a big enough majority in Congress to make abortion legally federally. But as always, that majority won’t mean a thing if they don’t control public opinion.
It’s amazing. In this country personhood is the defining characteristic regarding our rights. But we have no clear-cut consensus on when a pregnancy produces a person. If Democrats want to change abortion laws, then they should start by changing their current narrative. No more blaming old white men and declaring what women can do with their bodies. Focusing on personhood and rights instead would be a good place to reboot and start.
But We Need to Protect Ourselves | Opinion
by Jason Nichols , senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland College Park
Gun ownership by African Americans has been steadily rising in recent years. Black gun ownership rose by 58 percent in 2020 alone. The trend has been fueled by a mistrust in law enforcement’s ability or desire to protect us and a spike in hate crimes. Since the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, white nationalist groups have been emboldened, holding public displays of their numbers and even their willingness to engage in violent acts.
And it’s these Americans who the Left, eager to enact stricter gun control laws, must not forget. After all, gun control has historically been used as a tool to disarm Black people, leaving them more vulnerable to acts of terror. And in our search for better gun laws, we must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
The truth is, despite what many want you to believe, being pro-gun ownership and pro-gun regulation are not mutually exclusive. Most reasonable Americans, including many gun owners, believe in firearm regulations like expanded background checks, red flag laws, and limitations on the capacity of a magazine. But all too many are seeking extreme measures outside of this mainstream—even total disarmament.
One of the most understated facts about African American freedom and safety is that some of it was won by Black men and women being willing to take up arms. An estimated 190,000-200,000 Black men volunteered to fight in the Civil War for the cause of freedom and self-determination. Black people have had to protect their communities from terrorism with guns many times; think of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, an organized Black militia that had several violent run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan.
Even some of those who believed non-violent resistance was the best way to address discrimination and deal with abusive law enforcement still armed themselves to protect against racist vigilantes.
Fanny Lou Hamer claimed to have several loaded guns in her home for protection. Dr. King applied for a conceal carry license after his home was bombed. Armed supporters stood guard around his house in Alabama due to the threats he received; the King’s home was described as “an arsenal.”
The earliest gun regulations on what would become U.S. soil were enacted in Virginia in 1640 to prohibit Blacks, “mulattoes,” and indigenous people from owning guns—whether they were free or in some form of bondage. Meanwhile, in 1792 white men were actually required to own guns for service in the militia. As historian Carol Anderson has pointed out, the Second Amendment was actually crafted so that slaveholders could swiftly put down rebellions by the enslaved.
Most Americans are familiar with the infamous Black Codes, which were largely used to limit Black civic participation and voting rights. What is often left out of the discussion is that several of those provisions banned Black gun possession. A major mission of the early Ku Klux Klan was to take guns out of Black communities.
At a time when anti-Black hate crimes are on the rise, progressive minded people should avoid calling for the total disarmament of our communities. Hate crimes against African Americans rose from 1,972 in 2019 to 2,755 in 2020, representing the largest increase of any demographic. 2020 saw the most hate crimes perpetrated against Black people since 2008.
These attacks do not seem to be disappearing; attempts at countering internet radicalization from disinformation have been met with strong resistance from the Right. Not only have we witnessed the mass murder of Black Americans in Buffalo, but we’ve seen the group Patriot Front arrested for conspiring to start a riot. Though they were headed to an LGBTQ pride event, one of Patriot Front’s stated objectives is the creation of a white ethnostate.
After events like the Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville and the callous murder of George Floyd by law enforcement, many African Americans have come to the conclusion that they must be prepared to protect themselves and their loved ones from threats and cannot leave their wellbeing fully in the hands of police.
Historically, we have disarmed the communities who needed protection and allowed terrorists to have weapons. It is imperative that we take away guns from the right people this time. Law abiding Black Americans have always had the moral right to protect their homes, families, and communities. Let’s not take away their legal right to do so.
Dr. Jason Nichols is a senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland College Park and was the longtime editor-in-chief of Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture. He is the cohost of the “Vince and Jason Save the Nation” podcast.
The US has taken a step towards its first major gun-control legislation in decades, galvanised by two mass shooting events in a nation that has long struggled to curb chronic firearm violence.
Senators on Tuesday evening local time voted to speed passage of a bipartisan package of measures to toughen federal gun laws.
The Senate is expected to vote on the 80-page bill this week before a two-week recess.
The bill unveiled on Tuesday does not go as far as Democrats, including President Joe Biden, had sought.
Still, if passed, it would be the most significant action to combat gun violence to emerge from Congress in years.
