By Contributor on March 23, 2012

By Jordan Flaherty

When I read in an AP news story that my name was featured in a New York City Police Department report, I should have been outraged.

I had followed revelations of NYPD spying, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they would come to New Orleans to watch me speak at a film festival.

However, I also knew that the NYPD, in their crusade under the guise of safety, had gone whitewater rafting with college students and aggressively monitored and infiltrated mosques and Muslim businesses. They operate in at least nine foreign countries, so why shouldn’t they come to New Orleans, listen to me say a few words at a public event, and write a classified report about it?

Perhaps the only strange thing about the case is that I don’t fit their regular profile. As a white US citizen, I feel my case is a bit of an anomaly for a department that has developed a reputation for targeting immigrants and communities of color. My privilege has given me a certain amount of security and expectation of privacy that many others simply don’t experience.

Recent revelations about NYPD abuses go beyond spying. The notorious stop-and-frisk program, which has led to the criminalization of virtually an entire generation of young men of color in the city, is one example. The New York Civil Liberties Union reported that more than 4 million stops and interrogations from 2004 through 2011 led to no evidence of any wrongdoing – about 90 percent of all stops. Other recent revelations about NYPD abuses have included arrest quotas, sexual assaults, and the harassment and arrest of an officer who had turned whistleblower. So my little brush with violation of privacy was just a small taste of what is possible from a police department that never met a boundary it didn’t want to cross.

The Occupy movement – now just over six months old — first captured mainstream attention when police were filmed pepperspraying young white women on a New York sidewalk. Subsequent instances of police violence, such as the wounding of former Marine Scott Olsen in Oakland and the nonchalant pepperspraying of UC Davis students, brought more public outrage and attention. The response from many in the Black community has been, “Welcome to our world.”

Step by step, we have seen any idea of privacy disappear – everything we do is the business of police. This has always been true for communities of color; now the scope has simply gotten wider. While law enforcement representatives defend the presence of officers filming at every protest around the country as harmless public safety measures, there is no doubt this has had a chilling effect on dissent.

It is not just in New York that there is a divide in how people see — and experience — police. The national outrage over the killing of Trayvon Martin shows that his death — and the continued freedom of his killer — has struck a nerve among Black communities nationwide.

Here in New Orleans, public outrage has been mounting over the abuses carried out by our own city’s police department. More than a dozen officers have faced charges for their involvement in killing unarmed civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, most notoriously in the Danziger Bridge shootings. In that incident, two families fleeing the storm’s devastation were attacked under a hail of police gunfire that left four wounded and two dead, including Ronald Madison, a mentally challenged 40-year-old, and James Brissette, a sixteen-year-old who had been called nerdy and studious by friends.

Our local media, district attorney, and other systems of accountability mostly failed in their oversight. It was not until the US Justice Department became involved in 2009 that the officers faced charges. The next year, a Justice Department investigation of the NOPD found "reasonable cause to believe that patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct and/or violations of federal law occurred in several areas."

In the latest outrage, during the first week of March, two young Black men were killed by New Orleans police in separate incidents. One of the victims, 20-year-old Wendell Allen, was shot in his own home by an officer executing a warrant. Allen was apparently unarmed and only partially dressed. Allen’s killer remains free, as does George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon.

I am disappointed that the NYPD chose to make me a target — however peripheral — of their spying. But I am truly angered by the role that police play in communities of color, at the criminalization of young Black children wearing hooded sweatshirts. These latest revelations have had the effect of renewing my commitment to fighting for a system that knows that true safety and security comes from providing justice, liberation, and human rights for all — not in the harsh and violent acts of law enforcement.

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist based in New Orleans, and the author of Floodlines: Community and Resistance From Katrina to the Jena Six.

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This Halloween movie will scare anyone who cares about news.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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