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Friday, 1 July 2005
Borderline 7.05: Three Stooges and a Residency Rule
Topic: Police Residency Ruse

Three Stooges and a Residency Rule

 

Miscues by local clergy and an outspoken sheriff from a neighboring parish help illustrate why New Orleans dare not abandon a residency requirement for police officers

 

By J.B. Borders

 

“You know what they say about New Orleans,” a David Duke-type politician tells an Uptown aristocrat in The White League, an unsparing contemporary novel about the secretive racist organization that fought for decades to maintain white supremacy in the Crescent City. “The Catholics built it, the Jews own it, and the niggers enjoy it.”

 

I thought about that line when a local priest and a rabbi joined forces recently to denounce Superintendent Compass’s proposed sensitivity training program for both the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the citizens they are charged to protect.

 

The priest, a white missionary working in a poor, crime-ridden black parish, and the rabbi, leader of a wealthy St. Charles Avenue synagogue, had been urged by someone to voice their opposition to the training program because the company that created the service is owned by Dennis Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam.

 

The rabbi had likened the Nation to the KKK. Scores of cops reportedly objected to the trainers, too. A couple of days later, the superintendent cancelled the contract with Mr. Muhammad.

 

 

Talk about cheek. Catholics and Jews – the protectors of pedophiles and the oppressors of Palestine – casting stones at Black Muslims after all the damage followers of the other two branches of the Abrahamic religious tradition have caused in our community for decades.

 

And then Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee’s stumblebum deputies demonstrated all too graphically why this sensitivity training should be mandatory for law enforcement officials and wanna-be ganstas throughout the metro area. Members of Lee’s force became unapologetic child killers one evening after some 15- and 16-year-old ebony boys got car fever and started joy riding in a stolen pickup truck and would not stop until the Jefferson lawmen chased them down and fired scores of rounds into the vehicle and its driver, blasting the life out of both.

 

Shortly afterward, a group of Orleans community leaders got together to protest efforts by the New Orleans Police Foundation, the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) and other folks to have the residency rule for New Orleans police officers rescinded by the City Council. In the process of laying out their arguments for keeping the residency rule in place, one of the local Protestant ministers stated that it appeared the JP Deputies had taken target practice on the car-crazed youth – or else they really hated the appearance of that red F150. Harry Lee, TFI (Total Frigging Idiot) that he is, replied in no uncertain terms that the reverend could kiss his wide flat bottom.

 

Clearly, Lee was not going to be upstaged by a rabbi and a priest. Thank the gods for that.

 

Like Ronnie Lamarque when he apparently stayed out in the sun too much last summer and, seemingly out of the blue, came up with the bright idea to offer himself as the Savior of the City, Lee, looking a tad too well-tanned for this early in the sweating season, volunteered to be the lightning rod for a frank discussion of the growing intellectual and moral divide between proper city dwellers and those who rest their heads at night in the subdivisions and apartment complexes of St. Bernard, Jefferson and St. Tammany. Presumably, that frank discussion would include the more than 300 members of the NOPD who call “Not-New Orleans” home.

 

Who knows? Maybe that was precisely what certain members of the white business community had in mind when they leaned on Superintendent Compass to support a suspension of the residency rule. Since this provision was enacted 30+ years ago, most observers say it has become a primary factor in increasing the numbers of black folk on the NOPD and a contributing force in the growing exodus of whites.

 

Like Harry Lee, I suppose this cabal of leaders just wanted a forum in which they could put all the issues on the table, out in the open, not just inside the Boston Club or in their other exclusive warrens.

 

That might even have been what some of those same scrappy power brokers had in mind when they button-holed a few key local politicians and suggested to them that campaign contributions would be in short supply this fall if New Orleans City Council members didn’t introduce and vote for the ordinance to legally allow NOPD members live outside the city.

 

I guess the hypocrisy of breaking the laws they are sworn to protect had been eating into someone’s consciousness.

 

Stupidity Seals the Deal

 

After all, recruits are coming into the force at a near-capacity clip, the rescinders acknowledge. The problem is that so many experienced officers with families have to leave town to take jobs in communities where they can afford their mortgages and can send their kids to free schools that provide decent educations. Since providing raises and improving the public schools in New Orleans is a long-term fix, the rescinders say that the one change that can be made immediately is to permit those officers who want to live outside the city limits – and not lie about it – to do so. If we don’t make this change, say these folks, the NOPD’s retention problems will only grow worse and the force won’t be large enough to effectively do its job.

 

However, since many folks in the city suspect that most of the folk in the outlying parishes who would want to be members of the NOPD are likely to be like Harry Lee, TFIs, having these people policing our communities would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. Lee’s recent antics (and those of the white clergy who opposed the sensitivity training for the police) underscore this point.

 

In fact, an analysis of the NOPD residency requirement commissioned by the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce concludes that it is not a good idea to eliminate the residency rule either from an economic or a public safety rationale.

 

The release of this study, prepared by Early Howell & Associates of Detroit, caused a minor firestorm when it was released a few weeks ago. For the past 18 months, the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO), the New Orleans Police Foundation and its stable of researchers and pollsters had been building a case for scrapping the residency rule.

 

George Bush recently fooled the American people into believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had to be invaded before they harmed others and that the proposed invasion would be decisive and brief. Likewise, the forces angling to keep the numbers and influence of white officers in the NOPD high sought to sway public opinion to their point of view and to convince the public of the urgency to do something NOW!