The legislation includes provisions that would help states keep firearms out of the hands of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, and close the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole’ by blocking gun sales to those convicted of abusing intimate partners to whom they are not married.
After mass shootings at a New York grocery store and a Texas primary school authorities said were committed by teenagers, the legislation would allow states to provide juvenile records to the national background check system for gun purchases.
The bill stops short of raising the age limit from 18 to 21 on purchases of automatic assault weapons. The shooters in Texas and New York were 18-year-olds who used assault rifles they bought themselves.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he expected the bill to pass this week, while Senator Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in talks with Republicans to craft a legislative deal, called it “the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress will have passed in 30 years”.
“This is a breakthrough,” Senator Murphy said on the Senate floor ahead of the bill’s release. “And more importantly, it is a bipartisan breakthrough.”
The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, called the legislation “a commonsense package” and pledged his support.
With the 100-seat Senate split evenly between the two parties, the legislation will need support from at least 10 Republicans to pass a procedural hurdle.
Fourteen Republicans, including Senator McConnell, joined all 50 Democrats to move towards voting on the legislation.
The biggest gun lobby in the country, the National Rifle Association, said on Twitter it opposed the legislation because it could be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases.
The politically powerful group’s statement could affect how many Republicans vote on the measure.
Senator John Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator in the bipartisan talks, held out hope the legislation would succeed.
“We know there’s no such thing as a perfect piece of legislation. We are imperfect human beings,” Senator Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
“But we have to try, and I believe this bill is a step in the right direction.”
The bipartisan group has been working on a deal since a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, less than two weeks after 10 people were killed in a racist shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Lawmakers reached agreement on a provision to encourage states to adopt ‘red-flag’ laws, in which guns can be temporarily taken away from people who are deemed dangerous.
It also provides funding for states that use other forms of intervention to accomplish the same outcome.
Black and Brown communities aren’t getting enough sleep compared to white people, report reveals
Compared to white people, Black and Brown communities are routinely getting less sleep, research finds.
A recent report from Science Magazine reveals that communities of color take longer to fall asleep and wake up more during the night, which leads to a number of concerning health issues, like heart diseases and diabetes. They also spend less time in deep sleep.
It’s something University of Miami researcher Girardin Jean-Louis has been working to find solutions to.
“Anybody really sleeping six [hours] or less are at risk,” he says. “In terms of Blacks and Brown folks of Latinx background, about 45% of them are sleeping six or less, which means therefore that the risk for cardiometabolic condition as well as early mortality are substantially higher.”
To combat the disparity, Jean-Louis heads to churches, hair salons and barbershops to teach communities about getting enough sleep.
Jean-Louis first began his sleep studies in the late ‘90s in San Diego. He noticed that Black and Brown men were sleeping an hour less than white men on average, and wondered about the reasons behind it.
Shift work is one reason behind the lack of sleep these communities are getting, according to Science Magazine. Many Black and Brown people work non-traditional hours, like at night.
A 2010 study at an extended-care facility in Massachusetts found that Black and Hispanic people are twice as likely to work the night shift compared to white people. And other environmental and socioeconomic factors are also at fault.
“Noise is a problem, light pollution is a problem. The temperature fluctuation in those high-rise buildings in Brooklyn, New York, are significant problems. Lack of access to green spaces has significant problems,” says Jean-Louis.
Stress related to racism is also a cause behind poor sleep, he adds. Racial discrimination has been found to be behind 60% of insomnia for Black people.
Race related stressors — like the ongoing trial into the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, can also have profound impacts on sleep. Black people may struggle to get enough sleep.
For white people, Jean-Louis says, it’s easy to bounce back quickly. But it’s different for communities of color.
“If you saw what was happening, for instance, about a year and a half ago and George Floyd happened, a lot of Black folks were just not sleeping enough,” he says. “So if you already sleeping six hours or less and you lose another 30 minutes, this could be the tipping point for what might become high blood pressure, diabetes and difficulty with HIV and cancer management.”
As a child, Jean-Louis spent hours in church and is now able to understand the lingo of what people want to hear. When he speaks to Black people at church, he relates the importance of getting enough sleep to the story of Daniel in the Bible.
In the Bible, Daniel was a man who was able to decipher dreams. When Jean-Louis speaks about sleep to communities, he mentions that Daniel wouldn’t have been able to get to the dream state if he wasn’t a healthy sleeper.
“When you speak that language, people tend to be a bit more receptive because that’s their lane, that they’re comfortable with this,” he says.
