Archive for the Commentary Category

Bill Cosby and Harvard Medical School Psychiatry Professor Dr. Alvin Poussaint were on Meet The Press Sunday (transcript | video) discussing with honesty and frankness issues facing the black community. Much of what was discussed was particularly interesting to me as a citizen of New Orleans and, as a result of my residency, having a keen insight toward to issue that very few caucasians in cities like Topeka or Boulder might.

Emphasis was given by both men to the importance of education and family values in the black community – about how those two influences alone may be what it takes for struggling African American youths to overcome the adversities facing them, the biggest being systemic and institutional racism.

Cosby said:

Let’s deal first with what people call the systemic—the, the racism that exists in this country, which is absolutely for real. But people just say it. They say, ‘Well, there’s systemic and institutional racism.’ ‘What do you mean by that?’ Well, what I mean is that the power structure can stop a person from getting a better education. It can stop them from living in better conditions. It can stop improvements from being made. For instance, if you have a slum landlord, if you’re lower, lower economic, to get that fixed, to bring the law in on this person, it, it just doesn’t happen. If police decide to ride in and arrest, if laws are made to go against you, I mean, this kind of thing is very, very hurtful. And then we move into areas of health, health care, where racism can stop a person from getting immediate attention in times of need, etc., etc. So when you look at education, it is my belief that it is there with a very ugly head. However, it is also my belief that this is not the first time my race has seen systemic or institutional racism. There were times, even worse times, when lynchings were acceptable. Sure, the newspapers wrote about it, but it happened. Juries were set and freed the, people who did the, the lynching. Therefore, we knew how to fight, we knew how to protect our children, protect our women. Today, in lower, lower economic areas, some people—not all—some people are not contributing to that protection.

It’s no revelation that much of the social problems in New Orleans are rooted in systemic racism from generations past and some that still exists today (though I think in this city, it is much less prevalent than it was years ago). Unfortunately for us, it seems that the area has entered into a state of mind where many believe an improved, stricter criminal justice system is the only solution to the problem. The city has found itself in a Catch-22. People want a quick fix, so they demand stricter penalties for criminals (I am one of these people).

The issue of aftermath is seldom discussed.

But if Cosby is to be believed, stricter sentencing will only remove more black males from the heads of households, thus diminishing family values.

Here’s where it gets very sticky and perhaps even a bit hopeless. What family values are being taught to children whose fathers are toting guns or dealing drugs anyway? It seems as if the parents are the ones who need the better educations.

That’s actually the point though. The parents do need better education. But it’s too late now. It might have helped if they received better schooling, enjoyed better family values and lived in better communities 18 years ago.

But many didn’t and now both blacks and whites are demanding they be thrown in jail. I have stood on the street with a sign and demanded it. I am ashamed for never having demanded better schooling other than on my blog.

Cosby and Poussaint are both smart enough and bold enough to task those who aren’t carrying their weight in the black community. I applaud them for that. They aren’t denying the existence of racism, nor are they letting it off the hook. They are simply thinking critically and, most importantly, demanding the right solutions be implemented by both blacks and whites.

Criminal justice is a treatment, not a cure.

Perhaps I am a hypocrite for demanding better criminal justice in two separate protests this year and then coming on my blog and stating that I think said justice will destroy families and create more criminals.

Like I said it’s a very sticky subject. I don’t have any answers, just thoughts.

I suppose if I were pressed to come up with a solution I would say immediately focus on education and, hopefully, 18 years from now, both the white and black communities in New Orleans will reap what they sew together.

But it won’t be a quick fix.

‘Slow avalanche’ gobbles road, homes in San Diego

For a few years, I used to write and edit La Jolla Light newspaper in La Jolla, California. So of you may know La Jolla for its enchanted coast and some of you may know it because of a recent massive sinkhole that damaged a road and several homes a few days ago.

