Mychal Bell’s Conviction Cleared!

The great news from the Third Court of Appeals today is that Mychal Bell’s conviction has been remanded to juvenile court where the trial will start over, unless the La. Supreme Court reverses the decision on that motion as well.

Here’s the AP story posted two hours ago.

And the three judges’ unanimous decision:

“Writ Granted and Made Peremptory; Stay Denied: The trial court erred in denying Defendant’s motion in arrest of judgment regarding his conviction for aggravated second degree battery. The Defendant was not tried on an offense which could have subjected him to the jurisdiction of the criminal court pursuant to either La. Ch. Code art. 863, permitting the trial court to retain criminal jurisdiction over juvenile defendants under limited circumstances, is inapplicable, and jurisdiction remains exclusively in juvenile court.

According, the ruling of the trial court denying Defendant’s motion in arrest of judgment, as to his conviction for aggravated second degree battery, is hereby reversed, vacated and set aside. The motion in arrest of judgment is granted, and the conviction for aggravated second degree battery is vacated.

[However…]  Further, the Defendant’s request for a stay of all matters in district court, as well as those pending on other charges in juvenile court, is hereby denied.”

In my opinion, that’s the best outcome people could have expected.  For the charges to be dropped entirely would be circumventing the traditional relationship between police making charges and the legal system seeing if they are valid.

To juvenile court then.  And let’s make sure Mychal is released!

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Published in: on September 14, 2007 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  

Jena 6: Judge denies Mychal Bell’s motions for acquittal and new trial

Not surprisingly, La Salle Parish Judge J.P. Mauffrey Jr. denied several motions put forward by Mychal Bell’s lawyers in the parish courthouse yesterday. Mauffrey did remand the conspiracy charge to juvenile court but did not acquit Bell of the charge despite a lack of evidence. Further, the judge upheld adult court jurisdiction over Bell’s second-degree battery conviction. Mychal Bell’s sentencing is set for September 20 where the maximum sentence is now 15 years instead of 22.5.

Bell’s lawyers will be appealing the denied motions in the 3rd District Court of Appeals, hoping to receive a positive judgment before September 20. The lawyers admit there are still lots of “hoops” to jump through and that the nuances involved in this case will be “unchartered territory” for Louisiana law.

Bob Noel, one of Bell’s lawyers, called the trial and conviction in adult court as District Attorney Reed Walters’ “bait-and-switch,” wherein he charged the teen with attempted murder to get the case in adult court and then reduced the charge right before the trial–a charge that would have been handled in juvenile court.

Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw saw their charges reduced from second-degree attempted murder to second-degree battery earlier in the day. Jones trial has been set for January 28 at 9am. Shaw’s has not been set. The other three youth are still charged with attempted murder at this time.

Published in: on September 5, 2007 at 5:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Second Anniversary Activities and the International Tribunal

It has been a whirlwind week of events in the city of New Orleans and no doubt across the Gulf Coast. People have come together to mourn, to commemorate, to organize, to reinvigorate the feeling of a lost culture, to simply return to their native city before returning to the place they’ve managed to find out there in the diaspora. Some place to survive until they can return home.

I’ve attended the march to Congo Square, the opening ceremonies of the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita calling for charges against the U.S. Government for being in violation of various human rights, public housing occupation attempts, and panel discussions.

Many activists and concerned folk not native to New Orleans have come for the anniversary and I thank them for that support, that revival of energy as I once was considered. But now, as I stay here beyond the influx of sympathetic and angrily energetic folks from around the world, I feel that I can greater understand the conflicting nature that natives of New Orleans have expressed to me of outside assistance. Unless you are committed and communication is open and active, then it is hard for relationships of solidarity to be genuine despite best intentions.

Saying that, the outpouring of support is overwhelming and surprising. It really shouldn’t be a surprise. The expectation from our political bodies and the national media has been for the federal flood and its long term aftermath to be swept under the carpet, dealt with once with a $116 billion dollar bill in which only a third is still available and nearly none has reached the population affected. (Much went to paying for the immediate response, Coast Guard and others, and some of the rest going to contractors to rebuild and take away debris, etc.) All the attention New Orleans continues to get is deserved, and will continue to be deserved, until justice is served. In additional to national allies, international support will be crucial going forward to address an international court with grievances as the International Tribunal will attempt to do.

Check out what I’ve been working on at New Orleans Indymedia

Published in: on September 2, 2007 at 10:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Gutting Law: One Year In

I wrote the article below a year ago when I was doing media advocacy work as a volunteer. Despite the best intentions of the city council to enact quality laws that address the needs of all residents, including ways for people to appeal, the law has only loosely been followed. There is an obvious lack of inspectors, as the Times-Picayune reports in its delays on inspections across the city the average for first inspections being nearly six months rather than the 30 days prescribed below.
Also, the Mayor’s Good Neighbor program, what many fair housing advocates call the “Bad Neighbor” program, designed for residents to report any neglected housing in the area for inspection, further complicated the matter politically and increased expectations for action to be taken by residents who reported properties.