Jean-Louis has enlisted volunteers who become “certified sleep educators” to help him spread the message about getting good sleep. The team also created a website for people in the community to learn more about sleep.
When it comes to solving sleep problems, Jean Louis says there needs to be caution. Some people just naturally function fine with just six hours of sleep.
But someone who realizes they’re not functioning their best should check with their doctor for help, he says.
“Similarly, people who are sleeping an adequate amount seem to have to do much better when they take the COVID vaccine, for instance,” he says. “So sleep an adequate amount. Boost your immune function. [That] makes it easier for you to function on a daily basis.”
Don’t stress. Just do this to get what you need.
BY ROZALYNN S. FRAZIER
TETRA IMAGESGETTY IMAGES
Getting sleep is an essential part of life. “Outside of bacon and sex, sleep is the most important thing on the planet,” says MH Advisor W. Chris Winter, MD, neurologist, sleep specialist, and author of numerous books on sleep including The Rested Child. And for good reason. When you are lacking in quantity and quality Z’s, you leave yourself open to a host of issues, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.
Even if you are doing all of the right things to foster a good night’s sleep, including regular exercise, sleeping on a schedule, avoiding alcohol at night, sleeping in cooler temperatures and keeping your room dark and quiet, good sleep can sometimes still be a struggle. Luckily, it’s not always a major cause for concern. “An occasional cupcake or missed meal is irrelevant. If either becomes the standard it’s deadly. Same with sleep. Tonight’s sleep is not that big of a deal,” says Dr. Winter, who notes that the difference between sleeplessness and insomnia is the anxiety you choose to bring to the situation.
Still, that doesn’t make the fact that you can’t snooze any less annoying. If you are having trouble, here are a few in-the-moment things you should and shouldn’t do.
Just enjoy the rest. Really.
You may not think there is value in just closing your eyes and lying in bed, even if sleep is evading you, but the truth is that resting is tremendously beneficial from a physical and cognitive perspective, according to Dr. Winter, who says that we put far too much emphasis on tips to fall asleep. Resting is a way to simply get your body and mind to relax. “If it’s impossible not to sleep, we just need to take ourselves off the hook and be comfortable with being awake in bed. It’s nothing to fear,” explains Dr. Winter, who also says that we need to eliminate the word “unconsciousness” from our list of goals when we get into bed. “I would say, if you do not mind being in bed, awake, thinking, meditating, praying, thinking about your celebrity crush…stay there,” says Dr. Winter.
Stay away from the screens
We get it, if you’ve been tossing and turning and sleep has yet to come, you may want to reach for your TV remote or grab your phone for a bit of mindless scrolling to pass the time. Don’t. You don’t want to use any electronics or bright light devices, advises Kuljeet (Kelly) Gill, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, as that glowing light, AKA blue light, can interfere with sleep even more by suppressing the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles.
Use your bed only for sleep
One of the biggest sleep missteps: using the bed for anything other than sleeping. “Get in bed only to sleep,” says Alcibiades J. Rodriguez, MD, FAASM, Medical Director, NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center-Sleep Center and Associate Professor of Neurology NYU Grossman School of Medicine. (Okay, and sex too.) Here’s the thing, sliding between the sheets should signal it’s time for, well, sleep. If you do other things right before bed, whether it’s working on your laptop or having a snack, your brain will begin to associate your resting place as everything other than what it’s made for.
Get out of bed
Whether you’re having trouble drifting off into dreamland at the beginning of the night or getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night, it can be useful to only be in the bed for so long. Several experts say if sleep isn’t happening after about 20 minutes, “get up and leave the bed and do something relaxing, low energy and in dim light such as reading, meditation or deep breathing,” adds Dr. Gill. And don’t look at the clock, adds Dr. Rodriguez. Watching those minutes and hours tick by can up your worry factor and extend the time it takes to go from wakefulness to sleep.
When should you return to bed? Dr. Winter is not a fan of putting a time limit on the situation. “It just adds to the stress,” he says. “I would say go back to bed if you feel sleepy. If not, stay up as late as you like and don’t worry about it.”
The thing to really remember: “Being in bed and not falling asleep right away, or awakening during the night, to me, is not horrible. It’s not even difficult. It just is,” says Dr. Winter. “What is difficult is the work some people need to do to get out from under this kind of thinking. Most people do not want to do it. They want a pill or a simple trick. They do not want to actually explore the meaning of insomnia…and the fact that it’s really just fear…not sleep deprivation.”
