By Jeff Thomas
Tyrone Blackman, a 22 year old native New Orleanian, was arrested twice in the last 10 months. The first time Tyrone was sent to jail for standing outside a bar drinking a bottle of beer and smoking a cigar. Police were called to the scene because a disgruntled new resident of the neighborhood complained that people were out making noise and using drugs. Tyrone’s family posted a $100 bond, and he was released Monday evening. He missed work Monday, and his boss wrote him up for an unexcused absence because he did not call to say he would be absent.
Tyrone’s cigar was being processed and checked by NOPD labs to determine whether or not there was any marijuana or other drugs in the cigar. Tyrone could not afford an attorney and his public defender told him he would need to be in court on 4 or 5 occasions to prove his innocence. The DA warned that if any drugs were found, Tyrone would be charged and could be sentenced up to 5 years if cocaine or marijuana was found in the cigar. They offered a plea deal where Tyrone would accept a conviction for a misdemeanor but serve no jail time. Tyrone would have to pay $500 in court fees but a payment plan was offered. Even though there were no drugs in the cigar, Tyrone missed 2 days of work meeting with the DA and his public defender. Short of his rent money and faced with more appearances, Tyrone accepted the deal and agreed to pay $50 a month.
Tyrone’s second arrest came after he argued loudly with and shoved his boss who pocked him on the shoulder while firing him because he used the internet at work to look for a second job. Tyrone needed the extra money to afford the fine.
In the midst of changing neighborhood demographics, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to increase spending on the police department will offer more Tyrones. In a city that arrests more people than any other city in the state that arrests more people than other state in the country that arrests more people than any other country in the world, proposing to arrest more people is the definition of insanity. The mayor went to the one neighborhood in the city where some crime is partially down to propose spending even more money to arrest people in NOLA.
News flash – overall crime is up again this year in NOLA. This is the one persistent and continuous problem in NOLA during the Landrieu administration. Even though the mayor promised to “know what to do and how to do it” when he ran for office eight years ago, the one thing New Orleanians can now count on is annual increases in crime. And every year the mayor has poured more tax money into the NOPD. This is proving as useful as slamming your head against a wall to cure a migraine.
There are alternatives.
Some facts the Mayor chooses to ignore might be enlightening to his honor. Putting men in jail does not solve crime. One of the reasons crime in the white community is so low is because white men are not jailed for minor and petty crimes, especially drug use. Yet black men are jailed at extremely high rates, especially for petty crimes, especially drug use.
Men with high unemployment tend to commit more crimes, especially petty crimes. Unemployment amongst black men has been as high as 52% in NOLA. Meanwhile white male unemployment in NOLA is under 7%.
Black men are not more prone to criminality than other people. We are stuck in the NOLA bubble, where images of black men who commit crimes dominate the media. But a look nationally shows that, according to the Bureau of Justice, white people commit crimes in far greater numbers and more importantly at a slightly higher rate than African Americans.
According to NOPD Chief Michael Harrison, “we cannot arrest ourselves out of this crime problem.” Providing no alternatives, besides hand wringing and the subsequent head banging, offers no chance for improvement. Multiple studies show that incarceration for even minor offenses dramatically increases crime. Further, a report from the National Research Council on mass incarceration in the United States finds that lengthy prison sentences do not deter crime.
Some things that will work:
- Invest some of that $8 million, in full time pay, paid job training and offer jobs with the Sewerage and Water Board that pay living wages
- Offer others full time contractor skills training. Train them to fix blighted houses. Sell them the houses and use the monthly mortgage payments replenish the program
- Invest some of that $8 million in NOPD jobs for certain 1st time offenders. Expunge these records and hire them as NOPD cops
- Invest some of that $8 million in drug treatment and pay former abusers to staff the facilities
- Invest some of that $8 million in group mentorship homes where men teach others about being men
- Invest some of the $8 million is conflict resolution classes staffed by local New Orleanians
- Create rent control as rents force more minimum wage workers out of the city
These are real life solutions. They will work. Otherwise Mayor Landrieu, you are no different than Donald Trump who proclaimed “law and order” is what is needed for the African American community. People of good conscience know putting black men in jail at alarming rates only destroys families, causes crime and creates a cycle of poverty.
Meanwhile Tyrone is walking the streets looking for work. He is either a walking time bomb or walking in a mine field. Either way is life will blow up unless you stop the insanity and create a government that supports the citizens.