1.29.2009

Stop the Violence
What will it really take?

New Orleans, I know we can stop the violence. We must.

All these street marches and vigils against crime, yard signs and “more cops” talk, is this really going to accomplish the change we seek though?

Please understand, my friends and loved ones have been victims too, but I'm afraid all this rhetoric about “personal responsibility,” and individual moral failure is diverting us from the things we can most effectively change through collective action. I'm going to put it out there first and foremost, the movement against violence has got to be political. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us, the movement has got to aim at the “greatest purveyor of violence,” the state.

The best first step to stop the violence, I believe, would be to stop the state from killing: to hold back the city, state, and federal government, and put an end to the bloody spree of homicides they have committed here, especially since 2005.

Homicide? Yes, let's call it out for what it is – premeditated actions by our elected officials that have led to countless deaths.

The biggest scene of the crime is Charity Hospital. The murder weapon has been Baton Rouge's ability to keep the doors locked and health care in this city virtually paralyzed since Katrina. Our city leaders have been eager accomplices in this heist. State leaders representing LSU, in cahoots with the Mayor and other local power brokers, have been carrying out a figurative stick-up against the federal government.

City and state leaders have literally been sacrificing the lives of New Orleanians in their quest to extort money from the federal government in order to cover the cost of their hospital. By itself Louisiana simply cannot afford the facility and is short by many hundreds of millions.
Louisiana big shots: "Give me you wallet... er, give me $492 million.”

FEMA: “No.”

Were this the more mundane variety of street robbery it would be Louisiana's cue to shoot FEMA about now, grab the loot, and sprint away, across Rampart Street to their hideouts in that big garish City Hall building. Instead, the stakes here are different, and Louisiana's leaders, for all their gangsterish ways can't just pop the federal government. So instead they've grabbed some hostages, a whole city of hostages, and they've been slowly executing them in the countdown to pay-day.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's report “Voices of the Storm: Health Experiences of Low-Income Katrina Survivors” was one of the earliest witness statements against the state's serial killings. According to KFF, “Individuals who have returned to the city face the challenge of obtaining health care in a changed community with a crippled health care system.” The report's key findings are that post-Katrina health care in New Orleans has been woefully inadequate, to the point of sickness and lethality. Although Katrina served as the initial disruption, the failure of the health care system since early 2006 is due mostly to political factors.

Today, 2009, little has changed in New Orleans, and if LSU, Gov. Jindal, and Mayor Nagin get their way nothing will be different until 2012 (the best case scenario) when construction of their dream hospital wraps up in lower-Mid City. That of course requires evicting residents and demolishing their homes to make way for the shiny new medical complex. I believe the police lingo for this is “home invasion robbery.”

Several medical studies have objectively demonstrated the lethal effects of our state and City Hall's behavior. Shocked by the obvious increase in obituaries published in the Times-Picayune, several doctors carried out a statistical analysis of deaths after Katrina, and controlling for other factors concluded that excess mortality rates have increased 47% two years after the storm. That's excess mortality, e.g. preventable and unecessary, and completely due to the political decisions of LSU et al.

Other studies have shown how seniors have borne the greatest burden because of LSU's choices. One report noted a 12.6% morbidity rate increase at New Orleans area managed care organization hospitals for senior citizens. This is compared to a national average of just 3.4%. The mortal consequences of city and state government have most severely affected working class and uninsured New Orleanians. Blacks are disproportionately victimized by the state mobsters. According to Dr. Lynda Burton “Morbidity rates among non-white Orleans residents were the highest when compared to other parishes and there was a significant increase in the prevalence of patients with cardiac diagnoses, congestive heart failure and sleep problems.”

Never mind that alternative plans exist. One coalition of health care advocates, doctors, Mid-City residents, preservationists have shown for over a year now that Big Charity Hospital could be gutted, rebuilt, and turned into a modern facility for hundreds of millions less than LSU's plans. The biggest benefit of this coalition's blueprint is that it would bring health care back to New Orleans much sooner. LSU, however, wants a new building, and a powerful network of business leaders has banked on this plan hoping to turn New Orleans into a biosciences center. The health care industry they envision could make quite a few of them much wealthier, so they press on with their plans, even though the stakes are clearly lethal for this city's working poor and uninsured.

