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(en) US, The Agitator Index* - Inside the NOLA jail By Walidah

Date Thu, 19 Jan 2006 10:41:14 +0200

“It ain’t easy, doing hard time for somebody else’s
crime” – Michael Franti and Spearhead
I wish I had written these journal entries sooner to when I was down
in New Orleans, when everything was so much more crisp and
immediate, instead of the rest of my life filling in around it. But I
definitely needed time to get back into the groove here, reconnect with
folks, catch up on work, just be, and have enough head space to be able
to begin to write and work on the footage in any meaningful kind of way.
The last couple days I was in NOLA a lot of time was spent at the
Greyhound bus station, which is the current jail. Through some
crazy twists, I actually got inside the jail and filmed and got to
interview some of the folks being held there.

When they first started using the Greyhound as the jail, they called it
Angola South (after the infamous Angola Prison. A former
plantation where the majority black prisoners work the fields just like
our enslaved ancestors did, it’s notorious for its brutality), but
now it’s Camp Amtrak (the Greyhound and Amtrak stations are

There were folks down at the jail with Common Ground Collective
working to interview different folks being released, and at the time
the administration told them they were not allowed to interview
people coming out, so they put a call for media to come down. When
I arrived the first day, they were talking to the captain who was
second in command. They were asking him a lot of questions about
the conditions in the prison. He said that they did everything for the
inmates, made them comfortable, fed them, gave them water, that
he didn’t know what else they could do for them, they treated
them so well. One of the legal folks asked if they provided cots or
mattresses for the prisoners to sleep on. He replied that no, they did
not have cots or mattresses, they slept directly on the concrete, but
they were each provided with one blanket. He clearly did not see a
problem with that at all.

He spoke a lot about the looters, and keeping the streets safe for the
people of New Orleans, and that’s all they were trying to do.
When one of the reporters there asked about the use of the term
“looters,” since many people were taking things to survive,
he replied that no one had been arrested for taking survival items,
but only for stealing things like tvs. One of the legal observers then
asked the captain if he was including the over 100 cops who have
been charged with looting as well during the floods. The look that
the captain gave him… I’m just glad I had it on tape.

The captain finally gave permission for media and legal folks to
interview people being released from the jail, but not anyone out on
work crews and not any of the staff on duty (The prison is actually
being run by NY Corrections officers, and I saw several different law
enforcement agencies represented inside).

From the interviews that were done with folks exiting (the legal
people interviewed a number of folks that day and have gone back
several times since then as well), it is clear there is a pattern of
rampant police brutality. Everyone coming out of the prison that we
talked to had been abused in some way, either by the arresting
officers or the guards in the prison. There was film footage taken of
NOLA police beating a 64 year old brother Robert Davis
(the only reason this ever saw the light of day on a network tv station
was because an Associate Press television news producer was also
roughed up by cops when he tried to video tape it). We interviewed
this brotha outside of the jail as he was being released. The pictures
of his injuries don’t show the full extent of them. I walked up (I
had been filming around the block) as they were interviewing him,
and I remember walking up thinking, “What have they done to
this man?!” This elder, this retired school teacher, with his grey
beard and calm hands, had one eye completely swollen shut and
purple. The side of his face was completely puffy, he had stitches
under one eye. They claim he was arrested for being drunk in public
(that is what they claimed afterwards: he says they did not tell him
what he was being arrested for at the time, and that the ticket that
they issued him was completely illegible when it came to the
charges, and it also had no arresting officer’s name, so he
presumably wouldn’t know who his abusers were). He told us,
and told others once they interviewed him that he had not drank in
25 years. His story is just one of dozens and dozens that are not
being addressed by the media, who want to show NOLA police
department, long noted for their corruption and brutality, as
“exhausted” and “beleagured” as the Yahoo story
above shows.

The things folks are being arrested for are crazy. Even though the
cops and media want to portray it publicly that people are being
arrested for looting and violent crimes and they are keeping NOLA
straight, the vast majority of people we talked to were being arrested
for curfew violations and public intoxication. The New Standard
newspaper that was down there got a hold of information that the
prison put out about how many people had been arrested, by what
agency and for what.

The number one thing people were being arrested for was
“possession of stolen property,” at 524 (these numbers were
current as of Oct. 9). Next was looting, at 294. Curfew violation was
third at 123 arrests. The vast majority of the other crimes (including
violent crimes) were all in single or low teens, except for “driving
against traffic,” which had 45 arrests.)