I spent a lot of time in La Jolla, five days a week for four or so years. Like New Orleans, it’s a culturally rich community composed of artists, writers, musicians, surfers, chefs and liberal arts professors from the nearby University of California San Diego. Unlike New Orleans, it’s also a financially rich community composed of biotechnology executives, media executives, real estate agents, brokers, Fortune 500 CEOs and administrators from the nearby University of California San Diego.

There are aspects of La Jolla that are about as far away from New Orleans as I could ever imagine a place being. The homes sell for minimums of $1 million. They have a top-ranking public high school with an Olympic-size swimming pool and a pretty good water polo team. There have been only a handful of murders over the last few years. They just opened a fantastic new library in addition to the private art library that has been open for years. There is a world renowned college, modern art museum and playhouse.

La Jollans and New Orleanians share certain traits. Both groups of people share a fabric within their residents that is strongly opposed to developers moving in and fouling up a culture they have tried to preserve. Historic homes are protected, ordinances are passed.

They know they have something special and we do as well.

When I worked at the paper, our “hard news” was often about the height of new public restrooms or the ongoing saga of what to do with two dozen or so marine mammals who took up residence at a favorite beach. this is a far cry from a breaking story about five teen-agers killed in an SUV or a mother killed in front of her toddler by an intruder.

Now, New Orleans and La Jolla have something else in common, a disaster that has destroyed homes. It goes without saying that the scale of the disasters are no comparison.

But for the sake of this argument, let us simply compare the fact that homes were built in New Orleans’ cypress swamps and La Jolla’s collapse-prone Mt. Soledad both in seeming defiance of nature.

Earlier today, the LA Times posted a story stating the La Jollans were ready to rebuild. I applaud them for that. I want them to rebuild. They have a beautiful culture there and it is truly a gemstone in San Diego culture.

New Orleans is a gemstone too.

Now, the questions I have regarding these two events are simple:

- Will pundits speak out against the rebuilding of homes on Mt. Soledad?

- Will people dismiss the event based on the premise that homes should never have been built there to begin with?

- Will people say the La Jollans who lost their homes ‘deserved it for living there’?

- Will San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ appeal to Gov. Schwarzenegger and President Bush for disaster funds be viewed as the city “looking for a hand-out?”

- Should residents be forced to move from homes that have a possibility of being damaged or destroyed in landslides?

I hope for the sake of the La Jollans that the answer to all those questions is no.

Dear America,

Forget what you may have heard. We are not Ok.

We are stuck in a hell of human folly with the lives and futures of millions in the delicate balance. A dissipating coast, a weak criminal justice system, devious politicians and a decrepit flood protection system form a mass of mental anguish that gnaws at the chaste souls who inhabit the area. And none of this is Katrina’s fault. In case you haven’t heard, it never was.

It is and has always been the fault of men.

The flooding of New Orleans in August 2005 was caused by doomed levees, built and watched over by flawed characters. It was a horrible engineering failure and it was due to the incompetence of the Army Corps of Engineers and the local governments whose task it was to watch over them.

The vanishing coast is devoured and chewed up by canals and natural gas lines of oil and gas companies coming in from the gulf.

The insane crime rate in New Orleans is the result of a sabotaged educational system, overworked and undermanned police and a flaccid district attorney.

The recovery is being overseen by a swarm of political weakness and its empty promises. An inept president, a feckless governor and an oblivious mayor lack the conviction needed in this critical time. They are pitiful. Not fit to be elected as public servants. They have failed us. We intend to drive them out, but we need to know that America won’t fail us the way our elected officials and their petulant bureaucracies have. America, we need you to stand with us, not against us.

We need you to understand that our recovery is not a political issue. Men have turned it into that. It should never have been something that indicates a party or a way of thought. When people need help, partisan motivations shouldn’t prevent them from receiving it. Yet that is what America’s politicians have done to the recovery of South Louisiana.

We are, after all, Americans. Though we are people that much comedy has been written about – Southern Americans, black Americans, poor Americans – understand that we are Americans nonetheless. This is something that so-called patriots tend to forget. Portions of our paychecks go to America. We’d like a little of it back, not for some majestic bridge or a grandiose vanity project, but for the safety and protection of our unique way of life. Our unique American way of life. We won’t abandon you America, please don’t abandon us. We need the citizenship of the United States to stand with us.