Remember towards the end of Dirty Dancing when Patrick Swayze had been outcast and cancelled and told to stay away from the Dr.’s daughter for allegedly stealing somebody’s wallet? But remember how he was proved innocent and in full defiance busted into a party, walked up to Jennifer Grey, the daughter, and said the epic line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”? Well, Mayor Cantrell needs a Patrick Swayze at the moment. Because the City Council is steadily backing her into a corner. And the City Council makes power moves.
It started with members of the Council kindly suggesting that the mayor get Council approval for future appointees. The mayor politely refused. Then the Council froze some public works funds due to lack of transparency from the mayor’s office. Then they subpoenaed records from a broadband contract they deemed shady. Now, they’re attacking what the mayor holds most dear, her authority.
Under HB652, a bill passed this legislative session, the S&WB would effectively have to answer to the City Council instead of the mayor. The bill gives the Council power to subpoena records and audit the S&WB, similar to the oversight they have over Entergy. But what makes this different is that the mayor is the president of the S&WB. So that means the mayor has to answer to the Council in this scenario.
In the power struggle that’s been going on between the two, this marks a major power move. If this was a game of chess, then getting this bill passed would be as close to check as one could get.
Mayor Cantrell invested a lot of political capital into stopping the bill. She even went up to Baton Rouge during the session and personally lobbied against it. Clearly to no avail. At the moment she finds herself in the position she tried to avoid during the whole appointee approval dustup.
Now that this bill has passed, one has to wonder if it’s really necessary or if we’re being caught up in a beef between the mayor and Council.
Clearly, the S&WB has been a hot mess, functionally and structurally. On the functional level, if turbines aren’t exploding and sending people to the hospital, they’re raining oil all over Hollygrove. At one point, people in the neighborhood were saying they couldn’t even sit on their porches without being pelted in the forehead with drops of oil. And that was after they suffered through generators blasting noise at decibel levels that rivaled a jet taking off. Citywide, we’ve been treated to over-billing and not being able to leave our houses because the streets are randomly flooded.
The City Council Makes Power Moves
Structurally, the Board’s composition has been flipping and flopping for a decade. At one point there were three Council members on the Board. Then there were none. But that didn’t turn out well. So, one Council member was reinstated. Under the bill, the Board would remain the same structurally. But again, effectively, it would be answering to the Council instead of the mayor.
If the Council’s track record with Entergy is any indication of how they’ll deal with the S&WB, then we are in for a letdown. Whenever Entergy does something incompetent or shady, which is often, there’s much huffing and puffing from the Council. An emergency meeting is then called. And we’re told that the people will get the answers they deserve. Then the meeting happens. And poof, nothing. Entergy representatives usually show up unprepared to answer the questions they were brought in for. And the Council rarely does anything about it.
But who knows, maybe this Council is finding its footing. Council member J.P. Morrell said we would see what a strong and united Council looks like. And apparently for better or worse that is starting to take place. The mayor can definitely attest to it. With the S&WB all we can do is wait and see what that means.
by Orissa Arend
The Last Slave Ship by Ben Raines (Simon and Schuster,2022) is a true story. It begins with the fatuous bet by an Alabama plantation owner. He claimed it would be easy to evade the international slave blockade. That led to the construction of the slave ship Clotilda. The subsequent voyage brought 110 captive Africans to Mobile Bay 50 years after the horrific trade was outlawed. It traces Cudjo Lewis’s capture as a 19-year-old from his idyllic life as a Yoruba villager in the land of plenty by Dahomean soldiers from a nearby African village. The tale goes from there to Africatown, the Alabama community founded by Clotilda captives after Emancipation. The town prospered in the Jim Crow South!
We have the story in Cudjo’s own words because anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston interviewed him and wrote about it. She moved to Mobile in 1927 and visited Kudjo at home multiple times a week. She even took pictures. Kudjo was 87. He was the last survivor of the captives who founded Africatown. And he was the last person alive who had experienced the Middle Passage.
The stories of the enslavers are also so well researched that you feel like you are there, for the mutinies, the storms at sea, the chases by patrol boats, the burning and sinking of the Clotilda to destroy the evidence, and the ferocious resistance of the Africans once they arrived at plantations.
After 5 years of slavery, which ended with the Civil War, the Clotilda Africans demanded reparations, land to build their very own town on. They could organize because they stayed connected and kept their language. They were community-minded and hard workers. Their enslavers, of course, wouldn’t consider giving land. In fact, they felt that THEY were owed reparations for their loss of human property!
