Black and Blue, Pt. 2

At the end of Part 1, I mentioned Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, who had recently been killed by police in Tulsa and Charlotte. I am sorry to exploit their sad deaths, but the videos and sound recordings of these two police attacks strongly spotlight a consistent theme that could be the portal into this plague of violence.

When Michael Brown was shot down in Ferguson two years ago, beginning the current wave of protest against police violence, failure to comply with police commands was frequently asserted as a just cause for killing. “Compliance” filled print and cyberspace as both the recommended procedure for the prudent citizen to survive contact with our police, while even minor deviation from following shouted commands in tense circumstances was cited as justification for police violence. That was the part that knocked me out. Apparently large numbers of respectable citizens were comfortable with what they acknowledged to be armed, uniformed mercenaries roaming our streets, who might shoot people for not complying with their screamed instructions, and walk free from a homicide without even charge using a justification that nobody but a cop could get away with.

Americans boast about the special degree of freedom they think they have, but found this okay. Maybe they feel comfortable with the quotation from that great public intellectual Rudy Giuliani, “Freedom is about authority.” Probably like Mayor Nosferatu himself, they translate that into a badge, a gun and violent confrontation. Ugly ideas, more suitable for a military occupation than a civil society, but largely due to BLM waking us up, there are some signs of improvement. Not actually in the killing fields yet. The spree goes on. The Washington Post reports 715 killed by police so far in 2016, of whom 194 are African American. This is up 13 since Blue on Black pt. 1 was published, September 21, so about 1.3 per day.

Compliance was a fine statement of the authoritarian/paternalistic view of society, an atavistic stance that says, essentially, power is right because it is power. We need more power over us. That gives many Republicans and the Trumps of our political asylum the opportunity to offer us their overlordship.

Black men were recommended to comply with police at all times, usually in condescending tones by white people. They have a point, of course. Compliance can have a percentage advantage as a near-term survival strategy. But as some jurists have recently said, police killings are now like lynching. Accepting the conditions that enable it is like accepting slavery.

Police and their authoritarian supporters would blandly say, the victim did not comply with police instructions, so we killed him. Besides, he was a criminal who had committed first degree shoplifting and once peed in an alley.

It is hardly credible that anyone who felt himself at risk of lethal police action would support this madness. We are in that Jane Elliott realm where people acknowledge that they know what is going on; they do not want it nor would they accept it for themselves; but they are happy enough for others to be the victims of the bad idea they support.

Increasingly we are seeing that compliance has a more sinister significance. It is the common theme linking the incidents of police unnecessarily shooting down citizens, generally in completely unnecessary escalations, sometimes in completely unnecessary confrontations. Compliance is a trigger implanted in the brains of police engaged in confrontation with civilians.

A sad paradigm case is Officer Betty Shelby killing Terence Crutcher in Tulsa. They are both victims of this nightmarish policy, which has now even elicited open condemnation from the United Nations, usually hesitant to criticize its most powerful and fractious member.

In recently released audio recording we hear Ms Shelby shouting in a tense, anxious tone, “He won’t show his hands! He won’t show his hands!” We can hear a whole drama of information in that. She will have issued an instruction, drawn her gun and dropped into aggressive shooting crouch, instantly turning the instruction from any chance it had of functioning as eye contact communication between two humans into a death threat. She has drawn an ineradicable line of deadly enemy status between Crutcher and herself. Its psychological impact is probably stronger on Ms Shelby than on Crutcher. He was wandering back toward his car. Maybe he thought he was supposed to spread his legs and lean against the car.

Or maybe, even worse, Terence Crutcher was just resigned. Perhaps he knew what happens when white cops pull guns on black men.

In her cry into the radio, we can hear that Betty Shelby is responding to a training instruction that must be implanted like a latent virus in the minds of thousands of police. “Show your hands!” Ms Shelby may be talking to her command in a kind of despair. If she thinks he is not complying, her trained response would be to shoot. Imagine that she can see the horror of that, but feels that she can’t find the choice to stand down, to de-escalate, without permission..

When a cop shouts “Show your hands” in a confrontation, he has already declared the other person a deadly threat. Evidence? Frequently none. He or she just has that “feeling.” Later on, they say, “I was afraid for my life.” When Darren Wilson said that in the Michael Brown investigation, I did not believe him. Now I do. He had been taught and trained that non-compliance with his commands by anybody endangered his life. That mad misreasoning makes some police on some forces dangers to all our lives.

The compliance trigger can quickly turn an inquiry into a showdown. The recording suggests that that is what happened to Betty Shelby.The status is no longer citizen and citizen. With police in this mode, it won’t matter that the citizen is unarmed; the cop has entered fight or flight mode, and the police must dominate. Must win. The other option is disorder.

I question whether in that moment, in that narrow focus, the notion of “unarmed” has any relevance to the police officer. The concepts of threat to his or her life and compliance have merged. Non-compliance equals deadly threat.

The authoritarian tendency views this setup as a social law as ineluctable as physics.

But we also know, and we can hear it in Betty Shelby’s voice, that many police are almost always ready to be afraid for their lives, not because they are cowardly or more anxious than anybody else, but because they are told to be. They are trained to it and reminded of it continually by their superior officers and trainers.

And I am ready to take a shot that I can’t prove: thousands of Black men know this pattern as well as they know anything in our society. As soon as they see and hear it, their instinct tells them they are targets. Subsequent behavior comes from a set of defense mechanisms. Raise your hands, “assume the position,” freeze, duck, run, hide. They know with resignation that none is reliable. When an American cop has decided to cross that thin line from a simple stop to an armed confrontation, to narrow the focus of exchange from communication to the muzzle of a gun, the rest of your life may be unlikely and reasoned thought may stop. We don’t get to discuss those last thoughts with murder victims, so we won’t ever know.

Before I have to hear the “ you just hate the police” refrain again, we also know that thousands of police do not want to be like this, but in confrontation, some of them may not be able to overcome it. The video of Officer Eric Casebolt going berserk on the pool party kids shows other cops trying to talk him down. Watch the video of the shooting of Paul O’Neal in Chicago: one cop draws and fires at the rear of the car. Hearing shots, others draw their guns. One of the officers reaches over to the first one to lower his arm. The cops around are caught in conflict between the situation turned violent, their training, their team spirit, their perception and their instincts. There is no clear commander who can say like General Honoré, “Lower those weapons!” Once the “comply or die” pin has been pulled, it is pretty much over.