 

You have to hand it to them, the campaign nearly worked, even after PANO’s leader David Benelli melted down in public briefly and flashed glimpses of the stereotypical Southern cop mindset New Orleans needs to put to pasture.

 

But along came Harry. Sheriff Lee showed out so badly that even C. Ray, Mr. Optimism, was forced to put The Talking Panda in check. The mayor had to tell Dizzy Harry to stop making stupid statements implying that all the criminal activity in the area is caused by “New Orleanians from the housing projects” – another code phrase for black.

 

Lee’s antics should have sealed the deal. If the City Council dares to roll back the residency requirement in this environment – in the face of all this negative evidence provided by wacky cops and kooky clergy, not to mention the growing number of assaults to the integrity of local black professionals and entrepreneurs – if they dare to try to sell us out on this issue, then we need to petition for early elections and send these enemies packing ASAP, many community leaders are now saying publicly.

 

The Intrinsic Part of the Package

 

“The Negroes enjoy it.” That’s what the outliers and old-liners Uptown and on the Lakefront hate about the state of the city. The Negroes have overrun it, have ruined everything, they swear, and are enjoying themselves in the process. Of course, no one is having as much fun as the city’s low-wage paying, high-rate charging, profit-gouging hotel operators, but I digress.

 

Harry Lee says he will tell us the truth. We should level with him, too. He and his slicker, more crafty cohorts should know that, actually, we are not happy. And that we won’t be satisfied until we own this sucker – the land, the homes, the businesses and the future, not just the partying and the prison garb or even a couple of hundred more police uniforms.

 

For our part, of course, we have to stop surrendering our wealth for minimum wages, high rates of unemployment, low levels of education and miniscule rates of entrepreneurship. And unless an army of occupation aids our cause for peace and prosperity, it will only add to our problems and make things worse for everyone.

 

Those who wish to assume the role of the White League in modern-day New Orleans can’t drug, incarcerate, kill, intimidate, relocate or marginalize enough of us, not matter how much they try. This is not Darfur, Rwanda or the American West. We won’t play Indian to their Cowboy. That kind of social engineering will not work in New Orleans, not now.

 

We are an intrinsic part of the package. We are the City. Progress has to come through us, not around us or in spite of us.

 

That should be perfectly clear to any Total Frigging Idiot, including those in Jefferson Parish and Washington, DC.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:28 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:41 AM CDT
Permalink
Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Borderline 6.05: The Long, Hot Summer Ahead

The Long, Hot Summer Ahead

 

As the weather has heated up to record-setting levels this spring, so too has the political climate. Will tensions finally boil over this summer? Will black people find their nerve and come to their senses? Or will the white supremacists back down before buckets of blood get spilled? It depends on what black men decide to do. And it won’t be long before the answers come pouring in.

 

By J.B. Borders

 

The police. The schools. The French Quarter. The real estate squeeze. The prisons.

 

The economy: the vanishing jobs and wages. The rising gas prices and utility bills.

 

The hysteria-prone mamas. And the children with guns. Don’t forget the children with guns. Or the foolishness on TV.

 

Those are givens. Like the stalwart, righteous, steadfast sisters.

 

The unpredictable ingredients are the grown-ass men, that vanishing breed of Negroid males who are neither addicts, dealers, show-offs, full-time charlatans or effetes.

 

They can be 18 or 80, tall or short, buff or obese, alabaster-colored or indigo, peppy or extra cold. They might be ex-cons. They might be non-cons. They might be buppies. They might be grumpies and slobs or ex-marines with discipline to match their determination. Most will not be dependent on white paychecks and a few will be spooks sitting by the door.

 

But make no mistake, they will be the deciding force, the critical mass that brings conditions to a tipping point. They will make all the difference. They always have, for better and for worse.

 

The Man Thing

 

Like it or not, what black men are willing to tolerate has generally set the tone for the entire race. And in New Orleans there is now a convergence of economic, political and social conditions that will test our pride, dignity and humanity once again. The outcome of this current challenge will determine the fate and fortune of our people for the next twenty years.

 

There are hopeful signs, of course. But there are troubling omens, too. For every Kofi Annan who withstands an attack on his credibility and effectiveness, there is a Colin Powell who acquiesces – against his better judgment – to the powers that be and slips quietly into oblivion.

 

Though fewer black men and women are enlisting in the American military now that the folly of the Bush-led war in Iraq has been exposed, there are still far too many black folks being used as fodder in this brazen act of theft.

 

Black men around the globe have been pushed around for so long and backed into so many corners, we are now on the verge of total powerlessness and extinction, despite the emergence of a handful of black male billionaires and stable heads of state.

 

If the modern sports, prison and military industries didn’t require our bodies and brawn, we probably would have been wiped out years ago. And as Mexico’s President Vicente Fox pointed out, since his countrymen and women are willing to work for punier wages and to take jobs “that not even blacks want,” I guess we should be grateful to still be allowed to stay in this nation our labor built.

This coming October, Minister Louis Farrakhan and others will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington, DC. As Farrakhan observed recently, that event was staged to allow black men “to atone to God for our shortcomings as men, husbands and fathers.”

The massive gathering brought together men from all over the country and “demonstrated our willingness to reconcile differences at home, school, church, organizations and in the society in general. It demonstrated our willingness to accept responsibility to change our behavior and to strive to make our communities a more decent place to live.”

Farrakhan is no fool, however. He knows that one act of atonement didn’t magically cure all of our ills. “Although many wonderful things have happened as a result of the march,” he explained during a press conference this spring in the nation’s capital, “ten years later, the masses of our people are slipping further behind. We have a larger middle class. However, the overall condition of our people is worse. We have more entrepreneurs, more college graduates, more persons holding political office, more Black mayors, city councilors, aldermen, state representatives, city managers, more corporate executives, yet the masses have not been empowered or improved.”

