UN to Hold Human Rights Forum in Baton Rouge

Photo 1WHAT: United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai will hear testimony on the Human Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

WHEN: Saturday, July 23, 2016 at 5:30 pm

WHERE: Southern University Law Center, Room 129 at 2 Roosevelt Steptoe Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70813

WHO: UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai, Baton Rouge community members, members of North Baton Rouge Matters and New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ)

On July 23, United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai will hear testimony in Baton Rouge on major violations of the human right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association by Baton Rouge law enforcement.

Peaceful protestors over the police shooting Alton Sterling have faced a violent and highly militarized response by Baton Rouge law enforcement, including excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests, as detailed in a lawsuit filed on July 13by North Baton Rouge Matters, NOWCRJ, and ACLU of Louisiana; and in the New York Times.

The July 23 hearing is part of UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai’s official visit to the United States. Special Rapporteur Kiai is an independent expert on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.The Special Rapporteur examines, monitors, advises and publicly reports on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association worldwide.

Community members will testify about their experiences with police abuse and demand human rights protections for those who raise their voice, protest, and demand change.

CONTACTS:

Crystal Williams, North Baton Rouge Matters – 713-446-3783NBRM225@gmail.com
Colette Tippy, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice – (504) 881-6550ctippy@nowcrj.org

North Baton Rouge Matters vs. City of Baton Rouge

North Baton Rouge Matters v. City of Baton Rouge, U.S. Dist. Ct., M. D. Louisiana 
Case 3:16-cv-00463-JWD-RLB
Filed July 13, 2016 

Local organizing groups, NOWCRJ, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana have filed a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge and Louisiana State Police Departments, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney, and the City of Baton Rouge for violating the First Amendment rights of demonstrators who were protesting peacefully against the killing of Alton Sterling. The case is co-counseled by Candice Sirmon, ACLU Foundation of Louisiana; Ron Wilson, ACLU Foundation Cooperating Attorney; and Sima Atri, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

Media reports

Case Documents

Complaint in North Baton Rouge Matters vs. City of Baton Rouge et al. 

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order

Affidavits filed with the lawsuit

Marjorie Esman (Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana): Members of her organization attended marches, vigils, and rallies to observe and protest throughout the Baton Rouge area.

Shaena Johnson (BYP 100): Attended multiple protests following the death of Alton Sterling, but at the July 10th protest and witnessed “extreme brutality from the police, including taking and macing protesters, physically striking and arresting protesters en masse”. She also witnessed the police disperse protesters from gathering in public spaces.

May Nguyen (Louisiana chapter of the National Lawyers Guild): “attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution and compromise with law enforcement leaders” to no avail. Encountered disrespect from officers, excessive force, tackling protesters, and a woman’s hijab being ripped off.

Saket Soni (Executive Director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice). Recounts that his staff encountered “indiscriminate arrests and aggressive police practices by a highly militarized police force in violation of their First Amendment rights”. Workers also viewed “people of color being targeted for arrests”

Crystal Williams (Founder of North Baton Rouge Matters): Witnessed police giving vague instruction to protesters then charging them and arresting them. She noted “it sounded like a war zone with the police sirens, and helicopters. Members of her organization felt terrorized because of the aggressive manner of the officers, including their possession of AK47s, assault rifles, and shot guns.

Hannah Adams (Legal Observer at the Sunday, July 10th protest): Witnessed violent encounters of officers with assault rifles in full riot gear against peaceful protesters.

Adina Marx Arpadi (Legal Observer at the Sunday, July 10th protest): Observed police charging at peaceful protesters.

Brachell Brown (community member at the Saturday, July 9th protest). Was tackled, choked, and arrested. Describes her brother being tased and arrested.

Christopher Brown (community member at the Saturday, July 9th protest): Was arrested. Describes conditions inside jail, including being pepper sprayed by a guard.

Julien Burns (New Orleans community member, at the Sunday, July 10th protest): Describes police violence toward protesters. Was arrested. Describes overcrowded conditions inside jail.

Randolph Carr (New Orleans, Member, BYP100 at the Sunday, July 10th protest). Describes police maneuvers and multiple violent arrests.

Sabrina Carter (community member at the Sunday, July 10th protest): Describes contrast between march and gathering afterward. Describes police blocking streets, giving confusing orders, and charging the crowd to make arrests.

