We were happy to learn that Ray Nagin, former mayor of Orleans, had been released from federal prison and is now reunited with his family in Texas.
The New Orleans Tribune wrote about the federal investigation and prosecution of Nagin during the trial. And we had our opinions. We were never secretive about them. We thought his prosecution was abusive; and we believed he was targeted, not only because he was Black, but because in the wake of Hurricane Katrina he spoke up for Black New Orleanians–something that those who initially supported him did not expect or appreciate.
We thought it was odd that Nagin, a former executive with Cox New Orleans who was swept into office with overwhelming support from the White-elite power structure, fell out of favor with his support base. And we thought it was ironic that this all occurred about the same time that he spoke openly about ensuring that Black New Orleanians dispersed by Hurricane Katrina would return to this city. And we wondered just how much of that played a role in his being targeted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Jim Letten in what appeared, as far as we could surmise, to be at the behest of the same elite power structure that now found little use for him after jump starting his political career years earlier.
Despite our musings, our only aspiration was that justice be served. Even if we did not agree with the outcome, we still believed in the process.
We believe it now more than ever. Nagin fit the guidelines established to release inmates from federal prisons in response to COVID-19. And without regard for any other matters, it appears that the fact that he has served his time without incident and poses no threat to society (not that he ever did) paved the way for his early release–about three years earlier than scheduled.
This is not an End, It’s A Beginning
Contrary to the manner in which the mainstream media have chosen to frame the story of Nagin’s release, we do not see this as some final chapter of some dark period in the city’s history. It is the new and next phase of Mr. Nagin’s life–one we are certain he is grateful for. That’s it. And we are glad he is getting it.
Corruption in New Orleans did not begin with Mr. Nagin. And with regret, we contend that it will not end with him either. Quite frankly, this whole “Woe is New Orleans because of Ray Nagin” bit as if Ray Nagin was the worse thing that ever happened here is played out and wildly distorted. No one suffered more because of his actions than he and his family did.
Hell, the corporate reformers that have destroyed public education in New Orleans have done more harm to New Orleans and its residents than Ray Nagin could dream about.
Unchecked gentrification has hurt this city more than any bribe Ray Nagin was convicted of taking.
The decimation of traditional public housing without real regard for those who depended on it has been more detrimental to the people of the city than Ray Nagin accepting some granite could ever be.
Way more troublesome, to us, than the crimes for which Nagin was convicted are the billionaire corporations that are, RIGHT NOW, grabbing million dollar loans through the Paycheck Protection Program while small businesses struggle to stay afloat during the current national crisis. Then, after being shamed into returning the money, they get patted on the back for doing so.
Ours is and has been a nation without a moral compass, yet some how in the years immediately after Nagin’s tenure, it was as if mainstream reporters in New Orleans forgot how to spell the word “corruption” though ample opportunities to use it existed.
Let’s be real honest here for just a moment. It is not as if Ray Nagin is Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon Jr, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso or Arthur Kaufman, one of five police officers that killed two innocent people and wounded several others on the Danzinger Bridge during the devastation Hurricane Katrina and then tried to frame another innocent man– the brother of one of the murder victims–to cover the crimes. It’s not as if it took five years to bring a federal indictment against him after state charges were tossed two years earlier, then a year-long trial and another eight months to hand down sentences as was the case for the heinous and violent crimes that happened on the Danzinger Bridge.
And yet that could have been the real end to a truly sad chapter, except for the fact that those same five cops had their appropriately stiff sentences gutted just four years later in 2016 in plea deals accepted by the U.S. Attorney’s office as the direct result of the notoriously “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” of two assistant U.S. attorneys Jann Mann and Sal Perricone under the supervision of the former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
In other words, if we are going to talk dark periods in New Orleans, then let’s talk dark periods, please. Ray Nagin’s transgressions–whatever they were–do NOT hold a candle.
It is unfortunate that Nagin’s release comes in the shadows of this horrid pandemic which has impacted more than one million Americans, costing more than 60,000 their lives and catapulted the entire nation into an unprecedented period of uncertainty on all fronts–all the while having a disparate impact on Black America, which has been made vulnerable by more than 400 years of racism and inequity.
What is certain is that Ray Nagin can now face the days ahead with his wife and children by his side and with the past behind him. And we wish him the very best.