Even worse, said the minister, is the reality that “The masses of our people are on a Death March into the oven of social deterioration, broken homes, broken marriages, broken minds, broken spirit, evolving from a string of broken promises by government and leadership that has failed to help our people turn around the misery and wretchedness of our condition.”

It is black men, unfortunately, who are leading our Death March. As several other recent studies have revealed, we are dying off at faster rates than any other segment of the American population. Some of the destruction is self-inflicted, of course. Some of it is brought on by outside forces. Regardless of the cause, the effect has to be stopped.

Black men now have to step up more aggressively and consciously to fight for our lives. If we don’t, no one else will. If we do, we’ll also save the lives of many others in the process – our women, our children, even our enemies.

“The knowledge to correct the horror of our condition is among us,” according to Farrakhan. “The potential force and power to cause us to rise as a people is among us. The finance to fuel our rise is also among us.” All that is needed, he concludes, “is the unity of our leadership and organizations. Our unity, the pooling of our resources, financially and intellectually will solve 95% of our problems.”

Farrakhan’s prescription might sound a little too pat for those of us who have been around the proverbial block a time or two, but his views are complemented by the findings of other black researchers viewing our problems from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

The Crackerization of Black Culture

Economist Thomas Sowell, for example, is a senior fellow at the notoriously conservative Hoover Institution. He says many African Americans have a cultural problem that is hindering their success: they are mired in the culture of nineteenth century lower-class British whites. All we black people have to do, he suggests in his new book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, is to let go of these destructive habits and get our heads right.

“The culture of the people who were called ‘rednecks’ and ‘crackers’ before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity,” Sowell wrote in a recent essay.

“While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people,” he pointed out. “Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South.”

 

The kicker in the whole scenario, however, according to Sowell, is that “The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only ‘authentic’ black culture – and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with.”

 

Like Farrakhan, Sowell recognizes that black men need to make an about-face. Where they should turn and what values they should embrace seem to have bedeviled most black leadership, many of whom turn reflexively to religion for answers.

 

But a new study about Jewish success suggests there might be possibilities for black salvation if we strive to become more secular and modern.  

 

According to Yuri Slezkine, author of The Jewish Century, “modernization is about everyone becoming urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible. It is about learning how to cultivate people and symbols, not fields or herds. It is about pursuing wealth for the sake of learning, learning for the sake of wealth, and both wealth and learning for their own sake. It is about transforming peasants and princes into merchants and priests, replacing inherited privilege with acquired prestige, and dismantling social estates for the benefit of individuals, nuclear families, and book-reading tribes (nations). Modernization, in other words, is about everyone becoming Jewish.”

 

Black Christians and Muslims might be put off initially by the suggestion that we can save ourselves by attempting to mimic the Jews. That may be too radical a stretch for our imaginations. But that option beats the hell out of acting like crackers and continuing to be losers.

 

“Real hope is radical,” social critic Robert Jensen once wrote. “A belief that people are not evil and stupid, not consigned merely to live out pre-determined roles” in miserable conditions “is radical.”  

 

If that is so, I’m proud to be radical. For I have genuine hope for us – for our women, our children and, most especially, our men.

 

I’m proud, too, of the mayor’s new-found bravado, his willingness to say he’s for black folk, no matter how staged it comes across. The same goes for the school board president. They are both going to take their lumps from forces in the white supremacist community. But they have stepped up to their responsibilities and set a tone that other black men can support and emulate.

 

The sisters have always been generally steady. It’s the brothers who can be a little shaky. But the fact remains that just having grown men set the proper tone and back it up every now and then can frequently save a lot of death and destruction that could not otherwise be averted.

 

Remember forty years ago when the Deacons for Defense and Justice in tiny Jonesboro, Louisiana, quelled KKK attacks on civil rights activists when they exercised their right to bear arms and defend their community?

 

That development radically changed the tenor of the whole freedom struggle. Grown black men stepped up and said we won’t tolerate this abuse of our people. And after a few scuffles, the Klan stopped.

 

Let’s hope something similar works this summer in the city. There is a lot of stuff that could turn very ugly very quickly. The men among us have to be clear about what it takes to keep the peace – justice – and what the consequences will be if our enemies transgress these boundaries.

 

It’s time to take a stand.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:33 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007 6:15 PM CDT
Permalink
Sunday, 1 May 2005
Borderline 5.05: On the Verge of a Total Beatdown

On the Verge of a Total Beatdown

 

 

After getting hammered on a number of fronts in recent months, a spark of resistance may be the start of a black community turnaround

 

By J.B. Borders

 

The Nazi Pope. That’s what did it for me. Ticked me off, made me want to hop a plane to Rome and collar a couple of Cardinals. “What in the fickle finger of fate were you thinking when you voted for this man?”

 

Almost 68 percent of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics now live in Africa, Asia and Latin America but in mid-April the conclave of the church’s spiritual leaders selected a European as their religion’s new pope. And not just any European, mind you, but a certifiable Aryan, to boot.

 

Lil Joey Ratzinger, the German priest who selected Benedict XVI as his new papal handle, admits to having once been a member of the white supremacist Hitler Youth organization before winding up in the seminary some years later. It remains to be seen now whether he has truly changed his views about the superiority of the white race or just been in deep cover all these years since reportedly “deserting” the Nazi Army in 1945.