Tammy Lynn Cheney (attended protest): Tammy, her 5-year-old son, and 17-year-old daughter parked nearby where protesters were gathered, awaiting the opening of the road. Tammy stepped away momentarily to take photographs, when police arrested her daughter and prevented Tammy from rejoining her son (who was waiting inside the air conditioned car). Police arrested Tammy, threatened to charge her with felony child abandonment, and purposefully separated Tammy and her minor daughter while in jail.

Caressa Chester (attended Sunday, July 10 protest). Observed the increasingly aggressive tactics used by police against peaceful protesters. Eventually felt she had to flee for her own safety, after watching dozens of protesters get randomly tackled and hurt by police. “Their aggression and the arbitrary way they were arresting people who were fenced in and had nowhere to go was what scared me.” “Running from the police felt worse than political inaction, so I eventually left.” “To be immediately in front of a police force that wields so much power and to know that they do not respect the law, makes it feel impossible to protest…[P]eople are scared to be seriously injured and arrested by a police force that has no regard for our legal, peaceful activity.”

Marquita D. Christy (NOWCRJ): Witnessed the police randomly tackle individuals in groups of 4 or 5 and cause panic among the crowd. She also describes that police instructions were incoherent, contradictory, and impossible to comply with.

Ricky Coston (Stand with Dignity, NOWCRJ): Describes the chaos and panic that ensued when police charged the peaceful protesters gathered on the private property of a local homeowner.

Jenna Finkle (community member attended protests): Tackled by police and arrested, without being told the charge or being read, while standing on private property with the homeowner’s permission. In jail she was subjected to a strip search, overcrowded conditions, and witnessed a holding cell full of men get maced. Her property was never returned even after being released.

Colleen Harrigan (community member attended the Sunday March): Observed arrests and police barricading protesters in. She was unable to move her car at the end, and a police officer told her to walk back to New Orleans.

Sandra Harris (Justice for Eric Harris, Eric Harris’s Mother): Attended the march and witnessed arrests. Fled the protest area when she became afraid for herself and her young grandchildren. “We didn’t come to get killed. We came to protest and to get justice for Eric. They treated us so badly.” (Police in New Orleans shot and killed Eric Harris).

Octavio Hingle Webster (attended July 10 protest): Arrested. Police pulled them to the ground and brought them to the station.

Max Geller (attended July 10 protest): Pinned to the ground by police and was hit in the head. He lost consciousness as a result of the hit to the head, and was brought to the hospital. “I was trying to tell the doctors what happened so that I could receive medical care, but the police kept interrupting me…I never even learned I was diagnosed with a concussion until I was released [from jail].”

Tabitha Hughes (community member): Tabitha attended the July 8 and July 9 protests. She witnessed multiple violent arrests. Her 16-year-old daughter, Yakeista Hughes, was arrested on July 9, and fearing for her other children, she left the protest early. “It looked like the police were trying to start everything; the protesters were the only ones working to stay peaceful.”

Yakeista Hughes (attended July 9 protest): Arrested by a police officer who indicated he was targeting her specifically. He threw her to the ground by her shirt, then dragged her across the grass by her hair. She was held with people that were denied medical assistance and observed that the air conditioning and lighting were set in a way to prevent people in jail from sleeping. “The fifteen to twenty police who were standing in the middle of Airline charged the protesters standing on the grass, grabbing anybody they could, dragging them onto the highway and arresting them.”

Charles Joyner (Stand with Dignity, NOWCRJ): Attended the peaceful demonstration, marred by an atmosphere of fear by the police. “We pay for their equipment, and they shouldn’t be able to use it on us like they did.”

Sophie Kosofsky (community member at July 10 march): Attended the march, witnessed confusing and contradictory orders from the police that resulted in a standoff ending violently.

Tarana Lawrence (NLG legal observer): Witnessed the police confine protesters to the corner of Government and East st. Police refused to allow them to disperse with threat of arrest if anyone stepped out on the street.

Alissa Luis (NLG legal observer): Witnessed protesters acting in a peaceful and non-violent manner. East Baton Rouge Sheriff officers marched towards protesters, followed them onto private property and arrested them.

Alison Renee Mccrary (President of the Louisiana chapter of NLG, Catholic nun-Sisters for Christian Community) As an experienced legal observation trainer and certified mediator, witnessed over 200 protesters arrested during peaceful non-violent demonstrations taking place over one weekend.

Andrew Mcdaniel (Southern Poverty Law Center): An attorney that attended as a legal observer was arrested for attempting to observe police interaction with community member.

Ejike Obineme (BYP100 member): Participated in the protests to stand in solidarity with Baton Rouge and engage with that community to build short and long term strategies to address issues affecting us all.