Irregardless of whether the state and city come to their senses and choose the Charity plan over the boondoggle in Mid-City they currently favor, it never had to come to this point. We never should have become collective hostages of LSU's beef with FEMA. In the weeks after Katrina, LSU could have reopened Charity to an operational capacity, no matter what their long-term plans for rebuilding health care were. They could have gotten Charity back up and running. Hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians would have been able to receive treatment, mental health services, and affordable medication. Tens of thousands could have accessed emergency care. Thousands of lives could have been saved. They chose not to, probably because a useful hospital would have proven an obstacle to their real goal all along - a shiney new billion dollar teaching hospital in Mid-City.

All of which brings us back to the issue of violence I posed at the outset: how to stop the epidemic violence in New Orleans?

For every fatal example of armed robbery, a drug deal gone bad, ward beef, depraved greed, hatred, or just plain insanity, there's at least ten more examples of needless deaths due entirely to the action, or inaction of the state to provide for the basic needs and liberties of its citizens.

Moreover, these are not entirely exclusive forms of violence. There's an intimate connection. The government that blatantly denies the value human life through its actions engenders a dog eat dog world among its subjects. The government which sanctions and facilitates violence and exploitation against the poor to benefit the rich (what else do you think the plans for transforming health care in Louisiana are about?) sets a tone and example for all to follow.

I believe that the violence we see on our city's streets is but only the most visible example of a greater, systematic violence which pervades every institution and state office. I also believe this is where we can most effectively take action.

7 comments:

BD said...

For the sake of discussion, your view is that "the state" pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Wendy Byrne?

Darwin BondGraham said...

No BD.

Did you read my post?

Byrne was murdered by several teenage muggers. They're in custody. It's in the Times-Pic, you can read all about it.

Go back and read what I'm saying. I'm pointing out that there's another kind of violence happening to us, one that isn't as visible as the street crime we experience or hear about in the news everyday. But it's just as deadly. It's structural violence perpetrated by the state.

One of the main weapons has been the unnecessary closure of Charity Hospital and the utter lack of effective health care 4 years now after Katrina.

Does this make sense?

Now if you want an example of the state actually killing with a gun, well those exist too. Just look what they did to Ronald Madison. Adolph Grimes is likely just the latest example of a victim of police force (pending investigation by the FBI).

I believe the anti-crime marches that focus on the deeds of private individuals against other private individuals promotes a certain view that violence is mostly an issue of personal responsibility. Well, of course it is. But collectively we can't solve this problem simply by moralizing about it or demanding more cops.

We've got to pursue a political solution to the violence that addresses the larger circumstances and conditions in which individuals choose to commit crime.

BD said...

Violence by the state? Sure. I'm not an idiot. I just object to rationale that human beings are merely the product of what a state does to them. If you really want to see how the boot of the state can be used to reduce crime, you should visit the totalitarian socialist state of Cuba where people really have no free will. I don't think you're going to solve the crime problem by suggesting that personal responsibility isn't an important component to the problem. Everyone suffers an injustice of some kind. That doesn't mean that the logical conclusion is for them to murder other human beings.

Darwin BondGraham said...

BD, again, are you reading what I'm writing?

Where did I say that "human beings are merely the product of what the state does to them"?

I don't think this. I do think that things like inequality and poverty contribute to the limited set of choices some individuals are presented with in our society. When confronted with these barriers and limitations to social mobility, health and freedom, many more individuals will lash out against one another and commit acts of interpersonal violence.

This goes hand and glove with state forms of violence. Want to get rid of one? You must necessarily address the other. Right now the anti-crime campaigns in this city mostly sermonize about the actions of individuals and don't address structural issues like:

Lack of affordable housing.

Lack of health care.

Failing schools.

Enormous inequality between whites and blacks, working class and middle class citizens.

Low wages and shortage of good jobs.