 

As an isolated event, the pope’s selection should not have been that troubling. It was just another example of white folks acting white, protecting their perceived turf – passing over superior people of color in favor of one of their own. The Vatican, the capital of the Catholic Church, is in Europe, after all. Why shouldn’t Europeans continue to rule it, many “Conservative” Christians argue.

 

And when viewed in the context of other recent local, national and international developments, the papal selection was just another small cog in the larger machinery that is doggedly and desperately trying to sustain white world domination.

 

But if it wasn’t obvious to everyone before now, it should be perfectly clear to black folks, at least, that the white world order will not wither away on its own. It will have to be beaten into submission economically, politically, legally, ethically and, in all likelihood, militarily.   

 

That may not be a pleasant prospect for some of us to face. But it’s time we stopped deluding ourselves.

 

Colin Powell was too much the good soldier and too fine a colored gentleman to say it in such straightforward terms. And Condi Rice is too happy to be House Girl #1 to even see it, perhaps. But the U.S.-led Oil-Defense-Finance Cabal is determined to hold on to its control of global wealth by any means necessary. That includes using religion, culture and entertainment as propaganda tools and instruments of (m)ass control when bombs and mercenaries alone can’t win the day.

 

The White Man is No Longer Out to Get Us

 

In many respects, the psychological warfare – the mind game – has become the most effective weapon in the white supremacist arsenal. “The white man is no longer out to get us,” columnist Darryl James recently pointed out.  “He already has us.”

 

New Orleanians need look no further than our own back yard for convincing proof.

 

Consider the outcome of the City of New Orleans’ investigation of racism in the tourist sector. The bandits of Bourbon Street were flat-out busted by the City’s Human Relations Commission for their blatantly racist ripoffs of black customers.

 

Of course, that should not have been a shocking revelation. Black folks have been getting ripped off for years by car dealers, mortgage companies, corner grocery stores, pawn shops, insurance salesmen, lawyers and practically everyone else who catered to the colored trade. Many Jewish and Sicilian merchants made so much money off us over the years they were able to buy their way into Fully-White Status thanks to the little extra nickels and dimes and dollars we paid for food, clothes, furniture and appliances in their places of business. Now the Vietnamese and Iranians are running the same con in our communities.  

 

And even in the age of hard-core gangsta culture where we wage all-out war on each other over $10 drug deals gone awry, we grin and bear it when these outsiders, when this system, rips us off for millions of dollars a year.

 

Nevertheless, what was extremely disappointing in the French Quarter discrimination tests was that instead of punishing the wrong-doers, the Human Relations Commission merely wagged its finger at the Bourbon Street Mafia and said you had better not cheat these children again or we’ll tell everybody who you are. I’m sure every white-trash club owner in the city is quaking with fear behind that one. We’re gonna speak your name in the street.

 

Where are the SCLC and the NAACP now? Why haven’t they demanded the names of these establishments and called for a national boycott not only of these night clubs but also of the companies that supply their liquor?

 

Instead, all we got was: “Next time you do it, we’re gonna tell the world who you are.” That’s it? What about all the reparations owed to past customers? Who will defend their right to a fair-priced gin and tonic?

 

Meanwhile, a predominately white jury told the city’s black district attorney he was guilty of racial discrimination and would have to pay $1.9 million to 43 white folks he fired at the start of his term in office. Lots of these folks don’t even live in the city and likely weren’t doing a bang-up job to begin with, but they weren’t going to give up their long-time hustles to a bunch of you-know-whats without a fight. And guess what? They’re going to get paid. With our money.

 

At least the mayor is wising up. After getting raked over the coals by the crackerocracy for awarding two moderate-sized contracts to black-owned businesses, his honor called for frank public discussions about racism, and presumably wealth-building, in New Orleans. Good luck making that happen.

 

About the same time as the mayor was getting his dander up, the police superintendent had all but thrown in the towel and called for an end to the residency rule for NOPD members. “Help me, white folks,” the chief might as well have pleaded. “Help me keep these coloreds in line. You don’t have to live here. Just be willing to take our money, crack our skulls and keep your women and children out of our schools, churches and grocery stores. Please.”

 

A couple of weeks later, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee dropped his own stink bomb. He said the crime wave in previously bucolic JP is due to refugees from the public housing projects of New Orleans having been disgorged into Metry and the like.  But Lee, (aka The Big Pig and The Chinese Cowboy) stopped short of calling for an end to the residency rule for JP deputies. Apparently, he’s not yet ready to steal black officers from New Orleans to help combat crime in the suburbs.

 

That’s probably sound reasoning. Since the JP deputies are notorious for ingesting steroids and shooting up sambo-esque figures during target practice, brothers and sisters on that crime-fighting team could be running an extra-high risk of being victimized by friendly fire from fellow officers. “Sorry Jamal and Jamilla, I thought y’all were the crooks from the projects. I unloaded my revolver before I recognized your uniform. But don’t call that racism. Call it an unfortunate combination ‘roids and reflexes instead.”

 

Fighting Back

 

Fortunately, all hope is not lost on the local front. At least one group of black leaders has decided not to be quiescent, docile, and conciliatory in the face of forces determined to snatch every stitch we own. The Orleans Parish School Board failed to cave in to pressure to relinquish control of New Orleans Public Schools to people interested primarily in the benefits the system can bring to white and middle-class households, even at the expense of the system’s low-income black majority.

 

Moreover, the new president, Torin Sanders, has been forthright in articulating his principles and in calling for a return of the board’s authority and responsibility for turning the public school system around.