What once was an optimistic gutting law to ensure a lengthy process to protect homeowners now has even some of the civic groups who raised hell to get appeal processes into the law wishing the state could at least stay on time.

Gutting Deadline Eased, Lower Ninth Exempt
NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 26 — In mid-August, representatives of community, housing and relief organizations pled with the New Orleans City Council to work with communities to assist homeowners’ rebuilding efforts and extend the August 29 gutting deadline enacted in April. The city council passed the law to urge residents to gut, clean or get on a waiting list to treat their flooded properties before the year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Mary Fontenot, President of All Congregations Together (ACT), led a press conference on August 17 before the city council meeting, the last regularly scheduled meeting before the deadline. “We would like to invite the city at this time to partner with us, to create a partnership to lift up solutions and ideas as to how we might support our people in returning,” she said.

But on Friday August 25, four days before the deadline, the city council voted 7-0 to keep their verbal assurances and not enforce demolitions in the days after August 29. The emergency ordinance passed with the support of Mayor Ray Nagin, who told Fontenot at an all-day mayoral retreat ten days prior to the deadline that “it’s not going to be enforced.” However, Nagin did have the chance to veto the ordinance back in April, but chose to abstain and let it pass into law unsigned.

Despite the assurances, Fontenot knew the language of the law didn’t prevent action. “To have it be revoked or amended would make us feel a lot better.”

Fortunately, the language of the new ordinance provides homeowners with detailed legal protections, such as a thirty-day notice after city inspections start on August 29. Upon re-inspection, if the property does not pass, then a second notice assigns the owner a date to have his or her case heard as a possible hardship exemption.

The former law stated that residents who bide by the August 29 deadline could have their homes seized by the city and demolished, but now a demolition can only occur if the judge at a hearing finds the homeowner in violation of the law. Even then, the homeowner has thirty days to appeal the decision and prove his or her intention to have the house gutted. Otherwise, the city will only have the legal authority to enter the premises to gut and do mold remediation at the homeowners expense.

The entire Lower Ninth Ward, including Holy Cross, is now exempt from inspections with no specified time-line for when the properties will be removed from the exemption. The immediate danger for many historic homes in Holy Cross has been averted for at least sixty days, which was the council’s estimate for hardship cases.

Once again, the council’s ordinance will use the thirty-day notice to refer residents to the 19 groups offering free or low-cost gutting instead of taking responsibility for its own citizens. Even though the deadline has been eased, many still would like the city to offer more services or assistance.

John Anderson, a displaced resident, has returned eleven times to rebuild, but is asking for partnership. “We are asking for equitable ownership in the rebuilding process, and that starts with you not giving us a deadline, you should give us an opportunity to work together so we can have hands on building for our community,” Anderson said at the press conference.

Though Louisiana has allocated money to go to New Orleans, residents themselves have not received adequate funds. “As of today, not one penny is in the hands of our citizens to rebuild,” Fontenot said at the August 17 press conference. A representative of the Lower 9th Ward Homeowners Association questioned how the council could consider demolishing houses when people have not been given the financial opportunities to rebuild. “We are here to ask the council to extend the deadline until the residents of the lower 9 get their LRA [Louisiana Recovery Authority] money,” she said.

Another impact goes beyond housing, for those people with high levels of stress and anxiety struggling to return home, said Alice Craft-Kerney, a lower ninth ward resident and registered nurse. “We have many people who are displaced, who are emotionally traumatized and this trauma is definitely magnified because they cannot return home,” she said at the press conference. “The suicide rate is directly related to the fact that they have no income, they can’t do the things they used to do and we want the city council to be aware that this is a health problem caused by the stress of the August 29 deadline.”

Noise Before the Deadline

Addressing the city council, Malcolm Suber, director of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, introduced an ordinance to repeal the August 29 deadline, but the council never brought it up for a vote. With the prospect of the city demolishing its residents’ homes, Suber urged, “That’s not the role of government.” Only an injunction by the mayor or a City Council Special Meeting could address the deadline a week before the anniversary, council members said.
Assuming that no such action would be taken, Suber called on the council to put aside funds to assist non-profit organizations that already gut houses, such as Hands On or Habitat for Humanity, if the council could not help homeowners directly. Since non-profit organizations and churches are overwhelmed by gutting requests and waiting lists in the thousands, community leaders have asked for the National Guard to reconsider its role in New Orleans. “We are asking the city to consider, to just imagine if we were to, for a change, to have the National Guard here not just in a policing fashion, but in a partnership fashion, assisting our homeowners as they do all around the world to clean and to gut their homes,” Fontenot recommended in front of city hall.

