Monday, September 12, 2022

Cop Season

 Keeping with the wildlife theme, when is it not cop season in the Quarter?  

If the Audubon Society were to produce a field guide to Louisiana law enforcement, it would likely point to the Quarter and vicinity as a prime spot for sightings, a kind of Avery Island of cops. In addition to NOPD officers on foot, on bicycles, on horseback, on Harleys, and in sedans and SUVs, alert visitors can spot khaki-clad deputies from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, members of the Louisiana State Police in their distinctive hats, and representatives of the Federal Protective Service patrolling buildings like the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street. The Orleans Levee District Police and the Harbor Police are often out and about in one of the city’s few above-sea-level districts, and the retro all-caps italic insignia of the City’s Grounds Patrol isn’t an unfamiliar sight. A particularly eagle-eyed observer might see the occasional state fire marshal or deputy court constable—perhaps a bit more scarce after one such official was suspended for allegedly failing to respond to an eyewitness report of an ongoing rape, in a case that made national news—along with private security guards in a variety of uniforms. If there’s a French Quarter problem that can be solved by the application of police, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t already been thoroughly addressed.

That's a new Antigravity article about, not just the unchecked advance of over-policing and surveillance, but specifically about the shamelessness of the local media establishment in whipping up support for this program.  Relentless sensationalist fearmongering over crime by the local press all summer in concert with a lobbying campaign put on by the so-called "NOLA Coalition" of pretty much every business tyrant, real estate vampire, tourism boss and non-profit grifter in town has already generated a political response.

Juiced by an astroturfed stunt ostensibly aimed at recalling the mayor, the combined pressure of the oligarchs aligned in formation has caused the City Council to overturn a partial ban on surveillance technology.  This week the council will follow up on this by spending $700,000 for new cameras and license plate readers in the French Quarter which is already more blanketed by such devices than any other neighborhood in the city.  The crime panic lobby also appears to have spurred the mayor into a desperate proposal to just throw $80 million directly at a police department with no structural purpose besides "retention bonuses."

The pay package – which includes $30,000 bonuses for recruits who make a starting salary of $42,411– represents a massive injection of funding over the next three years into a force with a $215 million annual budget that already dwarfs other city agencies. And while it would be largely covered by federal pandemic relief funds, the package could run smack into competing priorities at the City Council, which must approve the plan. Some council members who have pushed for actions such as adding civilians to the force are skeptical that throwing money at cops will be enough to keep them on the job.

Cantrell is proposing that the city spend its American Rescue Plan allocation, money intended for cities to use in protecting its most vulnerable residents from the ongoing ravages of the pandemic, on perks and cash giveaways to the police instead.  The mayor's plan offers free health care, not to the poor and working class of New Orleans hit hardest by the pandemic, but to the police. The mayor's plan offers student loan relief, not to New Orleanians struggling with debts and rising costs of living in an economy on the verge of recession, but to the police. The mayor's plan offers rental assistance, not to New Orleanians facing evictions and being priced out of the city by tourism and real estate speculation, but to the police.  It's the most obscene and insulting thing imaginable to divert funds intended to help people victimized and immiserated by the pandemic to the police whose very function is to surveil, arrest, and suppress those same victims as deteriorating conditions drive them into further marginalization.  And yet, in this article, Cantrell says she believes this monstrous act to be the "best use" of the one-time COVID relief money.

Just as shocking here we have  this from Cantrell's CAO Gilbert Montano.

Under the city’s plan, all of the proposed $80 million package save $5 million would be covered by American Rescue Plan Act funds, according to Montaño. The federal stimulus act has sent $388 million to the city treasury, although most of that has already been committed to making up for lost tax revenue and other priorities.

“We’re once again looking at this as an investment. Without a safe habitable city, what good is a strong fund balance?" said Montaño.

Recall that this was the very same question displaced New Orleans workers, residents facing eviction, and citizens suffering diminished city services asked of Montaño last year. What good is a strong fund balance when people are left hungry and homeless and precarious by a global disaster? But he refused to budge for any of them opting instead to hold the relief money in reserve to cover imaginary budget deficits his spreadsheets projected five years into the future

Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño on Monday resisted calls from the council to hold mid-year budget hearings on the funds and urged that the vast majority of the money be held back, with the first major round of spending not coming until next year. And even then, Montaño urged council members to take the long view and parcel out spending through 2025, when some projections say New Orleans will finally emerge from its pandemic-induced deficits.
And now here we are a year later, a year poorer, a year more desperate, and we're watching Gilbert Montaño and LaToya Cantrell hand the federal lifeline intended to relieve the poor and desperate over to the police instead.  Ordinarily, you'd think a city council might be eager to step in and oppose such a blatantly evil policy proposal offered up by a politically damaged administration. But they won't.  Which should tell you, among other things, that the organized campaign to subject the mayor to these political pressures is having its intended effect.

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