Notice that I am saying American cop. Police talking to you does not go down like this in European countries that I know. Probably not in any of them. Even in Belfast in the 1980s, with a virtual civil war on in Northern Ireland and London, with the Royal Ulster Constabulary a militarized, heavily armed force, bombing, shooting and shooting back an almost daily occurrence, incidents like these causing death of the innocent by police or army nervousness were exceedingly rare. Members of the RUC killed and got killed, but they knew who they were shooting at. In post-enlightenment civilization, the police killing spree of unarmed civilians in random stops is a particularly American crime, officially protected – at least until now.

The Massachusetts High Court’s ruling that flight is not sufficient evidence to presume guilt to justify shooting could be the beginning of a turn toward civilization.

But maybe not. Chris Hedges, who is pessimistic about the survival chances of anything approaching a free society or a return of democracy under corporate capitalism, says that police violence has bigger objectives than racism. Hedges says that corporate capitalism having destroyed the traditional social stabilizers – reliable employment, decent wages, interesting consumerism, labor unions – cohesion has been fractured like a car window, and force is being set up to maintain order. The essential function of police will be to suppress dissent. Against the background of this idea, police violence against Black men and women dying now could function as field practice for when they have to turn their guns and urban tanks against the rebellion of the victims of corporate robbery. The 99%, in Occupy idiom.

We are tamed by foolishness: it’s the Mexicans; it’s the immigrants; it’s the Muslims; it’s them; it’s the lizard aliens. It’s the idiots that make trade deals, the fools that try to deal honorably with Iran. Iran should be treated, they believe, with the same disrespect that America treats some Arab countries (even if that is what generates the terrorism that allows them to churn the weapons economy and attack . . . and so on, as Vonnegut would say.)

Some correctly point out: police violence does not stop at black men. They shoot white people, too. Not at the same per capita rate and maybe they do not register on the compliance screen through the same filter, but they do. The problem is not that police do not kill white guys, it is that white people have not perceived police violence as a threat. Many even support it. They do not think it is about them. “All Lives Matter” has turned into a white supremacist group. Two years ago in Ferguson, when BLM’s profile rose above the parapet, it looked like the forces of Law and Order, the code phrase handed down from Nixon to Trump and even his lackey Giuliani, might crush it. But there is a decent chance it isn’t going that way.

A reminder of the scale of the problem. A database called the Government Terrorism Database says the number of Americans killed by acts that would call terrorism from 2004 to 2013, ten years, is 80. (I don’t know whether they are counting Orlando. I would take that out.) If you go back farther and include 9/11, you get 3.066. So the Twin Towers plus 80.

The best count of the police death toll, according to FBI Director James Comey – who is not fond of that fact and has now moved to compel police forces to report every police shooting – are the Guardian newspapers: 2015 – 1,146; 2016 to date, 814. Comey is telling us that the numbers are under-reported, but to be conservative, to play it very safe, let’s say 10,000 over the ten years.

The ratio for the period is 10,000: 80, or if you want to shift the time frame to include the Twin Towers, you get 10,000 v. 3,000.

To compare to another country, Germany: 15 in the 2010/2011 period, so 75 estimated for ten years. Population 80.7m v. US 330m, so at the most conservative possible estimate, US police kill civilians at a rate over 32.5 times higher. Probably at least 40 times.

Some of the election bombast may be entertaining. Some of us laugh at the BS, some are excited by the fear they are mongering. But if you are among those still hoping to stay tuned to reality, give ISIS a few minutes’ break in the red herring box. You are many, many times more likely to be killed or brutalized by our own cops than by by an Al Qaeda or ISIS oppo.

Anybody reading this is infinitely more likely to be a victim of police brutality than a beneficiary of it. Do what you can to help cure this thing. It’s not hopeless. Police violence is not a law of physics; it is a product of human decisions. Change the program, you can change the outcome. Some police chiefs, influential officials in the justice departments and some enlightened judges are now openly down with ending this product of ignorance. Let’s support them.

Despite the reflex whining of some chiefs, and backlash states like North Carolina digging their heels in to let police continue to hide, we will value police and benefit from them much more when they join the people. When “protect and serve” supersedes “comply.”


Next up is a percolating story about the ethics case against John Deveney in his role as an HDLC Commissioner; and the HDLC, while we are there; and how Deveney got himself into this. What Chris Costello, former president and FMIA and neighborhood tyrant manqué, had to do with that, and is the current incarnation of FMIA dealing successfully with the Costello backwash.
It is part legal case about conduct in public office, and part domestic drama and personal tragedy. What is right when love and rules collide? I am going to have to reach deep to search for my inner Truman Capote.

© NOLAscape October 2016

Coming Attractions

More coming soon on the disastrous Costello period of Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association and some of its lingering effects. We will attempt to see into the drama underlying the battles and the bluster. Testimony is emerging from the ongoing litigation that shows not just the grey lines linking the ferocious attack against the Elisio Lofts proposal for 501 Elysian, and the ethics issue fallout, but the personal ambition and pain that drove the battle, in three dimensions and full color.

Marigny is a fine neighborhood that could be great. There are some hints that the FMIA is trying to shake itself free of the old ghosts and rejoin the city.

One consequence of the Elisio campaign:

“City conveyance records show that an entity known as 501EFA Hotel, headed by Amit Patel, purchased the 36,200-square-foot property at 501 Elysian Fields Ave. for $3.5 million from Mercato Elisio, which lists local real estate developer Sean Cummings as its manager. The transaction was recorded on September 12.

The property is bounded by Elysian Fields Avenue, Chartres, Marigny and Decatur Streets and is one block from Frenchmen Street’s numerous bars and entertainment venues. Conveyance records also indicate that a $2.8 million mortgage was taken out on the property through First NBC Bank.

Pinu Patel of Lake Charles-based Patel Construction, a partner in 501EFA Hotel, could not be reached for comment. His company specializes in hotel construction.”

Marigny warehouse sells for $3.5M to hotel developers

FMIA is generally Residentialist, so possibly disappointed to get a tourist hotel instead of apartments. But maybe not.

Elysian Fields Avenue has been a missed opportunity. If its zoning allowed construction to appropriate height, in scale for a wide boulevard, and allowed cafés and restaurants with outside tables, it could be a pedestrian friendly, walkable, cheerful environment, like its namesake in Paris. Now, even around Washington Square, walking on Elysian feels like trying to take a relaxing stroll on an airport runway. A lively hotel might set a new tone and inspire the city to come up with a real vision, with a variable skyline, and a mix of hotels, apartments, shops, music and refreshments. Elysian is a boulevard, and should be a better version of Canal Street, dominated by hotels and second rate shopping. More outside, more street life, like the original Champs-Elysèes.