[This list could really go on for pages]

But here's the rub: some people in this city profit off the things I'm listing above. They don't want to give up their power over other human beings, do they? Is this not a form of violence, sanctioned by the state, borne by the poor, the renters, the working class in New Orleans?

You note correctly that "everyone suffers an injustice of some kind." I agree. But then again, we live in a society with severe class and race inequalities, do we not? So to pretend that everyone suffers equally, if that's what you're trying to imply, isn't realistic and helpful at all.

I'm not really following you on the "logical conclusion" point you're making. Who on earth would believe such a ridiculous thing?

lord david said...

While I agree that these issues will have the effect you discuss, it will take generations.

How do plan on dealing wiht the thousands of street punks - and the lives they will take - during that period?

America is still suffering under the Glamor of The Thug, held up as an alternative lifestyle and promoted as an easy road to big bucks.
This has been going on for many years, especially here, before any of those factors of yours came in to play.

When the police flatly refuse to do their jobs, even as to writinf reposts, we will live in a criminal's paradise of non arrest and revolving door prosecution.

Just like all the marchers and arm band wearers, you're missing a serious point. This is not a sociology class. It's my good friends bleeding out onthe side wlak while philosophers talk about higher influence and social morays.

This shit needs to stop NOW.

scamuic said...

There are ways to stop violence that don't involve the police/state violence. Getting to know your neighbors is a good way, so if you're home alone and some asshole busts through your door to jack your WII and your IBOOK and possibly beat the shit out of you, you can call your neighboor (whose probably already heard the disturbance) and have them there in 30 seconds rather than waiting for the most violent part of society (the police, the courts, and the prison industry) to show up, 20 minutes later, guns blazing first, and THEN asking questions, if they EVEN ask questions.

Some of the violence that occurs as a result of gang activity, like stray bullets and senseless killing, can't be avoided. But there are things one can do to reduce the possibility of getting mugged (like walking with friends, or avoiding the inhabitation of gentrification zones, areas where upper class folks are in the current act of dispossessing lower class folks, and areas where lower class gangstas have easy access to wealthy prey).

I feel what Darwin is suggesting in this article is that there is a CULTRE of violence institutionalized and upheld by the state. This is the concrete violence of the abuse of authority by police (and BART) officers who litterally MURDER folks, this is the long, drawn out violence of people's (mostly people of color) lives being wasted away on barely criminal charges in prison, this is the state limiting or excluding folks access to absolutely necessary resources that should be our RIGHT, food, health care, a safe place to live, education, shit like that. And you cant fight culture by putting more cops on the street. If that were true, gang units would have solved the problem of gang culture years ago.

So how do we make this shit stop NOW? "I believe that the violence we see on our city's streets is but only the most visible example of a greater, systematic violence which pervades every institution and state office. I also believe this is where we can most effectively take action." I take this to mean that THE STREETS are where we can most effectively take action, and I agree. And I don't mean no Algiers Point vigilante militia racist bullshit, either. If you wanna cut down on police brutality in your neighborhood, go out and take pictures and video of the cops when you see them beating the shit out of people. Then distribute that shit, take it to the Police Board and hold those pigs accountable.

Communities who come together instead of living isolated, segmented lives, can be very effective for fostering facilities and organizations to give kids inexpensive alternatives to banging. In my opinion, it comes down to EMPOWERMENT, it comes down to us banding together to solve this problem collectively in the neighborhoods and streets where WE LIVE, it comes down to sharing resources and time, to building cultures of resistance to violence, and ultimately I think any culture that resists violence MUST be critical of the systemic violence perpetrated by the many arms of the state. Otherwise, that culture would be upholding the monopoly of violence the state already has, and thus contributing to aforementioned factors (access, dispossession, class-racism, etc) that produce violence in the street.

Lord David said...

Dear Scamuic;

I'm down. Well thought out and well stated. Please contact me through humidcity.com

New Orleans Ciotizens Against Crime needs intelligent and thought provoking inoput like yours.

Empowerment is the key.

Lord David
NOCAC