While the vast majority of folks were arrested by New Orleans Police
Department (NOPD) and Jefferson Parish Cops, there were tons of
different federal agencies in the mix:
The Border Patrol 3
the DEA 5
the Department of Correction (which I didn’t even know had the
power to arrest people) had got 3
the Attorney General 2
The US Marshall 8
The Tulane Campus Police 1 (guess it was their big moment)
The National Guard had arrested 6 people

The police had been reported as publicly stating that they had only
arrested around 300 people since Katrina, that was what they were
telling the media. According to the paperwork they use for
themselves, though, their count was 911 on Oct. 9, 2005.

For those who say this isn’t about race, I know what the faces
coming out of that jail looked like, I know what color almost all of
the officers I saw were. In Algiers, we saw three young black men
arrested for curfew violations while a dozen white activists were let
off the hook. People are being arrested for curfew violations in parts
of the city where curfew is no longer in effect.

Even though New Orleans is not technically under martial law, if it
looks like a dog and walks like a dog… There are police and
National Guard everywhere. There was a curfew in effect for almost
all of NOLA for the majority of the time I was there (it has since
been lifted in some places). People were being picked up left and
right on curfew violations. They would be arrested by the police,
taken down to the jail and booked. They would stay there overnight,
and in the morning they would go before a judge. I interviewed
Sandy, who works with Common Ground and Momma D, who
operates out of the 7th ward. He and two others were arrested by
NOLA police for criminal trespassing, when they had explicit
permission to be on the property. He said they were all led into court
together, about 20 of them. The public defender addressed them as a
group, and told them they could plead guilty and receive 40 hours of
community service (cleaning out the old jails and government
buildings, working free for the city doing work that folks should be
being paid to do), or they could plead not guilty and get shipped to
Hunts Prison where they would wait for up to three weeks before the
case went to trial. He said everyone plead guilty, and that the vast
majority of people were there for curfew violation. He said one man
was in there for speeding. Instead of writing him a ticket, he had
been arrested and taken to jail. He plead guilty as well. Sandy
described scenes of brutality, involving people being pepper sprayed
directly in the face for asking questions, and threats made against
other inmates who tried to support a woman who was left hogtied to
a pole for four hours. He said there was no medical attention given to
those who needed it, like his friend Reggae who he was arrested
with. Reggae was beaten by police, kicked repeatedly and told not to
move or they would “blow his fucking brains out.”

The situation with court has since changed slightly. People are now
being released with tickets that describe their charges with a court
date to return. However, as stated above, all of the tickets that the
legal observers saw were completely illegible when it came to the
charges, and most of the people said the cops hadn’t told them
what they were being arrested for at the time of the arrest. Again,
most of them did not have arresting officers’ names either, that
spot was just left blank.

The second day I got to go into the actual prison and film with my
camera. It was crazy how it happened. There is an incredible
journalist, Jessica Azulay from the New Standard in Syracuse, New
York www.newstandardnews.net, and she got the in. She made
contact with the captain who spoke to us, and got a tour of the
prison individually from him, and I went back with her the second
day as her cameraperson (he had told her she should come back and
film whenever she wanted!) He wasn’t there that day but the
former warden of Angola was and took us on a guided tour of the

The holding area for the prisoners is where the buses depoted,
outside. The inside terminal is for the guards and police, and their
office computer systems. The district attorney has set up shop in the
gift shop. So the prisoners are held outside, under the awning where
the buses load in at. They put up fencing around it to close it off, and
put in a porta potty. The cells are large and hold about 20 prisoners
in the largest one. The roof is the awning, the floor is concrete, there
are no walls, so that in the heat, when the Louisiana sun is beating
down, it fries the concrete. The tempature drops like crazy at night. I
was sleeping outside in a sleeping bag and tent and I was still cold.
The prisoners were sleeping outside on concrete with one blanket a
piece, if they are lucky.

The major showed us around and described the set up. At the time,
the people who were going to be released that day had already been
let out, so there were less people in the jail. There were two women
housed at one row of the fenced cages separate from each other, and
then a group of about 8 men all in one big cage at the other end.
Both of the women and the majority of the men were black As we
were walking past then, they started yelling things out to us at the
camera. Jessica asked if we could stop and talk to them and the
major said, “Go ahead, but I’m not responsible for what they

These men said that none of them had received their phone call,
which is their right, either to a family member or a lawyer. One of
the men, Isaiah Kelly who spoke the most with us, said he had two
children who had no idea where he was, as he was picked up the
night before and it was already the middle of the day the next day.
He had come to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding, working
on construction. He said his co worker had hit him and Isaiah called
the police, but it was Isaiah they arrested. They confirmed they all
slept on the concrete, and that they were each issued one blanket,
but Isaiah said that they had run out by the time he arrived and he
had to sleep on the concrete with nothing (it had been bitterly cold
that night). He said they had been given MREs (military emergency
rations: meals ready to eat) as their only food. He said that one man
had been arrested on his front porch for curfew, the police told him
that he had to be inside his house to not be violating curfew (which
at that time was 8 p.m.).