New police crimes: have you seen this one?

Apparently trying to achieve a new low in institutional stupidity, the police chief of Hagerstown told reporters resignedly, “Every time we use a level of force, regardless whether we are justified or not, we lose.” He defended his officers abhorrent behavior, saying the girl had become “assaultive.” Five feet, 15 and 100 lb facing about 500 cumulative pounds of cop, and even given Maryland policing’s record of discrimination, reconfirmed in this incident, they couldn’t think of a better way to deal with a scared girl after an accident than handcuffing and Mace. It should either amaze or sicken all of us, depending on how many times we have watched it, that American municipal cops can’t grasp the concept of patience.

I just watched a British crime show. A cop, a young woman, had been murdered. The sergeant, also a woman, was sending her officers out to go door to door for any information. Her last instruction was, “Do not forget to treat people with the compassion and respect they deserve.”

Chief Brito and his street warriors prefer fine-tuning their level of force. Some of our most acute social and economic analysts say, expect it to continue. Police violence is an arm of the corporate statE. TBD in Blue and Black, pt. 2.


Coming soon:

Stolen Bikes NOLA started life as a semi-formed idea and a Facebook page to post bike thefts. People who had been robbed could post a picture of their bike and theft details. Bike enthusiasts could look for and identify them around the city. It may sound like a forlorn effort, but in fact one of the founders, Alex Fleming, said that soon after launch, they received 50 postings in less than two days.

Over the following year, they recovered 600 stolen bicycles, and located the owners of 500 of them. Organization was rough and ready, improvisational. Sometimes when the rider had bought the bike, apparently innocently, from a thief, Alex or his associate Dean xxx reimbursed him out of their own pockets, hoping to get it back one day.

As it grew and outstripped their organizational experience, another guy, one Brian Opert, surfaced from the SBN Facebook community. He just happened to have a dormant non-profit company, claimed management expertise and an ability to sort everything out. Then he brought in a sidekick or two. Everybody was a board director. Soon, as far as we can see, he and his little group were pushing the founders around, criticizing everything, taking over. Eventually, having kept himself as real owner of the company and sole signer on its bank account, he kicked the founders off and sequestered all the group’s money, around $4,000..

So either we are looking at a bad dude and his gang, or I have the wrong side of a short stick. Opert and one of his associates have made their case in online writing, in Opert’s case long, repetitive, either angry or feigning anger. My first reaction to Opert’s attack was that it is an example of the mirroring technique we see in the Trump campaign, that psychologists tell us is characteristic of narcissism.

Meanwhile, Stolen Bikes NOLA is reorganizing. They discovered a need and a service they can do for New Orleans cyclists. It should be up and running again soon.

We are going to try to record an audio interview with Alex – the first ever NOLAscape embedded audio.


Debate day. How ugly is it going to be?  For the election, I like to watch the odds on the big British betting companies. Of course, they are affected by the pool, the trend of beliefs of the bettors, who aren’t here. But also in the equation is the factor that the companies are not in business to lose. Even with a bit of leveling, and her odds to win double digits about doubled, Clinton is at 4/7, Trump 13/8.  I am not very reliable on this arithmetic, but I think that translates to something like 70% probability of a Clinton win according to the international gambling industry, down from about 80% a few weeks ago.

Beats the hell out of me how anybody could vote for Trump for anything but to get off the stage, shut up, and let’s see the trial when they charge his ass for – just some examples – bribing Pam Bondi when she was Attorney General of Florida, serial illegal misuse of tax exempt foundation funds, and illegal backdoor financing from his father when he needed to keep a dead casino looking alive while he prepared its bankruptcy. He would probably skate, though. His business skill seems to be borderline larceny, with maybe some Teflon in his spray tan.

© NOLAscape September 2016

Black and Blue, pt. 1

A few weeks ago The Lens published a piece by a guy named Austen Ward, headlined to be about Black Lives Matter. I thought it was a pretty nasty piece of work; I drafted a rebuttal (for NOLAscape, not The Lens). After a number of edits to calm it down, it still sounded too angry, so I parked it.

I went back to it after a few weeks on the back burner. It doesn’t make me less angry.

Have a read of it. Ward’s central hypothesis sometimes insinuates, sometimes just says that the Black “community” is responsible for police killing unarmed people because of the higher recorded crime rate of African Americans compared to White Americans.

Let’s trash it. It will be fun.

First disclaimer: I am not pretending to be a spokesman for BLM or any African American community or individual. I am just banging out reactions to what I see as a strand in post-Ferguson discourse that is worse than just wrong. Not only bad thinking, it is arrogant, pompous and laced with smarmy entitlement. If you can read to the end of Ward’s sermon, you will see that he tells all African Americans, all 38 million of them, what they have to do to sort out their lives and neighborhoods to be happy citizens and not get shot. I am going to try to avoid anything that dumb.

To give The Lens a bit of slack, they also published a useful rebuttal by a contributor named Michelle Regan Wedberg. Ms Wedberg’s critique was sound, but did not give Ward’s immoral muddle all the smacking down it deserves. My turn.

“The disproportionate rate at which black Americans die in encounters with police reflects the disproportionate rate at which black Americans are involved in crime. Especially homicide.”

This idea is not novel. In the days following Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown, when the country was again waking up to the plague of police violence, it was the dominant White conservative reaction: African Americans (note that they are not individuals any more in this mindset; there is an imaginary African American hive of like-minded people) commit proportionally more crimes, therefore they must be submissive to police, compliant at all times, and expect to get shot a little more than Whites, who own the country. Basically an update of lower your eyes and step off the curb when a white woman passes.

My reaction to Ward’s equation was, I don’t care if the “disproportionate rate” reflects the structure of matter at the center of the black hole at the core of the Milky Way – we have to find a way to make the police stop it. It is ugly, wrong, inexcusable. (And I don’t mean cops killing just Black people. But we’ll come to that.)

If you actually feel yourself being seduced by this twisted, false equation, watch any of the still multiplying videos of police shooting unarmed Black people, or just terrorizing, abusing or beating them up. There are probably fewer of those but the arrest of Sandra Bland, the cops terrorizing teenagers at a pool party and the State Police attack on Shamarr Allen in Holy Cross in 2014 should do for starters. (Colonel Edmonson, State Police chief, said that was justified. NOLAscape says: if there were any justice here, the cop who instigated the assault might be getting out soon.) Look for the effect of statistical thinking. See if you can see it behind the cloud of adrenaline, fear, and the centuries old racism whose cold shadow is still a curse on this country, now sneaking out of the closet again, as the Trump party opens the coffins.