It is our pleasure America, to provide you three strategic ports to export 55 to 70 percent of all U.S. corn, soy, and wheat. Please utilize the large percentages of rubber, coffee and oil and gas that pass through the area every year on 50,000 barges and 6000 freighters.

Please continue to enjoy the jazz and blues music our culture created. Also be aware that this music was then refined to become rock ‘n’ roll and that music has in turn typified what it means to be an American over the last 60 years.

As you enjoy these resources, understand that the river on which our city sits was for many years a meandering body of water that often replaced its own delta and swayed wildly around the area over the course of thousands of years, creating rich agricultural farmland as it did. In 1963, the Army Corp of Engineers built a control structure that permanently fixed the path of the Mississippi River on its current descent to the Gulf of Mexico. By doing so, they guaranteed New Orleans would be the last city on the river’s trek to the ocean. The Corps did this on behalf of the United States government and its constituents. Any suggestion as to abandoning the city of New Orleans (as has been ignorantly and callously suggested) must also include the question of what city will then facilitate the mouth of the river in the wake of New Orleans downfall and America’s ongoing need to stay the course of the Mississippi River.

Some choose to cite the challenge of ensuring the safety of South Louisiana as the very reason for not doing so. These uninspired need only look abroad to be shown the way. The system can be built like the reclamation and flood control projects in countries like Britain, Italy, Dubai, China and, perhaps most spectacularly, The Netherlands. Where do we, as Americans stand next to these magnificent achievements?

America, we are only asking for a future and we only demand it because it sometimes seems like we have been forsaken. Not by God or nature, which can’t be lobbied or petitioned with, but by Americans themselves, who may be reticent to help due to the wool pulled over their eyes by politicians aiming to play politics with our lives.

What Americans should realize is that if South Louisiana is left to perish because it is too expensive or difficult to save, what or where will the next natural disaster on the list be? This isn’t something that is exclusive to our parts.

It was a monster storm, a storm of the century. The damage she inflicted along the Gulf Coast was shocking. But, as powerful as it was, please understand one thing America…

It isn’t a hurricane that thwarts our revival, it’s men.

A month or so ago, when William Jefferson was indicted, there seemed to be a general celebration among the people I talked to about it. People were glad that the crooked politician and State-embarrassment had received what he had coming to him.

Not so with this Oliver Thomas thing.

I actually heard a commentator on the radio say he was shocked but not surprised. I took that to mean he would never be surprised about any corruption that went down in city politics but he didn’t think it would originate from Thomas’ office. Thomas seemed to enjoy support among the only two political parties that mean anything in town: The blacks and the whites.

I was neither shocked nor surprised. Perhaps that’s the beginning of the “it’s never going to change” semantic setting in.

But the optimist in me does continue to look toward the local officials for, well, leadership, though Bart says we should only look to them for competence (he’s right). Maybe I’m just still caught up in that romanticized ideal that was sold to us in bogus high school history classes. Old habits die hard.

I do have hopes for real leadership in New Orleans. I think, after all the good, hard-working people have been through, we deserve it. Disaster or none, we’ve earned our future.

I still belive a politician could do that for us if we simply found one and elected him or her. I’m not as jaded as my cyber-friend Jeffrey, though, his outlook is palpable – he has put up with their shit longer than I have.

Point is: I loved it when Thomas told the thugs to check their cards at the Parish line. It was during those sublime days back in January. He probably meant it. He wanted to believe it. His error was not thinking that his crimes were as dangerous as theirs. His anger was an illusion of leadership. Thomas’ corruption was Formosan.

Hey, we are all familiar with Napoleonic code around here aren’t we? Perhaps all local politicians should be guilty until proven innocent. As a man that is increasingly pro-resignation and pro-impeachment, I might have to start doing that.

I look forward to the continuation of Jim Letten’s investigations and I applaud his efforts thus far. No, I don’t think that the indictments hurt the recovery. I think they are the most promising signs of progress. More political attrition please.

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had the following to say in regards to New Orleans recovery:

Romney said he thought that the recovery effort next door in Mississippi was “going well and being effectively managed,” citing Republican Governor Haley Barbour as possibly the reason. But he said he wasn’t sure who to blame in New Orleans.

Romney: New Orleans Katrina clean-up ‘disappointing’

I have always found it reprehensible when officials compare the recovery in New Orleans to the rebuilding in Mississippi. To do so as a political move critiquing Democratic leadership and exalting a Republican governor in the process is vile indeed.

The effect of Katrina was vastly different in the two states.

Mississippi cities like Biloxi, Waveland and Pass Christiane faced an immense 25-foot storm surge that washed away almost all the beach front homes and businesses along Highway 90, killing hundreds of people in the process. The devastation was near-total. I have a friend who lived near the beach who lost everything. The magnificent homes that used to greet visitors off I-110 are just slabs now. The casinos were lifted from their docks and washed blocks away taking out buildings as they went. The water came in fast and washed everything away, then receded. Much the same was the effect of Katrina in Eastern Louisiana and Plaquemines Parish.

In New Orleans, the water slowly rose and stayed. For three weeks, soaking everything in a sludge but leaving many buildings intact. Intact and ruined. Infrastructure was destroyed and entire neighborhoods were inundated. The entire city of 450,000 people had to be evacuated and some never returned.

When a house has been reduced to a slab, it’s not exactly difficult to decide what to do with it. As heartbreaking as the situation may be, the decision to destroy the house was not up to the home-owner. He or she needs only to decide weather to rebuild there or move on.

Here in New Orleans, the decisions are agonizing. Raze or repair? What’s paid for and what isn’t? Will there be city services if i return? Will my friends and family return? To what?

The two states’ situations are different but both faced horrible disasters. To pit victims of these two events against each other is very low. Yet, that is exactly what a man who wants to be our president, our leader chose to do.

What is truly astonishing is that the rebuilding of New Orleans is a political issue at all. Why anyone would run on a platform that forsook 1.3 million people because they are of a different political party is sickening. And it shows just how menial our system has become.

At the end of Romney’s article he goes on to say, if elected, he would work on revitalizing the region. But, and I hate to say this because it makes me sound like a partisan hack, I don’t trust Republicans. Perhaps it’s the 7 years of George W. Bush that have soured me on the party but, we are talking about my home here.

And I’m not sure the recovery is going as bad as Romney says it is. At least not compared to other disaster areas. My former homeland of Perdido Key, Florida is still not fully recovered from Ivan in 2004.

Coming back from that homeland down Highway 90 a few weeks back, I couldn’t find a single place to eat outside a casino in Biloxi. The entire stretch from Ocean Springs to St. Bernard Parish is vacant save for a few Waffle Houses.

And yes, Nagin was correct, New York still hasn’t fixed their hole in the ground.

The fact that everything isn’t back to normal in these four disaster areas isn’t what’s most on my mind though. What I’m worried about is the levee eight blocks away. Can’t we at least get the 10 Billion to fix it and revitalize the marshes a dozen or so miles beyond that?

We knew it would come. The issue of race has entered into the DA debate.

Well, actually, it was always there. Since the day Ed stepped into office really.

But man, it is really stinking now.

It stinks because no debate as to the merit of black leadership can avoid the inevitable comparisons to lynch mobs. When DOES a man actually get judged on the content of his character? Not there yet Martin.

But the race card is getting old. Not because racism is getting old either. Racism is going strong.

It’s getting old because it is increasingly being used as a tool in politics and not as a demand for human rights. What is astounding here is, the broken justice system here in New Orleans is resulting in many dead African Americans, thus denying those who live in high crime neighborhoods their right to feel safe in their homes and on their streets. The future of the community lies dead in the street while the citizenship is being attacked for demanding change. And human rights is lost along the way.

Eddie Jordan’s civil rights aren’t being attacked. His job performance is. The people whose rights are under attack are the victims of crime all over the city.

If I have to attack black leadership to save black lives and enrich black communities then I am prepared to do so. If I have to endure allegations of racism, I’m ready for that too. Sticks and stones you know.

I don’t think anyone who has spoken out against the district attorney truly gives a damn what color his replacement might be. They only ask that he or she be better. It’s about competence.

But there seems to be a group of people who DO care what race the DA is.

The attack on Ed isn’t racism. It’s a demand for more from our leaders. And once an African American puts them self in a position of leadership, he or she should expect debates about their merit from all sorts of people, white or otherwise. That’s what leadership is.

It should be said that allegations of racism don’t pay infinite dividends either. There might be a time when the boy cries wolf too many times. How long can this very serious problem be used for political gain? Until people stop believing it.

What’s happening to Ed is a civic protest. It isn’t racism. His defenders should enter into a more serious debate and defend him based on his job performance rather than crying wolf again.

The heartbreaking thing is racism is alive and well in Jena, Louisiana right now. And I’m prepared to get on any bus going up that way. Because those are the real villains.

There was a morning, during the winter following the flood, that I was driving my fiance and a co-worker to drop them off at work. Some local incident had just occurred and I can’t remember what it was exactly. Maybe it was “Chocolate City,” maybe it was a murder, I don’t remember. My fiance and I were lamenting it back and forth and the co-worker, a native, said something I’ll never forget.

“Honey that’s the way it’s always been and it isn’t ever going to change.”

The words struck me hard. She said it like I was well, a buffoon, for being astounded. I never felt more like an outsider.

Perhaps her words were uttered in a state of exasperation over the aftermath of the storm and the blunders leading up to it? Then why did I hear it again and again at various jobs over the years? Why did I sense it day after day even before the storm when I spoke out to folks about the crime and the corruption?

I know there are many good people here willing to make a difference. Sacrificing so much for a vision. They live all around my neighborhood. I also communicate with them via my site and theirs. I read about them in the paper.

I also know there seems to be a prevailing state of learned helplessness that permeates many more, like this lady in my car.

Like it or not, there are a bunch of buffoons leading the city in so many areas.

It takes a buffoon to allow the city to become overrun with criminals. It takes a buffoon to steal millions of dollars from schools while kids can’t afford books. It takes a buffoon to lower a dangerous criminal’s bond so he can be bailed out by a bondsman for a few hundred dollars. It takes a buffoon to play the race card to get reelected for job security. It takes a buffoon to allow a criminal to get walk free when you can’t locate the cop to testify against him (even though he’s listed in the phone book and has lived in the same location for years). It takes a buffoon to run late for a meeting then get caught on the freeway (er, interstate) speeding through traffic with a blue light on the dashboard and asking the cop who pulled her over, “Do you know who I am?”

And it takes a buffoon to vote for these people as well.

I’m sorry if some people are offended by Blakely’s words. I’m not. Like my neighbor Josh (born and raised in the city) said, “If you are offended by that statement, it means you are one of the buffoons.”

Now, is Blakely some Rudy Guiliani-type figure that’s going to single-handedly revitalize the city? No.

Is he the only official that has shown any sort of leadership and movement in a forward direction since the flood? As far as I see it, yes.

It’s the leadership y’all. We have none. They are the most uninspiring school of fish I have ever seen.

The city council, the governor, the mayor, the police chief and the DA have been trained on how to properly react to situations they should have acted on in the first place.

I like to think that Nagin is a wonderful scapegoat. Another part of me thinks if Mitch Landrieu couldn’t beat that bumbler in an election perhaps he wasn’t the best man for the job either. That’s beside the point.

What is the point is that I am detecting some talk around the Nola bloggers that Blakely should just get the hell out and that really concerns me. Perhaps his ideas aren’t perfect. City planning and reconstruction doesn’t sound like it can be. But we absolutely need to stick with this guy. It took Nagin a year and some change to get him in here. In that time many citizens have settled elsewhere and have become comfortable.

Our time is short. The window of opportunity to make our dream a reality is closing. Many people around the country don’t care anymore.

With three long years left in Nagin’s second term, the Road Home program on shaky ground, the murder rate on track for more than 200 and basic needs and services not being met by the city government, what hope is there for someone who loves the city?

There is hope for the future.

But there is something else afoot here. And it’s something that I have also detected from some of the locals quite a bit.

They are a bit xenophobic.

Which may explain the uproar over not only Blakely’s comments, but also his very presence in the first place.

But the fact of the matter is that cities do need population to survive. I know so many people who would love to live here but the sheer turmoil of the place keeps them away. These people aren’t going to destroy the city. They will infuse it with rich new threads. Or at least they would if they weren’t frightened away by the buffoonery.

I’ve had my personal experiences with xenophobia. I went into them with some detail before. But basically, when new ideas are put forth in many discussions I’ve had, my thoughts have been dismissed with a statement similar to, “You just don’t understand how it is here.”

Like when I suggested how ludicrous it was that no one sent their kids to public schools.

I don’t understand how it is here. I don’t want to. Everybody seems to be in agreement that it’s fucked up right?

So who was around while it was getting that way? David Duke, the Morials, the Longs, Edwin Edwards and…everyone else.

That’s an incendiary statement I know. But consider it payback to the guy at Molly’s who told me I should “leave (his) city.” He had the nerve to tell me and my neighbor (a native of the West bank) that we didn’t have business voting in the mayoral election (he was voting for Nagin). Then he decided that he had some sense of entitlement to his opinions because he had “504 – MSY” tattooed on his lip.

He was a buffoon.

Of course all this hoopla surrounding Blakely reminds me of another outsider who came down here and tried to make a difference, Anthony Amato. Why was Amato was driven out of town? Because he threatened the establishment. Know what it was specifically? Because he wanted to bring in outside auditors to investigate school board finances.

Xenophobia indeed.

Nobody wants to see New Orleans turned into Disney World or even Branson. I really don’t think that’s on the table. But what so many people are having a hard time dealing with is that the flood erased some things forever. 1,464 people were killed. We can’t go back and pretend that never happened.

Some of New Orleans’ citizens have resisted change for decades. Then one day in August of 2005 it was forced on them whether they wanted it or not.

Let’s not let buffoonery rob us of the vision we all share.

Let’s make sure this Blakely cat walks the line as well.

Making the rounds on other blogs yesterday was a story by the New York Times that examines the cycle of violence and the state of the New Orleans’ criminal justice system, essentially painting it in a none-to-favorable light.

There was nothing groundbreaking in the article for us. But the rest of the country, well, it takes them a little while to catch up when they aren’t saying we deserved it or simply making sick jokes about our entire region

Jordan’s comments in the article are laughable. He states that he often can’t find witnesses when we all know his office can’t even use a phone book.

The article goes on to throw out some statistics that everybody who lives here already knows (12 percent of murders are prosecuted successfully). Then it states witnesses are often afraid to cooperate. Then it states drug dealers kill for the thrill of it.

To someone who didn’t live here and wasn’t keeping up with what’s going on around town, it might be an eye-opening article. I’m happy the Times wrote it and hopefully it will reach the right people who may offer some solutions. But, to be honest, I’m sure the word is out about New Orleans being a mess, now what is going to be done about it?

I have been very happy with the coverage the Times has given to New Orleans since the flood. In the months following, I was in a position where I could read the Lady most days on my lunch break and they continued to cover the recovery long after the networks and other publications moved on to sexier stories.

What has gotten under the skin of some other local bloggers is the insinuation that the Jan. 11 march was motivated by a single instance of black-on-white crime.

We all know it wasn’t that single crime. But the perception remains. And I’m not so sure if it isn’t deserved.

I first felt like marching back in June of 2006. If I heard that the friends and families of those teen-agers were getting a protest together, I would have been there ready and willing. I was ready to march again in August. But again, I heard nothing about an event. If there were such gatherings following these incidents, the news never reached me. If it had, I would have been there. I was as angry then as I was in January. As I was this weekend.

I am actually ready to march against the New Orleans Criminal Justice System anytime the rest of us are. I’m ready right now because I don’t think they are trying hard enough. I will keep wanting to until someone resigns and is replaced by someone of vision and not rhetoric.

Of course, with previous horrific murders, I didn’t ask any of my friends if they wanted to get a march together. I am also not so bold as to lie and say I would have taken it upon myself to organize the protest on Jan. 11 either. I took part because others showed the bravery to lead that I lacked. Though, in fairness to myself, I am sure I would have found it if it were someone on my block, in my neighborhood. That sounds insensitive but, please understand though that we are simply more sensitized and stirred to action when someone close to us is victimized. More on this later.

So when a white woman was killed, the march finally materialized. Wait, that’s not right. Let me rephrase.

So 162 people were killed and a community leader and a band leader was shot in the head and seven police officers were indicted for murder and a Police Chief held a press conference touting the insane murder rate as something fantastic and then eight more people were killed and then a white woman was killed and the march finally materialized.

Though in all fairness, it wasn’t a coincidence that it happened following the death of Helen Hill. One would be quite foolish, and irresponsible, not to connect the two events in some way. But what is left out in doing so is the fact that, had Helen Hill’s murder happened in a random act of violence and not after days and days of bloodshed and oblivious leadership, there probably wouldn’t have been a protest.

To make the march happen, it took equal parts of Helen Hill and years of dysfunction. Without either, it probably would not have occurred.

But a different way of looking at it would be, perhaps the march would not have been organized without the friends of Helen Hill having the bravery to do it. And that is what turns this into a black and white thing.

How many of New Orleans 162 other murder victims were as innocent as Helen Hill and deserved their own marches? I couldn’t say who may or may not have met their demise through wrongful actions or lifestyle choices but it is safe to assume that some of them were as innocent as Helen Hill.

Which of course leads to massive disconnect between the black and white communities in New Orleans. If the same situation that occurred to Helen Hill happened in a different neighborhood, to a different woman, under similar circumstances, would there have been a march? Why or why not?

So when the Times insinuates that the march took place in the wake of a white woman’s murder, they are certainly correct in semantics. And regardless of what the truth is, that is always the way it will be perceived by anyone other than The 5000.

What I believe is the march happened because the friends and neighbors of Helen Hill took a stand and touched a nerve that united all the communities of New Orleans.

And to the friends and families of those out there dying, I’m ready to get together and do it again if you are.

I saw this ad on Craigslist this morning and couldn’t help but wonder about the state of the professional class here in New Orleans. The “yuppies” if you will.

PHP Web Developer Position

Now, PHP is not a highly advanced language of Web programming but, it’s not something one can fake by tinkering around with Dreamweaver either. It takes at least a fundamental understanding of programming and some application of it to be able to state you can do it in a professional setting. It takes at the very least a grasp of code and its use in making the Web go.

The ad also asks for knowledge of CSS and MYSQL, so that’s two more programming languages the applicant needs to have mastered. These are also not overly complex, but they aren’t exactly something your average geek on the street can pick up all by their lonesome either. To have mastered all three of these would put someone in a pretty slim percentile of the workforce. It’s not quantum physics but, I could probably walk out my door right now and talk to the first 500 people I saw and I wouldn’t find a single one who knows all three.

That said, the employer is also asking that an “extensive” look into the applicant’s previous work will be required before anyone is hired (even though it also states previous experience isn’t required).

Then it states that a “non compete” will be required along with a Non-disclosure agreement that will need to be completed.

Now, all this is perfectly reasonable for an employer to request in order to protect their business and ensure they hire the right candidate for the job. They need to ensure that they don’t waste their time on an applicant who isn’t fully on board. I respect that.

But the pay rate for the job?

$8 – $12 an hour. Depending on experience.

It also states that the position is full or part-time but it is listed at Craigslist as a part-time position.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the most ideal candidate applies for and is accepted into the position at the top rate of $12. They also relent and give him or her a full 40 hours a week. We won’t even discuss the part time / $10 an hour applicants because, as we will see at the end of this commentary, they are sunk.

So $12 an hour at 40 hours a week. That’s $1920 a month.

- $345 for taxes

- $800 for an 1 bedroom apartment in Riverbend (right down the street from the employer). You could also say $800 for a mortgage if this enterprising professional wanted to buy a home in the 100K – 125K range. (Mine is $1150)

- $400 for a car payment and the insane insurance rates we are forced to pay in Orleans Parish.

- $150 for heating and cooling give or take a hundred dollars in the fall and spring but putting it back in the summer and winter. I am low-balling here I know.

- $60 for gas

- $40 for Sewage and Water Board

- $225 for food (Mine is $350)
- $100

Let’s say for the sake of argument that this young professional agrees to live in a flophouse for $500. That would give him or her an extra $300 to spend a month. We take away the $100 he or she is already down for food and that leaves us with $200 for everything else.

Now, being a Web programmer, for his job he or she MUST have an internet connection right? So let’s take off $30 a month (mine is $40) for that. Leaving $170.

$170 spare change a month. That’s without cable. Without a cell phone. Without eating in a restaurant or seeing Rebirth at the Maple Leaf or paying for parking in the Quarter or having a drink at The Spotted Cat.

And kids? Forget it. If the applicant is a single parent with this job, they are buried. They will never see the light of day.

And this is the BEST CASE SCENARIO this employer has to offer. What if the person is accepted at a lower rate of pay? What if they don’t receive 40 hours a week? How much is the insurance they will receive after 6 months?

And don’t forget the no compete clause. Even if another employer recognizes their skill and offers them a job with better pay, they will be legally bound to decline it. By accepting this job they are forced into a rate of pay that is unbalanced with what the cost of living is in the area.

It’s enough to drive someone into the projects isn’t it?

There was indeed something glorious that happened today. Some sort of victory was eked out by 5,000 people who took it upon themselves to do something, anything, to throw a monkey wrench into the machine of entropy that has gripped the city for decades. And I think we did win the battle.

But the war, it goes on. That was a clear message that was communicated to me today. This was not a destination, it’s was a starting point.

The 5,000 live to fight another day. Thousands more, victims of violence and Katrina, don’t.

Today 5,000 people came together for one cause. They took 5,000 routes to get there but for an hour they were all at the same place physically, emotionally and spiritually. And for 10 seconds the street in front of City Hall was as quiet as it had been since Katrina. It was something to behold. And it was invigorating to be a part of.

Jan. 11 didn’t bring anyone back to life but perhaps it may bring a few more into it. And maybe it will extend the life of New Orleans. Because I for one feel a foolish sense of inspiration that was utterly lacking a few days ago. The safe bet is nothing will come of this. The challenge is seeing that something does.

I’m going to start by wiping Nagin’s slate clean. I am going to forgive him for everything he hasn’t done since Katrina. And I am going to hope against hope that he can find it in his mettle to be the leader that so many New Orleanians want to have. He has dug himself quite a hole. Many citizens aren’t going to give him the free ride that I have. He certainly doesn’t deserve it. But I need to make some sacrifices now and animosity for the Mayor seems a prime candidate. All my animosity is really.

I can’t thank the speakers enough for having the fortitude to put their voices out there this afternoon. I especially thank Karen Gadbois and Nakita Shavers for the inspiration they created within the crowd. Their speeches were like music. They reached inside.

It is my sincerest hope that The 5,000 who were at today’s march can come together under happier circumstances sometime soon. Like maybe a Saints Super Bowl or Lundi Gras or Fest. I saw many of New Orleans’ best out there today. Though I don’t trust Eddie Jordan or William Jefferson with the future of New Orleans, I do trust The 5,000.

edited at 8:12