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We aren’t far off from police officers being instructed they can no longer arrest blacks. In 60 percent black New Orleans (a city where the most government published data – for 2015 – showed blacks responsible for almost every homicide and nonfatal shooting… a report discontinued in 2017 for public consumption), crime has a color, one which the ACLU is pushing to shield from the NOPD’s $40 million crime camera initiative.
But another initiative by civil rights advocates and social justice warriors helps showcase just how shocking the black crime problem is in The Big Easy.[One in 7 adults in New Orleans has a warrant out for arrest, new data shows, Stamford Advocate, September 23, 2019]:
It’s Monday morning in the Municipal and Traffic Court of New Orleans – misdemeanor rush hour in a city that traffics more heavily than most in public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.
Fifty-two arrestees, outfitted in orange and maroon jumpsuits, await their first appearance before a judge. Most are black. All require a public defender. And more than half of them are here, their hands chained against their stomachs, because they missed a court date for a minor crime, triggering an arrest warrant.
Lauren Anderson, a public defender and attorney supervisor for Municipal Court, is furious as she looks over a list of their names. “It doesn’t make any sense,” she says. “We’re not making the city any safer,” she said. “We’re only hurting these people, and we just keep doing it over and over. It’s infuriating.”
There are more than 56,000 outstanding warrants in New Orleans’s Municipal Court, dating to 2002, according to city data. A staggering 1 of 7 adults in the country’s 50th-largest city have a warrant out for their arrest.
Typically, the crime is failing to appear for scheduled court dates for minor, nonviolent offenses that do not carry a jail sentence, including panhandling and fishing without a license. (Two notable exceptions are battery and domestic abuse, which account for roughly 6 percent of all the warrants.) Anderson characterizes most of them as old nuisance crimes bogging down an already overburdened criminal justice system.
Now, a coalition of elected officials, local civil rights organizations such as Stand With Dignity and the public defender’s office is proposing a more permanent solution – wiping out nearly all 56,000 warrants, in addition to any debt accumulated from fines and fees.
If successful, New Orleans would be at the forefront of a growing movement to curb the use of warrants and the threat of arrest when the underlying charge might be little more than public intoxication. Only two cities – Ferguson, Missouri, and San Francisco – and the state of New Jersey have attempted anything similar, according to the Fines and Fees Justice Center in New York.
“We need to consider all the damage this has caused and the psychological trauma it continues to impose on the minds and hearts and confidences of 14 percent of our population,” said City Council member Jason Williams. “This is New Orleans’s working poor. This is the hospitality community, musicians. These are people who are some of the reasons why people come to New Orleans in the first place.”
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Williams will introduce a resolution at the council’s meeting Wednesday calling for the dismissal of all warrants and charges associated with crimes of poverty and homelessness, such as obstruction of a public passageway and trespassing. These account for more than 40 percent of warrants. San Francisco’s criminal courts implemented a similar strategy in 2016, and in July, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore announced interest in it.
Williams will also call for the clearing of warrants issued post-conviction, which are most likely to be tied to someone’s inability to pay fines or fees. And he will ask the city to forgive all of the associated debt.
This is not just a “benevolent gift” to those residents affected, Williams said, but good financial sense. It costs about $2.7 million a year to staff a 40-person quad in the jail, he said. That is about the same number of people incarcerated on a daily basis for municipal warrants and misdemeanors.
Clearing a large chunk of the outstanding warrants would require buy-in from the city attorney’s office, which Williams is working to secure. Mayor LaToya Cantrell has yet to weigh in on any specific proposals and declined an interview request; her administration said in a statement that it is open to finding “creative ways to help individuals address outstanding warrants,” while adding that it is “important to note that some of the burden rests on the individuals who are charged with Municipal and Traffic offenses. We urge everyone to show up for their court hearings and comply with court orders.”
Not everyone is on board with eradicating every outstanding warrant. Paul Sens, chief judge of the Municipal Court, said he prides himself on operating “one of the most progressive courts in the United States,” but he worries that blanket amnesty would send the wrong message.
“There are a lot of people who come into this court and do what’s expected of them,” Sens said. “So why did this guy who’s got 20 cases and $5,000 worth of fines get his wiped out and they didn’t? It’s a balancing act you have to do.”
Sens also said that people should not fear being the subject of a warrant, because he requires an arrest only for missed court dates associated with domestic violence or driving while intoxicated. For nearly 80 percent of warrants, officers decide whether to arrest the individual.
“The police are given wide discretion, so this is not something that’s really hanging over people’s heads,” Sens said.
Bill Quigley, director of the law clinic at Loyola University, said that provides little comfort to the black citizens of New Orleans, who are more likely to have frequent and unpleasant encounters with the police.
“Things that are discretionary in the criminal justice system in New Orleans are always exercised at the expense of people of color and people without economic resources,” Quigley said. “Not so much if you’re a white law professor at Loyola.”
The New Orleans Police Department declined an interview request but provided the following statement: “Once a warrant is verified, an officer has no discretion regarding taking that individual into custody.”
Yep, it’s time for an existing warrant amnesty, because too many black in New Orleans have outstanding warrants. Broken-windows policing is not effective in a city that has long abandoned being part of western civilization, where any standards of civility survive.
Why hold black people accountable to the laws and rules established by dead white men, when the criminal justice system they created has such an obvious racial bias against blacks?
Right? Isn’t this the logic of criminal justice reformers, who seek to place black people from being held accountable for their lawlessness, because the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition is inherently racist?
Our civilization cannot endure this insanity, which is one of the primary reasons white flight will continue from urban America, and cities such as New Orleans will persist in being one of the more dangerous in the country.
In the absence of white people, individual black people collectively regress to the African mean. Where New Orleans was once a beacon of civilization, it now serves as a reminder race is far more than a social construct.