Ward tries to convey a balanced, humanitarian spin, but it reads like a smug sermon, as bad as all the others of this ilk: a queasy defense of collective responsibility and collective punishment. Some African Americans are criminals. Some use guns, live in violent environments and engage in criminal businesses. So it is understandable that Baton Rouge cops attacked, subdued and then shot Alton Sterling for the wicked business of selling CDs at a shop. Some other people of the same “race” as Sterling, somewhere else at some other time might have committed some unspecified crime, so we better shoot this one before he kills us.

Why might he kill us? Because we are attacking and humiliating him, as so many before him, and around it goes. You can lay that template over a lot of the killings of unarmed Black people over the past several years.

Racial fear and police violence are not any less disgraceful crimes because you try to drain the blood out by using words devoid of affect like “disproportionate rate.”

Turn it around. Imagine an African American columnist explains a Black cop’s adrenaline driven shooting an unarmed White guy, saying he, the cop, grew up bullied and humiliated by White cops, his family harassed by White debt collectors and a White landlord, attended schools with metal detectors, hall cops, locker checks and all the distrust and pre-criminalization built into schools in minority neighborhoods, exploited in his teenage jobs by unscrupulous white corporate employers – effectively surrounded by and programmed to fear and expect racial crime. Statistically, all the harm, threat and humiliation in his life had come from white cops, teachers, bosses and politicians. So it is understandable that this one time, it broke through his practiced restraint. Sad, but understandable. The grand jury will understand, right?

The fact that Ward’s piece is not seen as morally equivalent to this scenario should trigger outrage, but it won’t. The standards applied to Whites and Blacks are not the same. Drawing an equivalence shocks people. Ward’s statement will get some of our prominent citizens, apparently including the editors at The Lens, solemnly nodding. Mine will make me new enemies that I don’t need.

Ward uses some tricks to sell his idea: Montrell Jackson’s widow speaking at his funeral. Some statistics about how many Black people are murdered in America, and of course mostly by other African Americans. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes – everywhere. Everywhere that white people look for ways to blame Black men for police crime.

He turns that into a notion of “community,” which basically means that people in Black neighborhoods have to stop distrusting police and rat out criminal elements in their neighborhoods. He does not mention that informing is often a quick ticket to an early grave.

“Coming together will require work to improve law-enforcement practices, and that certainly includes rooting out racist officers and sensitizing others to reasons why police are often distrusted within communities of color.”

The “we” that he wants to come together doesn’t have to root out racist cops. Making sure that cops do the right job right is the job of police departments. They get paid for it, but only some of them are doing it. Controlling lethality is already part of the basic responsibility of any management structure that sends armed troops out among civilians. If they have to “root out” bad or racist cops, if they don’t already know who they are, they are not even close to doing their job.

What other industry to which lives are entrusted could hide behind such a notion? Would you fly with an airline that said, “We have some bad pilots; we are trying to root them out.” Eat at a restaurant of a group that said. “Most of our chefs only use fresh, safe shrimp. Some . . . well, we are trying to root them out.” But thousands of police chiefs let dangerous people out on our streets with deadly weapons, and our Wards think that is something we might look into soon.

Ward draws an imaginary line – very imaginary — from police violence to BLM to crime committed by African Americans, which The Lens’s headline distilled to the the tiresome saw of Black-on-Black Crime, a condescending line of bogus reasoning that must sound sane to some in the fact- and reason-free alt-world of current political discourse. He even has a go at a fuzzy criminological notion called the Ferguson effect, which goes something like protest against police violence and institutional injustice gets people excited, so they commit more crimes. The right thing to do, according to this theory, in response to police violence is to remain passive, because if you react as if you were a citizen in a democracy, the cops might get even worse. A cartoon of tinpot tyranny.

Ward sums up, in a strained academic style:

“ . . . abated levels of black criminality will reduce the incidence of inappropriate action taken against black people by cops — men and women who are as cognizant of black violence as are members of the communities it is destroying.”

English translation: if some Black people commit crimes at a statistically higher rate than Whites or the all-races-and-nationalities average, then they have to expect cops to keep shooting more of them.

Inappropriate action. That must mean when after all efforts, they cannot find a way to deny that the victim was unarmed, or was running away, or the police had just pulled the trigger on reflex, like Tamir Rice, with the whole thing on video. (Have you noticed Boston PD’s answer to that problem? Don’t video.)

Appropriate action: Has anyone recently seen BLM protesting a killing which would be called appropriate in American law (leaving aside the rest of post-Enlightenment civilization, which generally has a higher standard)? I can’t think of one. The inappropriate is BLM’s point.

That great American philosopher Rudy Giuliani once said – no, actually, he always says, in different ways – “Freedom is about authority.” George Lakoff references a sign on a military base: “Obedience is Freedom!” (The Political Mind, p60) Arbeit macht frei! Paternalistic authoritarianism, the meta-political background, is not limited to neo-Nazi Neanderthalers like we see on YouTube of Trump rallies, looking for a government that beats up other people and confirms their tribal identity. It also has a branch among people that think they are being just, helpful and realistic.

In this Wardian mindcloud police action, legal or not, is a given, a fact, a natural event that you have to accept. If Black Americans commit more crimes, well, then, the cops are going to kill more of them. People actually committing a crime or threatening life? Not really. Just any Black guy that gets on the wrong side of the blue line.

Collective responsibility and collective punishment under hierarchical authoritarianism. The essence of the poisonous core of Rudy Giuliani, sadly being let out of the bottle by the horror show of the Trump and other nationalist/nativist campaigns in other countries.

Police violence is not a “given.” It is not physics. It did not come down Mt Sinai or the Sermon on the Mount. It is the result of choice, organization, bad habit and bad management. It can be changed by clear thinking and decisive action.


It ain’t over. Cops are still killing people. Just in the past few days, we have two more filmed police murders, Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte and Terence Crutcher near Tuisa. Police chiefs are going to send their troops out in black riot gear to oppose the angry populace, appear on TV with political pablum calling for calm, put the killer on “administrative leave,” deal with the intransigent justification of everything by the union, aware all the time, if they have the power of critical self-awareness, that they enable badly trained people, armed and dangerous, to walk and ride among us.

Part 2 soon.

© NOLAscape September 2016

National Anthems

Owen Courreges’ column in last Monday’s Uptown Messenger took a surprising turn into the orthodoxy of American patriotism that I would not have expected of him. As the piece itself and the comments rolled along, it opened up some interesting paths of thought. Let’s wander around.