William Quigley (Professor at Loyola University): Attending as a legal observer, witnessed police drag protesters off of the sidewalk and across the street to be arrested. Even witnessed arresting another legal observer.

Nadia Salazar (Community organizer- VAYLA): Attended to show support for other people of color, officers snuck up behind her and her husband, tackled them to the ground and arrested them.

Karen Savage (reporter for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange): An experienced journalist, witnessed the particularly aggressive, assault style response to a peaceful protest.

Marina Sparagana (resident of Orleans Parish): Attended the protest to peacefully march against police brutality. Had a police officer dressed in full riot gear point an assault rifle at her.

Emily Faye Ratner (Legal Observer and Attorney): Observed the July 10 protests at East and Government and on Airline. Observed protesters who were permitted to enter a woman’s yard. She and another legal observer were shoved by police officers, and Emily observed multiple arrests that night. Based on her observations, police targeted black people disproportionately for arrest. “[N]o one could tell us how people could safely exit without risking arrest.”

Lily Ann Ritter (ACLU of LA): Saw legal observer arrested. Also observed police advance toward protesters in armored vehicle and marching in formation with full riot gear.

Colette Tippy (Stand with Dignity, NOWCRJ): Community organizer who attended with members. Observed the police with military equipment, like armored tanks, full riot gear, and gas masks. Saw the police march toward peaceful protesters in riot gear and people trying to run away to escape.

Crystal Williams (North Baton Rouge Matters): Organizer for North Baton Rouge Matters who attended the protest and saw and experienced the police aggression. “I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe. But now I felt totally silenced, like even if I protest peacefully the police will try to silence me.”

Willa Conway (Legal Support Worker): Spoke to released arrested protesters and recounts terrible detention conditions. Detained protesters were denied food, held in overcrowded cells, denied medical attention, and threatened with rape and shooting.

Local Organizing Groups, NOWCRJ, ACLU of Louisiana Sue Baton Rouge Police for First Amendment Violations at Alton Sterling Protest

BATON ROUGE, LA, July 13, 2016—Local organizing groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a lawsuit today against the Baton Rouge Police Department for violating the First Amendment rights of demonstrators who were protesting peacefully against the killing of Alton Sterling. The case is co-counseled by Candice Sirmon, ACLU Foundation of Louisiana; Ron Wilson, ACLU Foundation Cooperating Attorney; and Sima Atri, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

The lawsuit alleges that the police used excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests to disperse protestors who were gathered peacefully to speak out against the police killing of Alton Sterling. Eyewitness accounts recorded by plaintiffs in the suit show police in full riot gear with assault rifles, lunging and grabbing at peacefully assembled people and throwing them to the ground.

“[The police response] made me afraid to protest,” said Crystal Williams, local resident and organizer with North Baton Rouge Matters. “Seeing the way the police were manhandling folks caused me to hide, scream out of fear, and finally flee for my safety. I had to run. A peaceful demonstration should never be like that. I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe. But now I feel totally silenced.”

Alison Renee McCrary, Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild President and a Catholic nun, said: “I witnessed firsthand as peaceful protestors were violently attacked and arrested, assault weapons pointed at them with fingers on the triggers, some dragged across the cement, their clothes ripped off of them. What I saw happening was an immediate threat to life. My and other demonstrators’ speech was chilled because of this event.”

Counsel also filed for a temporary restraining order against the defendants to prevent them from interfering with people’s constitutionally protected right to gather peacefully moving forward.

“The police didn’t do their job in Baton Rouge, again,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman. “They are bound to protect us from harm, to keep us safe, to do everything possible before throwing someone to the ground or pulling the trigger. Yet Alton Sterling is on the long list of Black people killed needlessly by our nation’s police, and protests in his honor have turned into circuses of violence where the First Amendment is tossed aside. We can’t bring Alton Sterling back, but at minimum, the police can stop blocking our right to protest in his name.”

Lawsuit filings online:

CONTACTS:

Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana, 504-522-0628, mesman@laaclu.org
Allison Steinberg, ACLU, 212-549-2540, asteinberg@aclu.org
Sima Atri, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, 504-264-4209, satri@nowcrj.org
Community organizers and leaders: Shaena Johnson (504-320-4591) and Crystal Williams (713-446-3783) Charles Joyner (504-881-6550)

 

Housing Authority Eliminates Ban of Ex-Offenders – ShelterForce – 7/5/16

Shelterforce

Housing Authority Eliminates Ban of Ex-Offenders

July 5, 2016

by Katy Reckdahl

With the approval of new background check procedures, a criminal conviction won’t automatically disqualify a person from receiving public housing or voucher assistance in New Orleans.