At that point, the major moved us on, and then we did a short
interview with him where he said that if these men really wanted to
come to NOLA and help rebuild, then they would stay out of trouble,
stay out of the bars, and keep their noses clean, but because of
“gourd heads” like them, they had to build jails to hold them.
He lamented the state of the prison, “ Just look what we’re
forced to work with here,” and stated how they were keeping the
streets safe. He said that they were keeping the looters and the
violent criminals off the street. (He had previously said they had
everything from people arrested for curfew to people arrested for first
degree murder come through the jail. According to the statistics they
have, there has not been a single arrest for first degree murder post
Katrina, and only one arrest for second degree murder. He also later
added that the majority of people being arrested now was for curfew).

When asked about whether or not pepper spray was used to subdue
prisoners, he said that he had “randomly” had to use pepper
spray, to keep the prisoners in line. In fact, when we walked away
from the cell, the prisoners were still yelling things out to us, and the
major bellowed back to the guards nearby, “Hey, see if you
can’t quiet him down!” The guards then yelled for the
prisoners to shut the hell up, in a very menacing tone.

We were then escorted out of the jail. In my work going into prisons,
it is always a wrenching experience to leave, but this so much more
so, because not only did there not seem to be any of the even
inadequate safeguards that other prisons have (that clearly don’t
work at all given the high rate of abuse and neglect in amerika’s
prisons), but no attention by the media being paid to what is going
on in there. Clearly people are not receiving their rights, due process
is being violated over and over again, brutality is the means by which
control is maintained, people are being railroaded into pleading guilty
to charges to be used for free labor. Poor people, mostly poor black
people, were and are being re-enslaved right before our eyes. NOLA
is a giant plantation, and you better believe the capitalist overseers
are capitalizing on the flooding to its fullest extent.

I called and talked to Jessica a couple of days ago to check in with
her (everyone should check out her story at
it is really amazing, and covers the information I’m providing as
well, and her other reports from NOLA are really informative and
powerful), and she told me she had been to court to see how it went
(I wanted so badly to stay one extra day so I could go to court, which
was already over by the time we found out when and where it was).
She said it was exactly like what everyone said, with the public
defender addressing 20 folks like it was a stadium crowd and
refusing to give “individual” consultations with them, with a
judge who steamed rolled over people, the vast majority of people
pleading guilty for misdemeanors rather than spend 21 days awaiting
their day in court at Hunts Prison. Jessica said one man had been
visibly beaten by the cops. His eye was swollen and he had stitches
under it. She said the judge even acknowledged from the bench that
he had been beaten by police officers. This man, whose crime was
his van breaking down and he and his brothers being caught out
after curfew because they couldn’t get their vehicle started,
plead guilty and was sentenced to his 40 hours of community
service. However, after the case was already closed, one of the jail
medics spoke up and said that he thought this man had a fractured
cheekbone, which is not something they were equipped to deal with
in the makeshift medical center, and that he would need more
medical attention. The judge said that if this man did not receive
medical attention, it would leave the police department open to a
lawsuit. So even though this man had already plead guilty and been
convicted, the judge sent him to Hunts Prison anyway, because the
judge said there he could receive the medical attention he needed.
Because the cops beat his ass. And as Jessica pointed out, it’s
certainly not the job of the judge to cover the police
department’s fuck ups and protect them from a lawsuit.

But again that is just one of the dozens of stories that are not being
told about the police state, the courts, the prison system in the wake
of a catastrophe. It is certainly not anything new. As one brotha
down there Kobie said, “There was a state of emergency going
on here way before the hurricane ever hit.” But it has certainly
been exacerbated and removed even the pretense of objectivity or
accountability. These people, who have lost everything, their homes,
their loved ones, their jobs, their city, are now not only being
neglected, they are being criminalized and incarcerated. One
wonders if their real crime was survival. If so, it seems the criminal
justice system is working overtime to rectify that.

* Bring The Rukus is an antiauthotitarian anticapitalist
direct action revolutionary initiative.

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