His topic is Colin Kaepernick not standing up for the Star Spangled Banner. Strange, isn’t it, a presidential campaign on, featuring probably the worst candidate with the worst associates running for a party in terrible shape, in the flickering shadow of the wings of chickens coming home to roost, recommending the most poisonous, divisive policies in the most vulgar way that anyone has ever seen; ISIS is being rolled back, but half of the people who claim to care won’t look at that, because they have to say Obama is a patsy. Republicans are telling their fans that ISIS, which does not even have an airplane, is their greatest threat, while North Korea, with a huge, disciplined army conducts a nuclear weapon test. Distracted by the Middle East and the endless muttering about terrorism – yet we have been transfixed by a football player who sat down through a song.

Owen explores an innocuous line – an empty line, really – about First Amendment rights. Is sitting out a song protected speech? Owen dismisses it, too, but some Americans must have been discussing his being able to do it without facing prison as if it were a special, proprietary, Shining City thing. People in other countries without a First Amendment can sit through songs.

Owen dismisses the First Amendment issue with a great synesthesia sentence, the rhetorical high point of the piece: “. . . I never heard hide nor hair of the notion that anybody wanted to force Kaepernick to stand steadfast as the Star Spangled Banner played. Everyone seemed to recognize that he had the right to express himself. Rather, he needed to deal with the consequences thereof.” I am still listening for a hide and a hair. When Owen isn’t looking (or listening) I might steal that line.

“Certainly, objecting to the way minorities are treated in America is mainstream enough. Showing contempt for America itself, however, is not. Kaepernick committed the grievous error of failing to show reverence for our country in spite of its faults. Although that’s his right, it also puts him at loggerheads with the overwhelming majority of his fellow citizens.”

Mainstream enough? Seriously? Does Owen rate protest on how smoothly the gesture slots into the Six O’Clock News? By whether it is mild enough to survive scrutiny for heterodox implications by Andrea Mitchell? Do we have to watch Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer to make sure a protest is in their comfort zones, so it can be stamped “mainstream”?

“At loggerheads with the overwhelming majority of his fellow citizens.” I thought the idea of protest was to wake people up, not help them stay comfortably seated in the Lazy Boy watching “reality” TV.

Then, bringing it back to home ground, Owen gets in character again, referring to a bad, unconstitutional law passed by City Council and signed by Landrieu in October 2011, that made it illegal to “loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.” Influential members of that council were Jacqueline Brechtel Clarkson – remember her? Such fun – Kristin Giselson Palmer and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Just the length and rhythm of their names should send a warning. That council had a tendency to loony legislating, but they should not be let off the hook for shaky personalities. They all have legal advisors. I’m sure they had been told that this kind of junk law could not survive a challenge by any lawyer who could stay awake and standing, but they pass them anyway, I guess to appease some scratchy constituents and hope the backlash comes after they leave office.

Courrèges is in his wheelhouse here, tough and clear: “This ordinance, New Orleans Municipal Code Article 54-419(c)(4), was the most blatant piece of unconstitutional dreck that I have, frankly, ever had the displeasure of seeing. There was absolutely no question that it violated the First Amendment.”

Looping back to football songs, though:

“There are certainly acceptable ways to protest, but showing contempt for America and its symbols is objectionable to most Americans. Kaepernick could have protested by organizing, showing up at protests, giving speeches, writing opinion columns, etc. The idea that he just had to protest in a way that strongly implied disrespect for our country is ridiculous. It wasn’t necessary and has been counterproductive.”

“Ridiculous”? Really? Have you seen anything get so much attention for one guy sitting still for about two minutes? I don’t think Kaepernick implied disrespect. He declared it, loud and clear, and gave his reasons. Is Owen’s suggested way better? Show “respect” on the field where you are famous and all cameras are on you, and then turn up at other events to lash out at what he sees – institutionally encouraged or protected racism leading to an annual officially sanctioned killing spree. If that is really what he sees, I would suggest, saying so in the strongest way he can is being a responsible citizen.

What Kaepernick is protesting is adrenaline-fueled murder by trigger-happy cops who are then protected by their union, their departments, and a complicit, dysfunctional injustice system which really should shock all Americans awake just from watching its operations and results for ten minutes. We are talking about an annual murder spree by police of upwards of 1,200 people – more than three a day, with a disproportional number of victims being African American. That compares to numbers that never even reach double digits in Western Europe, and are sometimes zero.

An inordinate amount of the victims are African American. Always have been. And now an increasing number of people are saying, “Enough!” So I was pretty surprised that Owen could talk about “acceptable” ways to protest, against the background of an officially permitted, barbaric murder campaign going on for decades, or centuries if you include the lynching by hanging period, with a body count of thousands.

If you do not think this actually happens, or if you think three extra-judicial murders per day covered for by police departments and municipal governments are okay, then you can object to Kaepernick’s gesture. If you think it does happen, you should applaud it and join him, because what he protests is infinitely more shameful and disrespecting to this country than not showing the expected reverence for a song and a patriotic wave of emotion which to me, frankly, looks manipulated, overcooked and dangerous.

Comply! Not only with shouted police instructions while they throw you to the ground or hold a gun to your head, but to the imperative of a song to strike a religious pose and gaze at the holy flag with patriotic sentiment and a softening of the jaw and face muscles to generate a patriotic expression..

I said I support Kaepernick’s action completely, not because of his rights – because he is right!

With all due respect to the First Amendment, freedom to speak up is not unique to the US. The patriot virus is less virulent in most Western European countries, so messing with an anthem might be less effective than it is here. Our European co-citizens of post-Enlightenemnt culture speak up all the time. They protest, write, broadcast, demonstrate and obstruct traffic. They even face tough police with Plexiglas shields and the whole militarized nine yards (the French Gendarmes are a division of the military, but let’s not foray too far into the long grass).

The exchanges in Comments started leading down some interesting side tracks. Let’s explore a couple.

I wrote, “Why is a football game an appropriate venue for a display of nationalistic ritual? (We’re supposed to say “patriotic” when it is about the USA. “Nationalist” is the same thing for other countries.) Partly, we know, because the Pentagon pays the NFL. The Star Spangled Banner is emotionally linked to this country’s militarism and imperialism. It would be better if all the players ignored it and started the game.

Owen replied: “I disagree; First of all, patriotism and nationalism have entirely different connotations. The former refers to pride in and respect for one’s country, while the latter tends to refer to arrogance and belligerence. Standing for the national anthem at major sporting event is a long-standing tradition associated with patriotism, and the refusal to stand is generally regarded as a show of contempt for one’s country.”

