NEW ORLEANS — Carrying a bright purple “Black Lives Matter” banner, marchers — a mix of youth and adults — streamed down St. Charles Avenue in the stifling late afternoon heat Friday before converging with a larger crowd gathered at Lee Circle. Using the base of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as a stage, the protesters called for solidarity with communities across the nation and an end to the police killings.
"As we stand here by this racist Lee statue they will tell us, ‘Don’t be concerned by monuments,’" said activist Angela Kinlaw.
“But we know that symbols are designed to bond people culturally around values, beliefs and political ideals,” she said.
She pointed to the existence of the Lee statue, and other similar tributes, as symbols of the acceptance of the racist killing of black and brown people by the police.
"The silence is a condoning of state-sanctioned violence," Kinlaw said.
Led by the family of Eric Harris, who was killed last March by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Officers, the march and rally was organized to show unity with the families of Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile and others who have been killed by police. Their stories have been splashed on the covers of newspapers, featured on social media feeds and broadcast on news channels across the country.
On Tuesday, video showing Baton Rouge police officers killing Sterling was released on social media by a community activist. On Wednesday in Minnesota, Castile’s girlfriend livestreamed the aftermath of a police shooting that killed Castile.
The rally in New Orleans was in sharp contrast to events in Baton Rouge, Atlanta and across the nation, where protests have led to dozens of arrests. New Orleans Police Department officers kept a watchful eye on protesters, but remained about a block away from the group. Officers peering at the scene with binoculars could be seen stationed on top of a nearby hotel. NOPD refused to comment on the rally, but no arrests or altercations were observed during the peaceful event.
“At first I was a little fearful to come out with my daughter, but I just felt like it was time,” said New Orleans resident Keesha Broussard, who was there with her 13-year-old daughter, Kennedy.
“It was time for her to come out and see how you can incite some change and how we can have some positive solidarity among all this negativity,” she said, adding that she was energized by the diversity of the crowd.
In the wake of the brutal killing of five police officers in Dallas, law enforcement officials have been closely monitoring protests across the country. Also in contrast to heated interactions between police and protesters in Baton Rouge, Atlanta, New York and other cities, no uniformed officers were observed interacting with the New Orleans crowd.
The size of the group impressed experienced activists.
"I was inspired by the turnout — it was by far the largest crowd I've ever seen for any protest or action in New Orleans," said Jayeesha Dutta, who has been organizing for six years in New Orleans and is the co-founder of the Radical Arts and Healing Collective. “I believe art has the power to heal and to change hearts,” she added.
Domonic Stewart-Guido, 11, who attended the rally with his mother, also hopes for a change.
“I’m here to protest the police killing those people in Minnesota and Baton Rouge,” he said. “We hope they’ll change their minds and arrest the cops,” he said. “Hopefully the government will take notice that we all don’t like this — we hate this.”
On March 22nd, 2012, The Lens welcomed five panelists and over 100 attendees to its third salon at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, which focused on the status of the juvenile justice system in the New Orleans area.
Panelists were queried by the moderator on issues surrounding the new French Quarter youth curfew, LGBTQ youth issues in juvenile facilities, the rebuilding of the Youth Studies Center, the school to prison pipeline, and the New Orleans Parish Prison. Audience members were then invited to pose their own questions to the panel.
Dana Kaplan - Executive Director of Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
Wes Ware - Founder & Director of BreakOUT!
Michael Bradley - Deputy Chief District Defender at Orleans Public Defenders
Eden Heilman - Senior Staff Attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center
Alison McCrary - Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow at Safe Streets/Strong Communities
This panel was one in a series of events held by The Lens to engage readers and New Orleans stakeholders on current issues.
Thanks to all of our panelists for lending their time and insight, the Ashe Cultural Arts Center for the use of their space, Il Posto and Dorignac’s for their contributions, and to everyone who attended.
Strong antipsychotic medications are being prescribed to incarcerated juveniles across Louisiana despite lacking diagnoses for the conditions they were designed to treat, according to an investigative report by New Orlean’s The Lens.
The medications are meant to help with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After examining their records, The Lens found 22 percent of medications prescribed in eight Louisiana facilities were designed to treat bipolar disorder. But, only five percent of diagnoses were of bipolar, the investigative news site found. No diagnoses of schizophrenia were made.
The most common diagnosis (found in 20 percent of incarcerated juveniles) was “conduct disorder. " Symptoms of this disorder include defiant, impulsive behavior, drug use and criminal activity.
“There are some youth who should receive medications who aren’t,” Will Harrell, a federal monitor of juvenile justice systems, told The Lens. “But there’s also kids who are being medically restrained. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with disruptive kids by drugging them, than doing anything else.”
According to August Collins, director of youth advocacy at the Youth Empowerment Project, the drugs are used to numb the inmate into submission, making it difficult to rehabilitate them.
“We need to set stricter guidelines on prescribing this stuff and quit treating diagnosis of a kid as an assembly line,” Collins told The Lens. “We’ve had kids sleeping in classes like they’re stoned out of their minds. It’s difficult to give these kids insight into who they are if they can’t even stay awake.”