Calvin “Cosmo” Russell would like to add his adult son to his apartment’s lease. That might be fairly simple if his son hadn’t been arrested three years ago for possession of five dime bags of weed, which ended in a conviction and a short prison term.

The arrest also gives Russell a certain urgency. Though his son is 26, Russell believes that he can help him successfully transition from young adulthood into decades of stable living.

Russell’s landlord has met Russell’s son and approved the lease change. But because Russell, 48, is disabled from an on-the-job injury, the Housing Authority of New Orleans helps him pay his monthly rent and must authorize any additions to his lease.

In the past, Russell would not have asked. “They wouldn’t let you add an ex-con to your Section 8 voucher,” he says. “They’d tell you ‘no’ flat-out.”

Even before his son’s arrest, Russell saw HANO’s screening policy as wrong-headed. Several years ago, he joined the grassroots group STAND with Dignity, which has spent four years working with other local advocates to push for a revised criminal records screening policy.

The revisions were particularly necessary in high-poverty New Orleans, where nearly 1 in 4 households receives rental assistance, and per-capita incarceration rates have long been the nation’s highest and disproportionately affect the city’s African-American community, says Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “Here in New Orleans, we’re at ground zero of the incarceration epidemic,” she says. “Folks are now agreeing that this level of disenfranchisement for people of color is not beneficial for anyone.”

Continue reading

After Supreme Court Decision, Immigrants to Rally & Demand Halt to All Deportations

NEW ORLEANS, June 23, 2016—Immigrant workers and family members in New Orleans demanded a halt to all deportations following today’s Supreme Court decision blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

NOWCRJ immigrant members and allies will rally at the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans (600 Camp Street) at 5pm CT Thursday.

image-ladders

“This decision is personal for us,” said Saket Soni, Executive Director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) and National Guestworker Alliance (NGA). “This case moved to the Supreme Court from the Fifth Circuit courthouse here in New Orleans—a city that hundreds of our members rebuilt with their own hands after Hurricane Katrina. They deserve the right to remain in the communities they rebuilt for all New Orleanians. All 11 million immigrant workers and family members around the U.S. deserve the same. The Supreme Court rejected legal precedent, solid public policy, and basic common sense today, and set our whole country back.”

NOWCRJ Immigration Organizer Fernando Lopez said, “The governors who sued to stop President Obama’s executive actions put racism and fear ahead of immigrants’ right to remain in the communities they helped build. The President’s action was a response to a powerful social movement. That movement will continue to push back on the criminalization of our communities, and fight to win full rights.”

“”If the Supreme Court will not unfreeze DAPA and DACA, President Obama must freeze deportations,” Lopez said.

Immigrant members of NOWCRJ’s Congress of Day Laborers who would have been eligible for DAPA will be available for interview by telephone and at the 5pm CT rally.

CONTACT: Fernando Lopez, NOWCRJ Immigration Organizer, (504) 258-1000, flopez@nowcrj.org

On Eve of Supreme Court Immigration Decision, Immigrant Families Face Father’s Day Crisis

On Eve of Supreme Court Immigration Decision, Immigrant Families Face Father’s Day Crisis

NOWCRJ launches Father’s Day Beyond Borders in response

NEW ORLEANS, June 16, 2016—On the eve of a Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s executive immigration action—and on the eve of Father’s Day—Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is continuing to tear apart families by targeting immigrants with misdemeanor records, regardless of family needs and Department of Homeland Security guidelines.

In response, NOWCRJ’s Congress of Day Laborers has launched the Father’s Day Beyond Borders campaign.

Jose Torres is a father of two from El Salvador who came to New Orleans as a post-Katrina reconstruction worker in 2006. Jose has 2 U.S. citizen daughters, the youngest of whom, Kimberly, has a life-threatening neurological disorder that requires constant care.

In spite of this, ICE has detained Jose and is planning to deport him imminently because of an isolated 2013 DUI—even though Jose paid all fines in full, completed probation, performed community service hours, and attended substance abuse counseling.

“He’s our superman,” said Jose’s wife, Deiny Franco. “He’s always been a responsible father. He faced his mistake and it made him a better person. I don’t know how we will manage without him.” Ms. Franco is extremely concerned about her ability to afford essential and life-supporting medications for her infant daughter.