 

“It’s our job. We can do it.”

 

We need more of that attitude. In fact, we need to figure out how to take the school board’s posture and turn it into a movement that might mushroom into a full-scale eruption throughout the city – an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcanic outpouring of indignation, a thunderstorm of self-respect, an infestation of righteous TCB.

 

We can do it.

 

Damn the Nazi Pope and the Bourbon Street bandits and the whole white supremacist set-up, too.

 

We can win this war for control of our minds and our money. Even though we’re on the verge of getting totally beaten down, we can turn this thing around. We can bounce back.

 

It’s our job. We can do it. Starting here, starting now.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:37 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007 6:19 PM CDT
Permalink
Friday, 1 April 2005
Borderline 4.05: Cuba and New Orleans: Learning a New Rumba
Topic: Cuba and N.O.

Cuba and New Orleans: Learning a New Rumba

 

 

A dance of survival has begun between two faded jewels of the Caribbean. Can it last long enough to pay dividends to both sides?

 

By J.B. Borders

 

One of my favorite films of the past year is “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which won an Academy Award for best song but deserved even more acclaim and recognition than that. “The Motorcycle Diaries” has one of the most inspiring tag lines ever used to market a film: “Let the world change you…and you can change the world.”

 

The film is based on the true story of two twentysomething middle-class Argentines who take an eight-month journey through Latin America in 1952. One of the men is a young biochemist; the other is a medical student. They start their trek on an old motorcycle owned by the biochemist, Alberto Granado, whose goal is to make it from Argentina to Venezuela in time to celebrate his thirtieth birthday. The medical student just wants to make sure they carve out a few days for him to visit his girlfriend along the way.

 

As is often the case in such grand journeys, things don’t quite work out the way they initially planned them. What does happen, however, ends up having more significant impact on the young men than they ever could have imagined at the outset. The travelers not only experience for themselves the beauty and rich heritage of Latin America, they also learn a great deal about the suffering and injustice that exist in that part of the world.  More importantly, as a result of the trip, each of the men develops the resolve to devote his life to changing the conditions that afflict so many of their people.

 

The young medical student goes on to become one of the most important revolutionaries of the twentieth century, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who, though he was an Argentine by birth, is inextricably linked to Cuba and the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.

 

Che and Fidel met in Mexico in 1954, where a small rag-tag band of Cuban exiles was plotting to overthrow Cuba’s U.S.-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Five years later, they would succeed. Moreover, their success would fundamentally alter the political and social order not just in Cuba but in all corners of the globe as well.

 

Let the world change you and you can change the world.

 

Che and Fidel insisted on building a socialist society in the new Cuba. They ran the American Mafia out of the country. They nationalized industries, seized large estates and began redistributing the wealth and assets of the nation.

 

These actions earned not only the ire of the Mafia but also the enmity of the United States government, which promptly imposed a trade embargo on Cuba and denounced it as a “Communist Menace” ninety miles from the American coast.

 

Since 1960, the United States government has tried virtually every trick in the book to force “regime change” in Cuba. They have funded military invasions, assassination attempts, negative publicity campaigns, internal discord and economic strangulation. None of it has produced the desired effect.

 

Even though Che Guevara was killed in battle in Bolivia during an unsuccessful revolutionary war in 1967, Fidel Castro has managed to maintain power in Cuba and to keep the nation on its socialist course of development.

 

Now, some of the forces in the United States have come up with a new strategy to beat the 79-year-old Castro – trade with him. To her credit, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and her economic development director, Michael Olivier, have capitalized on this opportunity and secured a $15 million trade agreement with Cuba.

 

For New Orleanians, that’s good news. The city’s cultural and trading ties to Cuba go back to the earliest days of the Crescent City. Havana, Cuba’s capital, was established in its current location in 1519. By the time New Orleans was founded two hundred years later, Havana was already the leading city in the New World and, according to some historians, remained the cultural capital of the Americas for at least a hundred years more.

 

In many respects, Havana was a big sister to New Orleans for generations and though the two are now poised to be back in stride again after all these many years apart, the presumption is that the relationship will eventually help socialist Cuba – and its eleven million, predominately-black population – change to become more like capitalist America.

 

But I hope that America, particularly Louisiana and especially New Orleans, will change to become more like Cuba in at least four important aspects.

 

First, I hope we follow Cuba’s example and make literacy a paramount community priority. The literacy rate in Cuba is 97 percent. In Orleans Parish, more than 30 percent of the population, 150,000 people, function at the lowest literacy level or worse. That is unacceptable even in the second worst state in the greatest nation on Earth.

 

So maybe Cuba can help us adapt their Yes I Can literacy program to our city. Nothing else seems to be doing the trick. Meanwhile, the Cuban approach is reported to be rapidly increasing literacy in several other nations including Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, and Venezuela.

 

Second, Cuba is renowned for providing free, high-quality medical care to over 98 percent of its citizens. Maybe they can show us how to fix our Charity Hospital system and neighborhood clinics in exchange for a few boatloads of rice and other commodities.

 

According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the Cuban government has already stepped up big time to help in the training of African American and Latino medical students. In 2000 Castro himself offered 500 full scholarships for U.S. citizens to study at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, provided the graduates pledge to practice in poor U.S. communities. This past academic year, there were “88 U.S. students enrolled at the school, 85 percent of them members of minority groups and 73 percent of them women,” the NEJM reported.

And lest the scholarships for U.S. students seem like an attempt to curry the favor of the Bush administration, the Latin American School of Medicine has long dedicated itself to training doctors to treat the poor of the Western hemisphere and Africa. Twenty-seven countries and 60 ethnic groups are represented among the school’s 8,000 students. And the Cuban government finances all this education probably for a lot less than Halliburton overcharges the U.S. Department of Defense in an average week. But that’s another story.

 

Sure, it’s going to be nice to have Cuba’s money circulating in our economy. But money isn’t everything. In fact, I would be willing to give Cuba some its money back if they could help us overcome racism in Louisiana.

 

Like Louisiana, Cuba was a notoriously racist place just 45 years ago. It had endured slavery and had become infested with exploitative Americans who used white supremacist theories and social policies as a tool to oppress Afro-Cubans.

 

Today, however, Cuba enjoys a reputation as a country that has all but eliminated racism in its social, economic and political systems. And though the hype has probably outpaced the reality, we could definitely use a good dose of that kind of publicity. Imagine how much hipper a post-racist New Orleans would be.

 

 

Let the world change you and you can change the world.

 

Finally, since Cubans are also known as incurable romantics, maybe they can teach us how to rumba – to dance as couples again, sensuous and attentive to our partners and not merely preoccupied with doing our own thing and being as nasty as we wanna.

 

I have a notion that if we change the way we dance with each other, we will change the way we talk to each other. And if we change the way we talk to each other, we can change the way we act with each other. And if we change the way we act with each other, we can change the way we feel about each other. And if we change the way we feel about each other, we can love each other more. And the more we love, the easier it is to be just. And whether we appreciate it or not, a more just world would do us all some good right along through here.

 

So if we can learn to rumba a little with Cuba, there might be more in it for us than just a fatter pocketbook. We just have to be willing to stay on the dance floor until we master a few new moves.

 

And there’s no telling what that might lead to.

 


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:40 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:47 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 1 March 2005
Borderline 3.05: The Big Razzoo
Topic: The Razzoo Killing

The Big Razzoo

 

 

 

A recent killing dredges up a long history of racial tensions in the French Quarter

 

 

By J.B. Borders

 

I can’t shake the feeling.

 

I thought I would be over it by now, but it still hasn’t passed.

 

Every time someone or something calls my attention to the New Year’s Eve homicide at Razzoo’s night club in the French Quarter, I feel this rush of emotions – anger, for sure, but also disappointment over the bungled political manipulation of the situation and a sense of frustration, I suppose, about not being able to reverse this tragic occurrence, this needlessly wasteful loss of a young brother’s life.

 

I know I should be inured to it by now – unfazed by the death of yet another black man on the streets of New Orleans. There are so many. They pop up so frequently. It’s not supposed to be a big deal. But for some strange reason, this one matters more than most – to me, at least – and I’ve been trying to understand why.

 

For starters, I have this eerie feeling that I’m connected to this killing in some way that’s not apparent to me yet. I didn’t know the young man, Levon Jones, the 25-year-old college student from Atlanta who was choked to death by three white bouncers at Razzoo after an altercation broke out when, for some reason, one of Jones’ buddies was denied entrance to the club. I didn’t know Jones but I have the sneaking suspicion that if I ask around enough, I’ll know someone who knows someone in his family. And if that turns out to be the case – if I actually know his parents or his grandparents or aunts and uncles – then I will only feel worse.

 

Like many New Orleanians, my out-of-town friends have this understanding with me: they know they can give my name and phone number to their children and friends and other “good people” who are coming to the city for visits. If anybody gets in a jam or needs some advice about what to do, see, hear or eat when they come to town, they can give me a call.

 

I make it a point, though, not to impose on the younger visitors, especially my friends’ sons and daughters. I realize that part of the magic of coming to New Orleans when you’re in your twenties is partying like it’s your last days on Earth, uninhibited by the ties and obligations to your world back at home. So I try and give these young adults the kind of latitude I appreciated when I was a young man on the road in a new town on a Saturday night trying to find some fun and excitement.

 

But with such a huge surge in recent years in the number of black tourists coming to town, maybe people like me need to make more of an effort to let visitors like Levon Jones know that New Orleans can be a treacherous place to party – that it is deadly in ways you won’t read about in the tour books and entertainment guides.

 

As the father of a man roughly the same age as Levon Jones, I’ve begun to feel an almost parental obligation to help give these young brothers a little advice when they come to town. I don’t want to dampen their fun; I just want them to know they can’t come here and naively wander around these streets and other public spaces unaware of the ancient, long-standing hatreds, fears and prejudices that color some people’s reaction to regular, stand-up black men. White kids can afford to be clueless but our children don’t really have that luxury yet.

 

Child’s Play

The word “razzoo” has fallen out of regular use these days, but when I was a kid, it was the catch phrase for all manner of good-natured pranks friends would play on each other. In general, though, to razzoo someone meant to snatch some property or possession right from under their noses after momentarily distracting them with a silly ruse of some sort or the other.

 

We used to pull these stunts a lot when we were playing marbles, especially if we were losing at the time. In the midst of the game, the prankster might point upward and ask his intended victim an earnest-sounding question: “What color does the sky look to you?” Normally, the unwary target would look up and mull the question over for a second or two. The answer, of course, would be “Blue.” Meanwhile, the prankster has snuck some of the victim’s marbles away from him and as soon as he hears the word “blue”, he responds with a cry of “Razzoo.” 

 

At other times, a mischievous kid would just walk up to someone and snatch a bag of potato chips or a candy bar right out of their hands and run off down the street laughing, “Razzoo! Razzoo!”

 

It’s amazing how often this foolishness worked and how much it tickled us every time someone succeeded in pulling off such a prank.

 

It’s ironic that something so tragic should have occurred at a place with such a playful-sounding name. It’s regrettable that the police and so many other people could have stood by that night and merely looked on as the life was choked out of a young man for twelve excruciating minutes. It’s a little too creepy and voyeuristic that it would all be captured on videotape, though I doubt that recording will ever make it to America’s Funniest Home Videos or to Cops, for that matter.

 

More critically, someone should have anticipated that something like this would happen someday and done something to prevent it. Instead of being so concerned always about protecting white folks from black folks, someone should have developed some sort of contingency plan for protecting black folks from white folks someday, even in the French Quarter. It’s that failure of imagination – that a black man could be a victim and not just a victimizer – that resulted in the death of Levon Jones.

 

Growing Pains

I know where Razzoo’s is but I’ve never set foot in the place. I didn’t have anything against it before the Jones killing; I just stopped spending time on Bourbon Street ages ago. I’ve outgrown its offerings. The thrill is definitely gone. And for a number of reasons, I’m a much better man for having moved on. But it’s slowly dawning on me that part of the reason this New Year’s Eve killing keeps gnawing at me is that I still have issues with the culture of Bourbon Street.

 

When I was a teenager in the mid-1960s, my buddies and I would venture down to the French Quarter from time to time. We were not welcome there. Even after we became legally old enough to enter some of the strip joints on the street, the barkers at the front doors of these clubs pointedly told us they didn’t want our business.

 

Once, five or six of us systematically walked down the street and stood in front of every club just to see how the doormen would react. I guess we had nothing better to do with our time. The doormen were all white and since several of them cursed us with racial epithets, it didn’t take much for us to figure out that they didn’t want us looking at the near-naked white women dancing behind those doors because we were black.  

 

 

At that age, however, we didn’t care that the women were white. All that mattered to us was that they were naked. Naked Women! They could have been purple and we still would have been gawking at their uncovered breasts. (In fact, that’s one of the reasons we spent so much time in the libraries back then. National Geographic always seemed to have these photo spreads featuring breast-baring women of Africa and the South Pacific. That we learned some geography or cultural anthropology in the process was purely accidental.)

 

Sometimes, we would play games and come up with devious means to see how much of a free peek we could get into the strip joints. We would break out of our group, for instance, and try to blend in singly with a group of white male tourists who would invariably assign one member of their delegation to ask the doorman questions while the others took as long a look as possible at the performance inside. Our mission was to get as much of a view ourselves before the doorman spotted us and had to decide how to block our angle of vision without losing this potential sale.

 

One night a doorman we were pestering opened up his jacket to reveal a pistol stuck in his waist. He threatened to do harm to one of the members of our group. The confrontation quickly escalated. Our buddy lost his cool and became almost uncontrollably incensed. There was some pushing, some cursing and some calls for the police. We pulled our friend away and hightailed it through the crowd and off to a side street before the cops could intervene on the bar’s behalf.

 

These battles and confrontations on Bourbon Street were part of a larger war that was taking place then in the public spaces of New Orleans – and my friends and I were smack dab in the middle of the mess. If it wasn’t Bourbon Street, it was Canal Street and its various stores and shops. Or it was City Park or the playgrounds on Napoleon Avenue. We were intent then on asserting our presence, our right to be in those places and we scuffled from time to time with those whites who sought to prevent us from doing so.

 

We always knew these skirmishes could turn deadly but, unlike today, we never started out thinking that we had to kill anybody or be killed to make our point. We just knew we weren’t going to take any crap from anybody. End of story.

 

Though race relations were slow to change in New Orleans in the 1960s and ‘70s, things did begin to improve considerably on Bourbon Street about 25 years ago. The racial tension was no longer visibly on the surface. More black folks started patronizing the clubs. Other black folks began working as doormen, dancers and musicians. In fact, black folks seem to be doing everything but owning something on Bourbon Street these days, though I can’t say that for certain because I am no authority on the place.

 

 

Nevertheless, despite the occasional negative racial vibes that surface during the Bayou Classic and the Essence Festival, I would have been willing to bet anything that the contest for the peaceful integration of African Americans on Bourbon Street was a closed issue. And then came this killing on New Year’s Eve.

 

Maybe I was wrong to imagine that we had secured anything on Bourbon Street. Maybe that’s the lesson of Levon Jones’s sacrifice. Maybe we still can’t let our guards down, even at play time. For the minute we relax, someone is likely to snatch something of value from us and run off laughing, “Razzoo! Razzoo!”

 


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:43 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:50 AM CDT
Permalink
Saturday, 1 January 2005
Borderline 1.05: The Damnable Deeds of 2004
Topic: Damnable Deeds 2004

The Damnable Deeds of 2004

A partial review of the year’s most despicable developments

By J.B. Borders

In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the worst section of hell is reserved for betrayers, including those who are traitors to their kin. These sinners are very nearly the scummiest of all scum, the lowest of the low, the foulest of the foul.

 

In Dante’s vision of the underworld, traitors to their kin are more damnable than the lustful, the gluttonous, the avaricious, the wrathful and sullen, the heretical, the murderous, the lying, the hypocritical and the thieving. In fact, the only thing worse than betraying your kin, as Dante saw it, was being a traitor to your country or to those who are your guests or benefactors.

 

I disagree but only slightly. The worst sin has to be betraying your family, your blood. I won’t quibble with Dante, however, about his rankings. They have withstood the test of time. Besides, whether a soul is double-doomed or triple-doomed doesn’t make that much difference to me as long as all the damned get what they deserve.

 

For those who may have forgotten, the Inferno is one of the masterpieces of Western European literature. It’s a 14th century epic Italian poem whose narrator takes a 24-hour journey through hell.

 

Warned at the front gate to “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” Dante and his guide, Virgil, the Roman poet who lived in the first century B.C., endure a hideous trek through a nightmarish environment filled with oppressive heat and cold, strong winds, fearful sights, terrifying sounds and rank odors as they descend into the depths of hell. Along the way, they also encounter scores of monsters and more than a hundred different sinners, including important historical figures.

 

Dante catches hell going through hell. It is an exhausting journey emotionally and physically. As literary critic Thomas Bergin has pointed out, the adventures trigger a range of emotions in the traveler: “compassion, pity, scorn, resentment, anger, vindictiveness, courage and even, once in a while, a touch of amusement. And all these emotions,” Bergin adds, “are superimposed on the constants of terror, wonder, and lively curiosity.”

 

Dante’s hell is overflowing with white people – as should be the case – but black folk are virtually nonexistent. In fact, the blackest person in his version of hell is Cleopatra and she’s obviously passing.

 

But if Dante were alive today and took a 24-hour tour of New Orleans’s underbelly, I wonder if he would find it significantly different than his own celebrated journey? The people would be overwhelmingly black, of course, and the weather might not be as bad.  But would the emotional voyage be any different?

 

What would Dante make, for instance, of all those adults who were recently indicted for stealing money from the New Orleans public school system? Surely he would recognize them as the worst kind of traitors to their kin – scoundrels who steal from their own children, who rob their most impoverished young of the chance for a decent life.

 

Could Dante find it within himself to be compassionate and hopeful in the midst of so much that would evoke anger, scorn and a desire for vengeance?

 

I hope so. Because I’m not sure I can. Not after all we’ve had to put up with this year – the continuing futile war in Iraq, the fraudulent-looking presidential election, the mushrooming federal deficit, the senseless murders and shoot-outs in our homes and on our streets, the worsening poverty in communities already over the edge of despair.

 

There is a long-festering rot in our society and in our city that began oozing out in all sorts of unexpected ways this year. Unfortunately, this rot has ensnared too many of the poor, the black and the oppressed in crimes against our own kind.

 

The only way to stop this rot is to eradicate poverty in our city and on our planet. Not simply hide it or disperse it or ignore it or absolve the government of responsibility for helping to end it. But stop it. By all just means necessary.

 

These are the moral imperatives of our time: to end poverty and to restore the black race to a position of dignity in the world. These are the linked cancers, the twin viruses, the two out-of-control diseases we must corral and cure. It’s that cut and dry. If we don’t wipe them out, they will do us in. And it will happen much sooner than even the most pessimistic of us once believed.

 

There is no escape from these obligations – not if you’re black, not if you’re human. The notion of race and black racial inferiority are too deeply inscribed in the world’s psyche to disappear without a radical change in the material conditions in which people of African descent live throughout the world.

 

The education and the enrichment of a small black elite is not enough to stem the devastation, the hell currently being endured by the vast majority of us in the United States and Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

 

Worse, with all that others from outside our race are doing to injure and oppress us, we cannot afford to continue injuring ourselves. We’re just not that strong or resilient.

 

Nor can we continue to pretend that we are not harming ourselves by refusing to acknowledge the misdeeds, publicly or privately. In fact, we have to take just the opposite approach. We have to draw attention to current abuses and we have to declare zero tolerance for blatantly harmful actions committed by black people against black people even as we continue to rail against the atrocities committed against us by non-blacks.

 

So in that spirit, here is my quick list of the most absurd transgressions of the Year of the Costume Malfunction, the Damnable Deeds of 2004.

 

The Eating Our Young Award: the New Orleans Public Schools employees who actually worked in some of the dilapidated facilities that our poorest children are forced to attend but stole much-needed money from the system anyway.

 

The Nice Work If You Can Get Away With It Award: the $504,000 buyout clause that was inserted into the contract of a Regional Transit Authority consultant as a means to dissuade the latest mayoral administration from replacing the firm.

 

The Dumbest Bribe Award: the lawyer who tried to make a habit of collecting money from convicted junkies and drug dealers in exchange for getting them off probation. Didn’t she know that junkies work for the police?

 

The Robbing Hood Tribute: the bank-robbing brothermen who have been waltzing away clean after a series of local heists.

 

The All-City Sexual Predator Award: the black attorney who manhandled another black attorney’s daughter and thought the victim wouldn’t do anything about it.

 

Crime Deserving Wider Condemnation: the violence against black women by their boyfriends and husbands.

 

The Better Luck Next Time Award: the crew of meter maids who sent phony auto repair bills to a major oil company after it admitted selling the public bad gasoline that could potentially damage the gauges in automobiles. Sure the oil companies made record profits again this year but they didn’t get rich by getting stiffed by consumers. The moral is: Don’t hustle a hustler.

 

The All-State Racial Sensitivity Award: the white Houma judge whose Halloween costume consisted on an orange prison jumpsuit, handcuffs, an afro wig and blackface makeup. If he didn’t see anything wrong with it, why should we?

 

The Who Wants to be a Thousandaire Award: City Hall employees and Orleans Parish School Board members.

 

The Please Don’t Endorse Me Award: David Vitter.

 

Happy New Year. Struggle on. We can make a better world in this lifetime.

 


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:47 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 1:32 AM CDT
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