In another paragraph, Owen contrasted patriotic sentiment v. nationalist fervor.

Those are not definitions. Those are the the connotations Americans trowel onto the words when feeling patriotic. In my reading of real usage, patriotic is us; nationalistic is them. Sentiment is us; fervor is them. When Karadjic or Ratko Mladic attacked and killed Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina, it was Serbian nationalistic fervor. When US drones kill Muslims in Iraq or Pakistan, patriots know it is for our national security.

Anglo-America has been plagued by puritanical religion throughout it’s history, from the Pilgrims to Ted Cruz and the Evangelical vote. It simmers and bubbles up even here, a city that could historically be free of the puritans’ choke hold. But the American invasion not only raises house prices; it brings us Jim Kelly and Kristin Palmer getting City Council to help them shut down strip clubs. It gets the neighborhood associations and whatever you call the dire tendency toward boring respectability to close down all the bars in Tremé, and try to kettle all the music into a few weekend bash zones. The Cultural Economy lives on, while creative culture leaves town.

That streak of pietism affects how we handle our relationship to the State. It makes us more vulnerable to the kind of mental tyranny the Constitution writers were trying to put behind them. That’s why they banned kings and state religion.

But there are always strange consequences. Separation of Church and State plus entrepreneurialism led to a wildly competitive market in religions, where any guy with a good voice and a black suit could open a church in a tent and if he was an inspiring preacher, could rise in a hierarchy or make millions in his own megachurch.

I wonder if the Constitution team anticipated our religion of the state, which has replaced the state religion. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence are its holy texts, the flag its cross or crescent or star, the Star Spangled Banner its main hymn, Pledge Alliance the credo. It has positions, as religions do: sit, stand, kneel. The Sunday patriots have hand over heart, with a sentimental gaze. We say ‘First Amendment” like one candidate said “Second Corinthians.”

So Owen got me thinking: why don’t we have a free market in patriotism, too? Such a medieval orthodoxy – stand and sing with your hand just right, or else. Poor Gabby Douglas, shredded by the alt-media and social trip, for standing but not putting her hand right. And apparently not handling it so well. As a young gymnast not a seasoned, wealthy NFL guy, she doesn’t seem to have Kaepernick’s battle arsenal.

We could change up anthems. La Marseillaise is a really good one, best national anthem for wanting to pick up a gun and head for the battlefield that I know. The German one, Das Deutschlandslied, has a great pedigree as well – music by Franz Josef Haydn. It picked up a bad rep in the Nazi years, but Germany has been reinstated, and they win a lot of football.

Britain has been having an anthem conniption as well. Along with Brexit, the once-United Kingdom has been choking on undigested nationalisms. Britain is one country in international affairs, and has been since the Act of Union of 1707, but inside the country, engaged in its real passion – football – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are rabidly separate. So what do you play before the game? God Save the Queen is the official anthem. You can see here that the North London fans don’t manage much reverence for the Queen, but they do for Arsenal. I don’t think one of the players sitting down would even make the papers in this crowd. Or you might like the Sex Pistols politically incorrect version. I don’t know if Owen would let us get away with an American one of that here.

Still, it is tough for those national teams within the UK to run a good vicious rivalry under the same song, too monarchist for a lot of the fans at that. Members of Parliament and the tabloids got into it. Some proposed Jerusalem , a class act with lyrics by William Blake. Some preferred Land of Hope and Glory, With music by Edward Elgar, it’s a pretty class act, too; but like the others, I can’t see what it has to do with football.

For a rousing martial patriotic (or is it nationalistic?) emotion, the Foreign Legion marching song Le Boudin should be a contender. Sung at a pretty fast tempo contrasting with the Legion’s ominously slow marching pace, it all seems very menacing, especially with those black bayonets on the ends of their machine guns.

The Marine Hymn is a worthy rival, perhaps especially for halftime. Imagine that button popping on the last syllable of “to the shores of Tripoli.”

The most appropriate anthem might be Sixteen Tons: “Another day older and deeper in debt . . . I owe my soul to the company store.” Only problem, once that was like blues about a hard lot; now in parts of the country, it might be aspirational.

The dominant underlying or meta-political conflict visible for the last 35 years or so is the Sumo match between trans-national corporations and national governments. This is not an Alex Jones conspiracy theory. It is mainstream now, and as we have seen, Owen Courrèges approves mainstream. When Bernie Sanders talks about billionaires, corporations and bad trade deals, that is what he means: how can the transnational corporations be made to contribute to the countries and people they act in, not just pump money out of them? Trump talks about it sometimes, not in a coherent way – just a shiny thing he drops on the table with the other stuff to get the children excited. Popular economists Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Reich use it as background for explaining extreme inequality. It is the background mechanism of the income and wealth gap that has been widening noticeably for about the same amount of time. It is the mechanism that leads to the Hunger Games And Elysium in popular fiction.

It is where the big treaties come from, like TPP. It is now fashionable for candidates to say they are not going to sign it. Nativist nationalists like Trump and progressives alike can try to look all-American by opposing it, because they say it gives advantages to some other countries. I suggest this: these treaties are only secondarily about countries’ relationships with each other. They are peace treaties between the nation-states and the corporations on who gets what. Who gets what power over whom, and how do they divvy up the money. Toyota, Hyundai, Goldman Sachs, Chase, Google, Apple – the many resource and component suppliers, huge companies with names we don’t know, shipping, containers and airlines, international banks – they source parts from their own subsidiaries and others, who may be located anywhere, manufacture a subassembly or a finished product or supply services in several places that need to be transferred to other subsidiaries or departments which may be anywhere for selling to customers everywhere. National nit-picking is inefficient, in their way. A strong player, maybe a Bernie Sanders if he had won, might have the power to tell them, You want this? We want 400 new car and truck, airplane and tech factories in the US and Puerto Rico employing two million people, with contracted obligation to keep them running while your company lives. Yeah, at American wages you probably want a lot of them programming the robots instead of turning the socket wrench. That’s not a deal Trump would get. He would be fighting the wrong battle, and the transnational maestros would think, correctly, that he is a clown.

If you just put up tariff barriers and resist the movement of history, like Trump, the dope fronting the wreck of the Repubs, now says he is going to do, you just get left behind. They will wait for us to re-emerge from medievalism.