In response to similar sentiments by speakers in its chamber, the city council passed a verbal resolution proposed by Willard-Lewis to ask the Louisiana National Guard to expand their role to assist in gutting and securing properties. The resolution cannot force the guard to assist residents in rebuilding efforts.

However, not all groups believe the National Guard should have an increased role in New Orleans. “I’m anti-National Guard. I don’t want them doing anything. I don’t want them in the city,” Suber said.

The council voted in May to set aside the deadline for much of the Lower 9th Ward. It passed an ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis–who represents that area–declaring that all owner-occupied homes, plus all “residential rental property” owned by people 65 or older, in about two-thirds of the Lower 9th Ward “shall be deemed to be hardship cases” and thus “eligible for exceptions to the remediation requirements” imposed by the April law. Since the lower 9th was the last area to be opened for rebuilding, most of the area’s residents did not return until March or April at the earliest.

Since the re-population of New Orleans was staggered by zip code, that alone should exempt certain neighborhoods at this time and allow for a staggered deadline, community members said. Not applying the same exemption to New Orleans East, which was similarly devastated by Hurricane Katrina and in Willard-Lewis’ district, is somewhat surprising, said Fontenot, a lower 9th ward resident.
Vanessa Gueringer called the deadline “Draconian.”

Gueringer, a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward and a member of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), told the council that “the lack of notice to homeowners is evident.” One homeowner from the lower 9 affiliated with ACORN claimed that her neighbor had to inform her that her home was being torn down despite the council reiterating that no houses have been or will be demolished before August 29. There was no notification from the city even though she was a state employee and life-long New Orleanian, she said.

Assurances had been repeatedly made by both the city council and the mayor that the gutting law chronicling a year after Katrina would not be strictly enforced. Amending the law on August 25 provides a compromise to “move forward” and clarity, but some community activists still say that setting a deadline is an improper role for the government in relation to its citizens.

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take action to prevent demolitions on erroneously listed properties in New Orleans!

Karen Gadbois, a neighborhood association leader, updates the blog Squandered Heritage and has this recent post that provides links and instructions to get your property off the demolition list.

Published in: on August 27, 2007 at 10:05 am  Comments (1)  

Jena 6: Voices from the July 31 Protest Rally

The voiced were recorded from what Caseptla Bailey, mother of the accused Robert Bailey and president of the La Salle Parish NAACP Chapter, called a “United Coalition Peace Rally” held on July 31 in Jena, Louisiana. Following the rally at the courthouse, where the excerpts below were spoken, approximately 200 folks marched down to Jena’s main street and back in a rectangular route. People from La Salle Parish participated as well as the largest gathering of folks from across the country, including San Francisco, D.C., Atlanta, Jackson, Houston and Dallas. There was also a strong contingent–perhaps 50-60–from New Orleans alone. This was nearly the twentieth rally, but only the second march in Jena.

 

“We want to stress, very importantly, that this is a peace rally. We want to do this in peace, we want to do this in order. I want to keep stressing that. This is a peaceful rally. We can be loud, we can make some noise, but we also want to do this in a positive manner.”

“Robert had to learn a lesson from this misfortune. And I also let my son know while he was incarcerated: ‘you don’t just lay down here all day. You got to educate yourself while you’re incarcerated…you got to read, you got to learn, you got to understand why you are in this place. It’s not a good place right now, but you got to make the best of where you are. Educate your mind and keep your mind free—from any negativity. I’m proud of those young men and those young women who stood under that tree in protest.”

“The tree was a beautiful sight. The tree is not the problem. Cutting down the tree. The issue is still at hand. The issue still needs to be solved.”

–Caseptla Bailey

 

 

“If you go back to the nooses, there’s the problem. Those kids were told hey these nooses were hung, that it was a prank.”

“for them to say it was a prank, left those kids to do only one thing: defend themselves…they don’t want to talk about the tree inside La Salle Parish Courthouse, but that’s where it started. They slapped those three kids on the wrist and said, ‘Job well done.’”

–Catrina Wallace, step-sister of Robert Bailey and secretary of La Salle NAACP Chapter

“It began under a tree where three ninth graders just coming into high school, we call them the ‘Rosa Parks of Jena’, stepped forward and said we’re not gonna take it anymore. What were you doing in ninth graders? The rest is history, the nooses hung from the tree. All around this area, we may find a tree somewhere here who was black was hung already. And that’s the reason that there was the reaction that there was. Because for us, hanging a noose—I don’t care if it’s in school colors or what—is no joke. Brings back memories that go back generations.”

