Thursday, March 24, 2011
Show Me The Money
Last Monday, I read a story in the Time-picayune that addressed the violent crime problem building in the St Roch district, just across St Claude Avenue from the Marigny. The title refers to an "explosion of violence", but those living in the area know this has been building up for quite some time. Of particular concern is the area at the Johnson Street end of St Roch park. This community park was created to provide some sort of outdoor recreational area for the local kids, and young adults. This particular area is now best known as both an open air drug market & the site where Terrance Dennis, just 19 years old, was gunned down, murdered right out in the open, by an assailant who chased him down a public street, firing at him with an assault rifle. While this sounds like something from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, it represents current living conditions in the St Roch; Living in Fear. On last nights news I listened & heard the City's plans for more traffic cameras, now that they've been approved for use (again), and that they can provide millions of dollars annually to the City of New Orleans, through fines for speeding, running red lights, school zone violations, etc. Personally, my one ticket for doing 28 in a 20 MPH school zone, clocked in at $110.00, and was a bit excessive by my standards. I was speeding, however, so I paid it and moved on. Slowly. And I wondered why so many of these were planned, when a single pair of pole top cameras in the St Roch park might save dozens of lives, and relieve an area of the city of the blight & violence associated with this drug market/turf war that so hinders life there... In my work travels yesterday, I twice encountered NOPD officers, 2 in one location and 3 or 4 in another, both times, just over a minor hilltop in the road, checking for brake tag violations or illegal license plates, perhaps the occasional seat belt violation. Again, I wondered why they would be doing this when murder waits, just a moment away, at the Johnson Street end of St Roch park. Couldn't a detail of two officers at a time simply monitor that end of St Roch Park, rather than hunt down brake tag violators? Today, I looked through the NOLA Alert Crime Blast emails, and there was a list of the many interactions the NOPD has had over the last week. I saw lists of traffic stops, minor arrests, many citations, etc. The latest Crime Maps from the 5th District came out in the usual way; a map of the week's crime, immediately followed by Today's New Map, so that anyone opening the most current email would see a clean slate of local harmony. Of course, this is bullshit. The Department of Justice report on the NOPD addresses these issues, directly; "We found NOPD’s emphasis on “activity,” defined as numbers of encounters such as stops, FICs, and arrests—at the expense of a more deliberate focus on problem-solving—to be an ingrained part of NOPD’s organizational culture." And furthermore; "The Department’s policies, training, and tactics support neither a community policing orientation, nor the ultimate goal of proactively addressing problems to reduce and prevent crime, rather than merely reacting to it. Within NOPD, the concept of community policing is poorly understood and implemented only superficially." The claim that crime is dropping in New Orleans, backed up by sheer numbers of stops & arrests reported, was addressed as well; "Officers throughout NOPD told us that pressure to make arrests and engage in sufficient “activity” to satisfy command staff and NOPD brass encourages aggressive enforcement of low-level infractions, and diverts attention and resources from quality arrests leading to significant convictions. Indeed, in 2009, NOPD made nearly 60,000 arrests, of which about 20,000 were of people with outstanding traffic or misdemeanor warrants from neighboring parishes for such infractions as unpaid tickets." So maybe you're starting to see the same pattern here that I am... Traffic cameras spit out tickets worth $110, at a minimum, and trust me, it's easier to pay it than it is to take a day off work, pay for parking, and sit in a courtroom for 6 or 7 hours, especially knowing that you'll likely pay it anyway. Crime cameras (besides the wretched history of corruption & fiscal abuse that goes along with them) require that someone actually pay attention. This means a trained & salaried person, watching, at least part of the time, to see what's going on. This costs money, and with little or no financial return. The same is true of the Brake Tag stops. Who wouldn't want to spend a sunny day outside, watching cars go by, talking with coworkers, catching a few easy citations, and maybe a warrant arrest or two? Meanwhile, sitting in a patrol car, waiting for the thugs to appear on all sides, or simply run down the street with an AK-47, must be less enticing. But that is, after all, police work. In general terms, I see an obvious pattern through which we, the Citizens of the City of New Orleans, are systematically watched for small detail infractions that result in giving money to the City of New Orleans, while an impoverished neighborhood, fighting it's way back to life by way of it's citizenry, mostly poor, black and/or musicians & artists, or all of the above, is left to deal with open air drug markets and murder in the street. So when I see pictures of Chief Serpas, sitting proudly on his Big White Horse, fresh from spouting statistics based on traffic stops, I think of those living in the St Roch, afraid to let their children play outdoors, in the neighborhood park their houses face, and I can't help it, the words just appear there in my psyche... Massah, on his big white horse, don't care for us folk down thisa way. Unless of course, that is, we can show him the money.