A New Orleans Tribune Editorial:
Ever watched “The Longest Yard”? Not the original motion picture starring Burt Reynolds released in 1974, but the 2005 remake starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and oh yeah, Burt Reynolds. Anyway, it’s essentially the same plot. A ragtag group of prisoners form a football squad to take on the very correction officers that guard them. Of course, the guards are supposed to beat the inmates with no problem. Many of the guards played college ball and compete as a team in a semi-pro league. Beating a bunch of prison inmates should be easy. But something happens to the inmates as they practice. They bond. Some raw talent shines, and they turn out to be a pretty good team.
Finally, game day arrives. And by the end of the second quarter, the inmates have come together to tie the score. Even the warden recognizes that the inmate team could win; and during halftime, he corners inmate-quarterback Paul Crewe (played by Sandler) and tells him that if he doesn’t throw the game, he will falsely charge him with the murder of fellow inmate Caretaker (played by Rock), adding 25 years to his three-year sentence. Sandler’s character begrudgingly agrees to throw the game. Who could blame him, right—one lousy football game or 25 years of his life? Besides, it is just a movie—a little low-brow comedy. But winning isn’t enough for the mean-spirited warden, who later instructs the guards to get a comfortable lead and then “inflict as much pain as humanly possible” on the prisoners as a way to remind the inmates he is in control.
Why do we bring this up? Well, we can’t help but wonder if that same warden now works in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Why else would federal prosecutors be going after Ray Nagin for more than $500,000 in restitution if for no other reason than to impose as much pain and anguish as legally possible…just because they can. Nagin, already convicted of federal bribery and tax evasion charge, is set to be sentenced in June. If appeals are unsuccessful, he is looking at significant jail time. It just seems that this move to also bankrupt him and his family falls short of being in the interest of justice. It’s just plain malicious.
As a matter of full disclosure, The New Orleans Tribune did not support Nagin in his first run for office. Neither did it benefit from any largess during the former mayor’s eight-years tenure. In short, we have no reason to feel an allegiance to him, nor do we hold any animus against him. Still, we can’t help but shake our heads in disapproval when we see the government inflicting pain for pain’s sake and when we see folks throughout this city—especially Black folks—taking it all in like some sort of blood sport.
Sure, as a matter of law, Nagin can be forced to forfeit an amount equal to what prosecutors say he gained as a result of the crimes of which he has now been convicted. But half a million dollars—the figure seems arbitrary and capricious considering that a good deal of the bribes Nagin has been convicted of taking came in the form of “gifts”—travel and vacations, lawn care services, cell phone bill payments, and gifts of granite. Yes, granite. The government managed to convict him of accepting gifts of igneous rock used to make countertops and floor tile—a fact that sounds even more ridiculous considering the tough time federal prosecutors seem to have when they try to put or keep rogue cops that kill innocent civilians in prison.
Nagin sold his Park Island home long before his trial started, perhaps to help pay his legal fees. Or maybe it was because former federal prosecutor Sal Perricone directed online readers to Nagin’s home and encouraged them to bring guns if they had them in one of his online rants under one of his fake online names. At any rate, now Nagin has set up a legal defense fund to aid with not only legal costs but living expenses for his family. In all, it’s a distressing turn of events.
Okay, back to the movie. A peculiar thing happened during the prison-guards-against-prisoners football game. The crowd, at first, cheered and supported the prison guards. And they booed the inmates. Of course, it made sense. The guards represented the justice system—all that is good, right and fair. The inmates were, well, inmates. But during the second half of the game, the guards begin to do just what the warden told them—hard hits for no reason, blows, strikes and knocks aimed, not at winning the game, but at exacting unnecessary torture on the inmates. And the crowd turned on the guards. Even they could discern that something about the way the guards were playing just wasn’t so fair, so right, or good after all. Much like the football fans in The Longest Yard, we know when something just doesn’t seem right.
So here’s the thing. Whether you think Ray Nagin was guilty or not, it’s getting really sickening to hear and read disparaging comments related to this latest move to “punish” him. It’s galling to hear people suggest that he deserves this turn of events or that he is getting what’s coming to him. It’s infuriating to hear people go on and on about “why does he need a defense fund” and “where’s all the money” he stole from the city—when he was neither charged nor convicted with taking one copper cent out of city’s coffers. And even if you believe the government’s case, it’s pretty hard to pay your lawyer with granite. As a matter of justice, it becomes even more disappointing when we think of those Danzinger Bridge cops getting new trials or the cops involved in Henry Glover’s murder walking away from justice. It is appalling when we consider that there may still be prosecutors guilty of the same acts as Jan Mann and Perricone who have not been brought to bear. We deserve to know who they are, what they said and how it impacted our system of justice. It becomes downright unnerving to witness federal prosecutors attempt to break Nagin financially when you consider that Fred Heebe’s deep pockets not only rocked the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but totally shutdown the government’s investigation into alleged wrong doings by the local businessman.
Heebe proved a number of things—chief of which is this: The one thing you need to fight the government once it has set it sites on you is money…lots of it. The whole sordid scene has some of us here at The Tribune ready to take out our checkbooks, perhaps forgoing festivities at the fairgrounds and sending the few hundred bucks we’d fork over for pricey tickets to the Jazz Fest and soft-shell crab po-boys to Nagin’s legal defense fund—not because of opinions about the verdict or questions of guilt or innocence, but because we think he and his family deserves a fighting a chance. And because we just see something brutal and gloating in what the federal prosecutors are doing now—sort of like that crowd of football fans in “The Longest Yard”.