–King Downing, National Coordinator for the ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling

 

“People in a lot of places think oh this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. I have some people say, wait maybe I’m missing something because this sounds like something from the jim crow era, this doesn’t sound like something that could happen in 2007. But people are waking up and realizing everything isn’t always as it seems.
It’s not a black-white problem. It’s a justice problem. That’s a beautiful thing to see when people of all different backgrounds, all different belief systems coming together and saying this isn’t right, I’ll do whatever I can to help to make a difference
.”

–James Rucker, Color of Change

 

“We have seen, some of us experienced, the same things going on in New Orleans since Katrina. It’s the same sort of injustice that’s going on here. Please turn around and look at these individuals up here [police and sheriff deputies on courthouse steps]. You need to look them in the eye. Their faces are some of the same faces that some of us have seen in photographs from the 60s and 50s. They got patches, they got uniforms but we should all know, especially our young people. Please look at them and understand that with all the badges and all the uniforms, they stand for absolutely…NOTHING. Which means if there’s a body that stands for nothing then it’s on us to stand up for one another.”

–Dasaw Flood, Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

“Genocide is the systematic annihilation of a people. Every system that is, in this state, came against our young men, from the school Superintendent to the District Attorney to the judge to the people in this town, to the US Dept of Justice, who had the nerve to come and tell these families that nooses don’t represent a hate crime, they said that it was a potential hate. When’s it a hate crime? When one of our brothers is swinging from the tree?”

–Krystal Muhammed, New Black Panther Party

“We didn’t ask for this fight but we most definitely will accept this challenge…Forget what you heard about the Millions More Movement and the Nation of Islam, We don’t come here to fight for black justice, we come here to fight for justice…What’s important is that the job is not done. Mychal Bell is still incarcerated. The Jena Six are still on trial so that means that we are still incarcerated that means that we are still on trial…We need for them to be on the twentieth of September when they seek to publicly lynch Mychal Bell. We need to bring a city to this city. We gonna take Jena, Louisiana over. We gonna turn it upside down, grab it by its ankles, and shake it and shake it until the coins of justice fall out of its pockets…The very noose that they hung our people from for hundreds of years in this state, and many others, is the same noose that brought the tree down and the same noose that our youngsters protested against. But our message to them has to be: You’ve already made history.”

–Deric Muhammed, Minister of Nation of Islam in Houston

 

After the march, we heard from a couple of the parents:

“This is the first time I’ve ever been in a march in my life.”

–Tina Jones, mother of Bryant Purvis

 

“It feels good! to get out and march. I’m sure there’s others here who are ex-military: I might be 56 and old, but I can still struggle! Y’all can struggle…I’d like to give an honor to the memorial that we’re standing [in front of] here today, says World War two. And I’d also like to give honor to my uncle who’s listed here on this memorial…And we’re still fightin’, Cleo. We’re still standing.”

–Caseptla Bailey

Published in: on August 10, 2007 at 6:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Last July Evening

Orleans Parish Prison – July 12, 2006, approx. 10:45pm – three of us were conducting exit interviews of people who had been arrested & jailed. Seeing if they were getting water, food, how long they were kept, if they were harassed, how many people per cell, conditions of cells, etc.

 

The sloppy words below were written entirely in less than five minutes about 15-20 min after a friend’s arrest* for:

“disturbing the peace”

“trespassing”

view from the sidewalk

Between the door and the sidewalk

Trash bins on the wall, insides full

Of cig cartons, soda cups, fuckin’ trash.

Drive-in spattered in grunge, oil spilled

Butts, and and unjust footprints stamped

By those in uniforms & boots.

Where minutes earlier

Ricky put in cuffs,

Why? For asking why.

For asking why a cop is breakin’ the law.

For asking why a cop presents no evidence

On who complains against his company.

There was no harassment, as he claimed,

Drinks were brought, discourse & conversation

In low, controlled voices,

Sympathy & empathy of attentive ears & understanding nods,

Until Henry asked us to leave,

Giving no rational reason for us to obey,

We, and all the others who came before us

To support the mistreated trumped-up arrested,

Have a right to be in that room,

That white, hot, fly-ridden, godforsaken room

And sit amid loved ones of those ill kept

In holding pens and chained to polls,

Bruised and forbidden water or medical attention for hours.

 

Ricky on the fast track last we heard,

His arrest illegal like many others—

For merely walking, suspected of wrong,

Traffic violations & speeding;

But what PRIVILEGE white folks have

When he can get out in half, in a quarter of the time.

Of course you take it, right?

Any wrong should—no—must be corrected,

But why yours more than others

Never let that privilege, that fast track,

That sign of your skin, that sign of your power

Built through an inhumane system

Of value of skin over hundreds of years,

Never let that satisfy you,

Let your rage find form to deconstruct

The power they think they wield.

 

*he was eventually released after two hours in a jail cell. he pled not guilty and walked free after a court date in which no police witnesses appeared.

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment