Thursday, June 29, 2017

Life during crisis time

A couple of weeks ago at her mayoral campaign kickoff event,  LaToya Cantrell addressed the controversial but intriguing notion of electing a police chief. She seemed, at the time, to have given it some thought. Or, at least, she certainly talked as though she had.
One possible way to make the police department more responsive, Cantrell said to applause, would be to change the city charter to elect a police chief independently instead of making him a political appointment by the mayor.

“It’s working in our sister parishes. It’s working in other communities across the country,” Cantrell said. “It’s something we do need to be mindful of, and I want to have that conversation as your mayor.”

The idea is just a topic she wants to explore thus far based on ideas from constituents, and would ultimately require a vote by the public to change the structure of city government, Cantrell said. But it would offer one definite advantage of providing autonomy and consistency in the city’s police force that is insulated from the whims of changing mayoral administrations.

“How can we stabilize public safety in our city that’s not tied to a specific leadership style of a mayor?” Cantrell said in an interview after the event.

Even the most law-abiding of residents feel a lack of trust in the police when they call to report problems and it seems like nothing is done, Cantrell said.

“What I’m hearing is that there will be greater accountability. The people will then hold the chief accountable,” Cantrell said. “What people are feeling right now is that we’re not being very honest about our city in terms of its safety.”
Wednesday morning, though, we read that she's having second thoughts about it now
Cantrell's campaign turned down a request to interview the councilwoman about her idea. Her spokesman, David Winkler-Schmit, put some distance between the proposal and the candidate, saying Cantrell heard the idea from the community.

Asked if she was in favor of it, Winkler-Schmit said, "she did think about it and it's not something she can get behind because we have a crisis."

He added that Cantrell intends to appoint a new police chief if she is elected mayor. The idea of an elected police chief was floated to underscore Cantrell's view that the department needs accountability, he said.
Oh dear, "we have a crisis." All thoughtful discussion must cease until such time as the "crisis" has passed. If we ever determine what the crisis actually is, that is. One supposes they're saying they're concerned about the "crisis" that is our failing criminal justice system.  But, when it comes to police and public safety, policymakers most frequently invoke the word, "crisis," when they mean to short circuit debate over difficult problems and impose authoritarian solutions. It's typically the rhetoric of bullies, autocrats, and, yeah, active political candidates.

One bully, who happens to be John Georges's business partner, was granted space to publish a special guest column in John Georges's newspaper Tuesday. According to that guy, the crisis is that civil rights are not being violated fast enough to keep the "suspicious characters" off of his lawn. Maybe LaToya doesn't understand "crisis" in quite this way. Or maybe she does. Recall LaToya's aggressive statements in favor of Mitch Landrieu's "proactive" French Quarter surveillance scheme. That plan was announced over six months ago. Has the crisis gone on that long?  Maybe it never ends.

That would be convenient for mayoral candidates who don't want to stray too far outside of the conventional narrative.  Nobody wants to buck the paranoid trend during a crisis. Otherwise we might have to talk about the "crisis" facing the city's poorest victims of a criminal justice system this lawsuit claims is operating a "debtors' prison."
The lawsuit says that despite longstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedent that the government cannot imprison people just because they are poor, New Orleans officials routinely use jail and threats of jail to collect court debts from thousands of the city's poorest people. The result is an illegal, unconstitutional and unjust modern debtors' prison, the suit claims.
Among the officials named as defendants in the suit is Judge Harry Cantrell. He seems nice.

Cantrell routinely refuses to set bail below $2,500, regardless of the facts of a case or a defendant’s ability to pay, the suit claims. In most cases, the judge forces defendants to seek the services of a commercial bail bondsman, which in Orleans Parish charge a non-refundable 12-percent or 13-percent fee on the total bond amount.

“We don’t go any lower than $2,500 in this court,” Cantrell told one defendant’s attorney. “This court never goes any lower than $2,500,” he said in another case. “I don’t got any lower than $2,500 on my bonds,” he said in yet another. In one instance, he told a lawyer he was going to set bond at $2,500, regardless of what information the lawyer provided.

The suit provides examples of Cantrell threatening to hold defense attorneys in contempt of court for asking that their clients be released on their own recognizance, rather than on financial conditions. In one case, Cantrell pushes back against an attorney’s request by warning that he’ll revoke a previous release order for another of the attorney’s clients.

“Defense counsel is placed in the impossible position of having to weigh her own personal freedom against her obligation to advocate for her client’s constitutional right to a meaningful bail hearing,” the complaint says. “The threat of jail time in retaliation for an attorney’s basic oral advocacy would have a chilling effect on even the most zealous advocate and constitutes a gross abuse of authority.”
And, yes, that is LaToya's father in law. Over the next few months, we'll hear more about how unfair it would be for voters to take out any distaste they may have for his behavior on her. But, then again, when they're also being told that "there needs to be accountability" in the midst of a crisis, who knows if they'll have time to stop and parse all that out.

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