So the Africans came up with Plan B – go back to Africa. Too expensive, they decided, and no telling what they would find back home. Plan C – work hard, pool money, and buy the land themselves for their town. Which is what they did. Illiterate themselves (in terms of English), they built a school and hired teachers for their children. Becoming Christian (with some Vodun mixed in) and not wanting to go to the churches of their oppressors, they built a church. They built houses and figured out a system of governance and conflict resolution.
To quote the author: “They suffered through racial violence, murder, disease, and betrayal by people they trusted. All of this in what was then the nation’s most intensely racist state. There the wheels of government continually sought new ways to suppress them. But the Africans did not shrink or hide away among themselves. Of course, they had branded themselves as fighters from the start, from the moment they stole the overseer’s whip and lashed him with it in Meaher’s field [the plantation owner and financier of the Clotilda]. Everything that happened after that was just a continuation of that first impulse – to fight, fight for their lives, their rights, their future, and their children.”
But then in the 1960’s and 70’s and beyond, the town was ravaged by the same forces that destroyed so many African American communities – industrial pollution, highways, crack cocaine, and opportunities to move and shop elsewhere. According to the author, who is an environmental journalist, Mobile thinks of Africatown as a dumping ground for dirty industry even today. The atrocities and lack of regulation he cites sound exactly like the African American struggles in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley (aka Death Alley).
From the book flap: “To this day, Clotilda is a ghost haunting three communities: the descendants of those transported into slavery, the descendants of their fellow Africans who sold them, and the descendants of their American enslavers. This connection binds these groups together.”
In 2019 when the ship was found by the author who is a diver and charter boat captain among other things, 160 years after it had been burned and sunk, there was renewed energy for apologies and for healing. The Mobile family which commissioned the Clotilda, the Meahers, had gotten rich off of slave labor. Their descendants were significant players in the local real estate market at the turn of the 20th century. And they did their best to disenfranchise and impoverish residents of Africatown. To this day, their descendants refuse to be quoted about the Clotilda and have accepted no responsibility for the deeds of their forebears, afraid that their family will be sued for kidnapping.
But apologies between Africans and African Americans did happen. Hector Posset, Benin’s ambassador to the United States, came to Mobile and performed a Vodun ritual on the author’s boat on the backside of Twelve Mile Island, where the ship lies, tears streaming from behind his sunglasses. This is what he said: “I am a prince of Dahomey. It was my father’s ancestors who did this. But my mother was Yoruba. Her ancestors came here to this country forcibly, they didn’t choose. And it was my father’s family who sold my mother’s family. This is why I wept. . . we sold our people. Brothers sold their brothers and sisters. Fathers sold kids and wife. I will never blame those who came here. I will always beg them for forgiveness.”
Jason Lewis, who grew up in Africatown, speaks for the diaspora, “Whoever did what back with the slaves, here in Mobile, or in Africa, they have a chance to say, ‘I apologize for what my great-great-grandfather did.’ And then we as the diaspora, we have a chance to say, ‘We forgive you.’ But with Clotilda, we have a chance to say it on a world stage, where everybody knows this is the last ship to come in, and we have a chance to have the actual descendants of the people who perpetrated it. . . to come together and tell the world they forgive each other.”
Enter Michael Foster, a retiree from Great Falls, Montana who had heard about the Clotilda and figured out from an Ancestry website that his great-great-great grandfather was captain Foster’s brother. Foster sailed the ship to Africa through 4 mutinies, several storms, and patrol boat chases where he nearly thew his human cargo overboard to avoid being hung for illegal slaving. He resented the fact that he never got the credit he thought he deserved.
When Michael Foster decided to come to Mobile to apologize to the Clotilda descendants, he told the author: “I just don’t know what to expect. Are they going to hate me? Will some of them yell at me? It’s a bad thing that was done to their ancestors. I don’t know what I can do but say I’m sorry.”
“That’s exactly what they want to hear,” the author told him. “I think you will find an incredibly warm reception. All they talk about is reconciliation. They want to forgive.” And that’s what happened. I like to think that no matter what the reception, Michael Forster would have gone ahead with the apology anyway.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR US
Can anyone read this book and not see the need for reparations? An apology is often an important part of that. Think Calvin Johnson and the recent apology from Governor John Bel Edwards 60 years after being arrested for inciting a riot while peacefully protesting for his civil rights. Are we really so disconnected from our ancestors that we won’t work to heal the generational guilt and trauma festering as a result of sins of the past? Without the hard work of reparation, sins of the past become sins of the present. Do we have the will and the courage to break that devastating chain?