Inspired by a letter that Jose’s 7 year-old daughter, Julissa, wrote for her father, NOWCRJ’s Congress of Day Laborers has launched the Father’s Day Beyond Borders campaign to collect Father’s Day cards for Jose and other fathers facing deportation, as well as to raise awareness about the consequences of the United States’ immigration detention system, which is the largest in the world.

ae297b_51d1c810db7e4bd39a8e025999a1f900-mv2_d_2450_3582_s_4_2

Supporters will tweet and post under the hashtag #DearDad, as well as submit cards directly to the campaign website: FathersDayBeyondBorders.com.

“The Department of Homeland Security’s own criteria state that misdemeanors like DUIs should be weighed against other factors, especially family needs,” said Fernando Lopez, NOWCRJ Immigration Organizer. “President Obama is responsible for ICE continuing to tear apart families like Jose’s through deportations.”

Jose’s situation is indicative of a wider trend of local ICE offices disregarding national guidelines, which direct DHS officials to consider “compelling humanitarian guidelines such as poor health, age, pregnancy, a young child, or a seriously ill relative.” In Jose’s case, local ICE officers did not acknowledge Jose’s infant daughter or her illness in their decision to move forward with the deportation process.

“Jose’s case clearly shows that ICE is prioritizing politics and criminalization over child welfare or public safety,” said Chloe Sigal, NOWCRJ Immigration Organizer.

CONTACT: Fernando Lopez, NOWCRJ Immigration Organizer, (504) 258-1000, flopez@nowcrj.org

Stand with Dignity Expresses Support for Governor John Bel Edwards’ Executive Order That Will Help SNAP Recipients Find Good Jobs – 4/21/16

NEW ORLEANS, April 21, 2016 – On Thursday, April 21, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards released an executive order that creates a plan for SNAP recipients to be supported in finding good jobs. Below is a statement by Latoya Lewis, Organizer of NOWCRJ’s Stand with Dignity on the order:

“Stand with Dignity works every day to address the crisis of unemployment that low-income people and people of color face. Gov. Edwards’ order is a critical step towards addressing barriers to employment and building career ladders for people who have been excluded from work across Louisiana.  As Governor Edwards states, this Executive Order recognizes the daily challenges of individuals surviving on government benefits and seeks to address these issues through programing that leads to meaningful and sustainable employment. We look forward to working closely with the Governor to build and implement a plan that will expand job access and build careers in permanent and justly paid jobs for Louisianans who have been locked out of the formal economy.”

Contact: Colette Tippy, ctippy@nowcrj.org504-881-6550

HANO looking to expand options to people with criminal records – WWL – 3/28/16

WWL

HANO looking to expand options to people with criminal records

March 28, 2016

By Wynton Yates

NEW ORLEANS — The Housing Authority of New Orleans may be changing rules Tuesday to offer housing options to ex-offenders but not without pushback from activist groups.

In August, Marlene Kennedy returned to New Orleans after serving five years in prison in St. Gabriel.

“My charges were always shoplifting” explained Kennedy.

After serving her time now she faces a different problem.

“I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight,” Kennedy said.

With nowhere to call home Kennedy is among the city’s population with a criminal record unable to get placed in housing.

Last week The Housing Authority of New Orleans loosened policies that were blocking ex-offenders out of public housing.

Continue reading

At activists’ urging, HANO revises draft policy on accepting applicants with criminal records – New Orleans Advocate – 3/28/16

The New Orleans Advocate

At activists’ urging, HANO revises draft policy on accepting applicants with criminal records

March 28, 2016

by Jessica Williams

The Housing Authority of New Orleans is seeking to extend a policy that would make it easier for people with limited rap sheets to live in public housing.

The change would make the criminal background screening procedures HANO is proposing to use for its own units mandatory for the private entities that now manage a majority of the authority’s properties.

If the changed plans are approved by the HANO board, it would be a victory for activists who clamored for that modification last week, saying that an older proposal didn’t do enough to afford ex-offenders an opportunity to be reunited with their families.

 

The authority unveiled the new plans on Friday, days after activists staged a protest in front of its Touro Street headquarters and filled every seat in its board meeting room at a boisterous public hearing.

The original proposal, touted as a way to end barriers keeping many ex-offenders out of public housing, said HANO would weigh applicants’ convictions against a set of screening criteria for public and Section 8 housing. Depending on the nature and date of those convictions, officials would either admit the applicants or send their cases to a three-member panel for closer review.

Crimes that would warrant the panel’s review include convictions for armed robbery, homicide, kidnapping and several others.

Continue reading