Even with the nativist backlashes and retro vision rising everywhere, the overriding trend is towards an increasingly global outlook. The Internet, increasingly the Blockchain technology (I am just learning what it is; borders won’t bother it) air travel, the explosion of trade-focused hotels, Asia becoming a dominant market as well as cheap labor pool, and also (have to shift a grammar gear here) it should be increasingly obvious that our intense focus on ISIS, Iraq and Syria, and relative ignorance of and low popular value put on Asia, South America and the rest of the world is either deception or distraction – check with your local conspiracy theorist for which word best applies.

So I say (and NOLAscape agrees with me) we need less national piety and more Sex Pistols. Less patriotic emotion and more critical thinking. Less of the hand-over-heart and more looking at what really happens in the lives of some citizens growing up in this country.

Let’s have a big round of applause for Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter, and Gabby Douglas. More choice and less solemnity in nationalistic ritual, and a lighter touch on anthems, because they are used as emotional propaganda-mail to fortify us against the other, and how to create new others.

It is a coincidence that I finished this article on an anniversary of 9/11. I guess some won’t like that. But if you haven’t, I suggest reading Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s article on Kaepernick’s gesture which he contrasts with Sam Jenkins’ gesture of ritual orthodoxy at the Olympics, and wisely says: both are patriotic.

© NOLAscape September 2016

FMIA Directors Meeting


imageNOLAscape has stuff bursting to get out, but first I have to do this. An obligation of honor. For my soul, ragged, unbelieved-in thing that it is.

I have been following a planned residential building development in the Marigny. Ten apartments and maybe a coffee house or casual restaurant in the strangely anachronous warehouse and industrial blocks of Marigny. A friend designed it. I was enormously impressed with the building sketches. That’s the main thing. I have become something of a downriver architecture nerd, so I want to help promote a good building.

I met the property owners and builders – great guys. Men of dignity who run a fine and conscientious business. I feel positive about the project and agreed to help. Getting new construction to realization in New Orleans is a process that requires Zen peace of mind and saintly patience. The alphabet is overwhelming: HDLC, ARC, NPP, CPC and City Council – and that is fore approvals, before the final, detailed plans. Then you have the engineers, building codes, storm water, soil cores – it’s the Twelve Tasks plus.,

Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, the neighborhood association that NOLAscape has criticized – excoriated might be more accurate – more harshly than any except perhaps VCPORA in its most dishonest, anti-democratic period, is significant in the approval process.

Last night, the designer and the property owners were scheduled to speak to the FMIA board meeting. Not even the General in the big church hall. Just directors around the table in a private house. I wanted to observe, but – talk about the lions’ den!

I took a deep breath. A lot of deep breaths. I don’t have any of those California drugs with names full of Zs and Xs that help with this kind of thing. A tot of Bourbon for a bit of the Dutch and off I go, half expecting to get kicked out, summarily, unceremoniously. ” . . . And stay out!” would be the last thing I heard before the paramedics wheeled me into the ER.

Nothing of it! The board members, even the few who knew who I was, were polite, and formally welcoming. Ms Lisa Suarez, whom I am often called upon to give a very hard time, was polite and gracious.

I was impressed.

I appreciate that way of relating. Down here in my residential patch, we get people falling out over a building. “I will never speak to her again!”

I say: “Come on. Really? A person is still a person. Would you really blow away a friendship over a disagreement about someone else’s building? Fight hard, kick ass – then go and share a drink. Shake hands. Don’t internalize everything.”

I didn’t think FMIA would do that.

But they did. Respect. I was surprised. I acknowledge the grace and dignity.

Thank you, FMIA.

But we are not going soft! New stuff is leaking out about the nightmarish, almost criminal Costello/Deveney period and its ongoing aftermath. John Deveney, ex-FMIA stalwart, up to his gotchkas in multidirectional conflict of interest charges, is inexplicably still holding on to his HDLC seat. Strange that he hasn’t the grace to resign. He runs a communication company, but doesn’t get it.

NOLAscape will not be giving them a break. We need the bad actors off the stage.

But FMIA directors yesterday – top marks.

© NOLAscape September 2016

The Tangled Web, Four – Conclusion


I’m getting a theory about why the built-environment reactionaries of downtown went loopy about Elisio. I can feel it beaming down from the clouds just after the rain passes, up there to the left at about ten o’clock.

Not about Costello and Deveney. We don’t know for sure what happened there, but lust for petty power, a few strands of narcissism, the joy of manipulation – things like that came into it.

I mean the ordinary folk, the me-too residents who followed the objection parade but not sure why.

Height is the fallback, the easy one. “High-rise,” and that’s all you have to say. You can cite a binary rule. No nuance required. Then join the war cry; campaign camaraderie, pat each other on the back; soon you’re back home, feeling good, watching Fox News.

The cloudbeam is telling me it is rhythm. Architecture is often compared to music – rhythm, harmony, texture. The New Orleans conservative neighborhoodies are used to the simple symmetries of the old house styles. The doubles that form most of their environment have a simple basic shape, then symmetrical placement of everything – two doors, equidistant from the edges; windows, stairs, porch rails, brackets and ornaments – a simple, soothing symmetry. They remind me of early chamber music, with a harpsichord. What Jonathan calls “powdered wig music.” (He is immersed in it, among other traditions, so has earned the right to poke some fun at it.)

Look at Elisio. It is challenging to find the balances. It is more like Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy. Textures, levels, volumes, reflections – they vary across the surface in unexpected ways. Maybe unease with Elisio bubbles up from the same place that likes repetitive, predictable tourist music on Frenchmen Street. That prefers the “cultural economy” over creativity, exploration and art. That finds it more comfortable to turn away from a design and into a political fight, simplifying the challenge from the mental and aesthetic to the tribal.

It could explain why StudioWTA and its clients took a more conservative visual design approach on the Latrobe buildings and Stateside. Solving the technical challenges of building on Press Street was already incompatible with the fundamentalists’ beliefs. Don’t scare the horses.

Take another look, Marignards. See if there is something in it.


With some luck, Mercato Elisio may grind some money out of Deveney, who either was happy to or was browbeaten into using the conflict to diminish the integrity of the HDLC, inappropriately influencing its decisions, and build this somewhere else. Maybe a different site on Elysian. Maybe the same site. I like an Ornette Coleman building. I am going to check out the rent.


Marigny has two Neighborhood Associations, FMIA and One Marigny. One Marigny is unfortunately not yet large or active enough to offset FMIA on its own, and FMIA, despite its occasional boast about its longevity and maturity, is unfortunately stuck in the evolutionary stage of a residentialist vigilante group, not (at least yet) a real neighborhood association. It should be. Marigny is potentially a great neighborhood, much better and fresher than it is now, that deserves better than a sociopathic club claiming to be “the neighborhood.”

