Let’s get right to it. The “dat” that we have no time for is two of the city’s most powerful leaders in the criminal justice system, both of whom happen to be African-American men, at odds with one another over who is responsible for the surge in crime. We get the sense that mainstream media is loving this public display of acrimony. Nothing sells like two powerful Black men bashing each other for all the public to see.
But what we really need is for Chief Shaun Ferguson and DA Jason Williams to stop for one second and take some simple steps for us. First, a couple of deep breaths, Now, return to your respective spaces in the criminal justice landscape. Then do the work that you have been appointed or elected to do, recognizing that within the current framework of our system there is nothing you can do to actually decrease crime. Just do what it is you do.
Chief Ferguson, investigate crime, arrest criminals, and have a presence and relationships in and with communities that make it easier for officers to do those things.
DA Williams, make the cases that you can, prosecute criminals accordingly, especially the violent ones, the ones causing havoc in our streets. And work with others in the criminal justice system to create and employ programs and tools to identify and divert non-violent offenders, providing a way for them to acclimate into society before their criminal deeds escalate.
Now we know that last step—recognizing the limits of your roles in the system—is hard because both of you probably believe . . . or at least you want to believe . . . or maybe you just want us to believe that there is something you can actually do to decrease crime. But let’s get serious for one moment. If fear of investigations, charges, and arrests, which are the ultimate powers of the police, were enough to deter crime, then we wouldn’t have a crime problem. Similarly, if fear of case building, prosecutions, guilty verdicts, or plea deals that lead to prison time or some other form of adjudication could actually deter crime, then no one would ever commit a crime. The threat of those measures are always there.
If both of you do your jobs well, then you address current crime by getting some of the individuals committing crimes in the present off the streets. And that is important. But it does not address crime at its roots.
So let’s just consider the fallacy of discussing accountability and consequences (or the so-called lack thereof) as crime deterrents when it’s obvious the people committing the crimes that ostensibly have us all on edge could care less about accountability or consequences.
News flash, if criminals feared accountability and consequences, they wouldn’t be criminals.
Our criminal justice system is essentially a reactionary one. Are there things that can be done through policing, prosecution, and punishment to make the system work better and our communities safer once someone has an encounter with the system? Absolutely. Do any of those things actually work to stop or even decrease crime at its outset? Absolutely not. If they did, we would not be having this discussion.
So nope, we have no time for the blame game here.
First of all, trust us when we say there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to why our city is grappling with violent crime. And hear us when we say that finger-pointing between the police department and the DA’s office does not even scratch the surface.
We clearly do not understand the assignment.
To be sure, the very fact that mainstream media has zeroed in on some so-called beef between Police Chief Ferguson and District Attorney Williams over who’s not doing what to address crime in New Orleans suggests to us that no one wants to really talk about why children barely in their teens are jacking cars or why people are getting shot on the interstate.
So while the so-called feud between these two Black men makes headlines, we still don’t want to talk about the abject poverty or the housing crisis.
We still don’t want to talk about stagnate wages and economic inequity amid conspicuous consumption.
We clearly don’t want to talk about, let alone do anything about, an entire generation of children sold out by or maybe just sold (like slaves on an auction block) to a fake education reform movement that has failed them. By the way, if our community will not finally stand up for public school students in New Orleans and save them from this failed experiment, then we pretty much can cease and desist all discussions related to crime.
A recent headline just told us that more than half of all the children in kindergarten through third grade are reading below grade level in Louisiana. And the truth is that this is not some new thing. Louisiana lives at the bottom rung in public education. Until we get our priorities together on that front, we haven’t seen anything yet.
We don’t want to talk about the utter trauma and disrespect that the children of Katrina experienced some 16 years ago when they and their families were trapped in the city—essentially left to fend for themselves, rescued, called refugees; then, in an ultimate show of disrespect, were shut out by plans, policies, and decisions designed to make it next to impossible for them and their families to return. And we have the nerve to wonder why the crime that has us all worried is so wanton, so disrespectful. We suspect much of it is being committed by a group of people who know all too well what it feels like to be treated that way.
Then again, why should we talk about or address any of that when it’s so much easier to watch Ferguson and Williams go for each other’s necks? Why, when it requires way less effort on the part of elected officials, appointed leaders, business and civic communities—you know the rest of us—to pretend that anything Ferguson and Williams are tasked to do goes beyond solving and prosecuting crime . . . after it happens.
Why would we, especially when that moment would require the rest of us to actually do the work, you know, fight crime at its root and address and improve the socio-economic conditions that cause it to fester and grow?
Once again, silly us for thinking that anyone is interested in real solutions.