A proto-fascist presidential candidate recently told an all-white audience in the suburbs of Milwaukee that we need more police – not better policing, just more blue boots on the ground – in poor neighborhoods – very thin code for Black and Latino, for more suppression of dissent, more repression, more police violence and killing. Now egged on by Bannon of Breitbart, a nativist online comic for wingnuts, the same orange-toned ape-like creature is calling for “extreme vetting,” including of ideology. In other words, thought police. In the thankfully unlikely possibility that this buffoon of a Mussolini impersonator wins national office, we could look forward to reinstatement of the sickening loyalty oaths and ideological probes of the Red Scare McCarthy period.

Let’s not forget that Trump’s lawyer and introducer into Manhattan society through one of its seamier sewers and close friend for years was McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn (not that he believed in it, or in anything). Cohn became a ferocious New York lawyer and power broker, was eventually disbarred, and after achieving some prominence for anti-gay statements in the dark ages, died of AIDS in 1986. The New York Times article a couple of months ago is vivid on what kind of scumbags Cohn was and Trump is.

But even under that orange threat level and West Louisiana catastrophes, we have to reserve some attention for little local tyrannies, for that is where it starts. Or ends up – hard to say.

So, now change your lens to its macro setting (the tulip symbol, for extreme close-up, like pictures of little bugs). To give it a chance of rescue from its own demons and the mounting mood of fascism in the dark corners of our country, I am going to throw FMIA a lifeline.

They are looking for new directors. I am going to volunteer. It’s a sacrifice, but they need saving. Their reputation is in the gutter, Their decision processes are . . . bewildered. Their interactions with the city are confrontational and incoherent, more likely to generate stifled laughter than collaboration. They launch lawsuits without thinking it through, looking lost and desperate as the City Attorney shreds their case.

I can save them. I can help cure their internal affliction and repair their reputation. I can help them pick the right fights. I can teach them to negotiate. I can help them face real problems, not get Increasingly desperate about fantasies. If they are smart, they will accept my offer. I can lead them out of the wilderness Costello and Deveney led them into.

Only I can do this. Only I can save them.

Believe me.



© NOLscape August 2016

The Tangled Web, Chapter Three


Eva Marie Campos saw the letter signed “Gretchen Bomboy” attached to Tangled Web, Chapter One, and to use the technical legal term, it pissed her off. She wrote a rebuttal. Let’s get straight to it:


Dear Robert,

Your blog post is as usual interesting and informative; I however took great interest in the letter you posted from Miss Bomboy dated May 6, 2011. In spite of the fact that it is said to have been delivered to all FMIA members I do not recall ever having seen it. I am sending you this letter to refute the allegations made against me. Thank you in advance for listening to my side of this awful story.

Item 1
The Board has concluded its investigation into the accusation that led to Eva Campos receiving a citation for Disturbing the Peace, and a second citation for Trespassing; and Chris Costello receiving a citation for Disturbing the Peace. There are NO assault charges on the police report, contrary to Eva Campos’s allegations. FMIA Board representatives spoke with both parties, each of whom have been placed on a Leave of Absence, until such time as their personal issues are resolved.”

The board never held an investigation and contrary to what Miss Bomboy wrote I have never stated that the police charged Costello with assault. However I have always SAID that he assaulted me, I said so the day it happened, and many times since then up to and including in my deposition given to Costello’s and Deveney’s attorney in July 2016. Costello was never placed on a leave of absence. That was merely a statement to appease the public. He was too important to the activity of the organization for them to take such action. They were afraid of what he would do with the power he wielded like a cudgel. They didn’t want to cross him, and they never did for fear of what he would do to each of them.

There are two issues with the events surrounding those few months, one was the assault and the other was the information I was making public. The board members did not have to believe that Costello put his hands on me to know for a fact that the information I was disclosing was true. Their reason for not holding him accountable for his actions is that they too were culpable in the illegal and unethical activity being brought to light.

Item 2:
The Board voted unanimously to remove Eva Campos from her position as FMIA Treasurer for failure to perform fiduciary responsibilities. Among them, failure to file our 2009 taxes in a timely manner.The Board then elected Ken Caron to assume the office of Treasurer immediately. Since 4/8/11 we have made multiple demands for the return of the FMIA laptop computer, passwords, software and all property of the FMIA in Eva Campos’s possession. Eva has refused thus far. An attorney has reviewed the final demand letter with a deadline of Friday (4/29/11) by 1:46 p.m. for the return of the nonprofit’s property and confidential information. Eva Campos has not complied, and we have reported the computer to the NOPD as stolen property. The FMIA will use all appropriate measures to regain the property.

The FMIA Board has arranged to have an outside certified financial audit. This can be performed with or without the said computer,still in Eva Campos’s possession, however,it will be considerably more costly. We plan to share the findings with all when we have them available and for transparency will post them on our Web site.”

While the board may have in fact voted unanimously to remove me as treasurer the one and only reason for this was my public revelations about their notorious activities. In regards to the 2009 taxes this was a matter that had been discussed between Costello and me for months.

The storyline is as follows. I became the treasurer when the previous treasurer Brian Frye stood up to Costello in the June 2009 board meeting to state that he would not be signing any more checks to Deveney Communications. It was a vicious verbal altercation where at one point Frye sneered, I’m not giving any more money to your boyfriend. And so as we all know once you stand up to Costello you have to go, Frye was out and I was the treasurer.

It is at this point that I would like to acknowledge that it is unfair to be speaking of Mr. Frye without giving him a chance to tell the story in his own voice and I would like nothing more than for him to be required to speak out about those days. I believe Mr. Frye to be an intelligent, well educated person and during his time in New Orleans he was employed as an engineer at NASA. But for some reason he didn’t perform any bookkeeping duties, when I got the QuickBooks file it was a complete mess, I have gone on about this at length in other places and will try to keep it short here but it was impossible for me to begin working on the data as it was given to me. In all the years of data entry into this file a bank reconciliation had never been performed. Never! Not one bank rec! For about three or four years!!

To begin my work I chose to go back to the beginning of the year 2009, get a good end of year balance from the bank and create all the entries, mainly deposits since there were not a lot of payables. Doing this work took a lot of time and energy, remember I was volunteering and it also took a lot of input from Costello. I was continually asking him questions about every transaction and the activities that occurred during the first half of 2009, specifically the Cold Storage protest that I worked on in all the other capacities but not bookkeeping. This is what gave me the insight and knowledge of how corrupt he was regarding the monetary operations of the FMIA in general and the Cold Storage protest specifically.

So when it came time to submit 2009 taxes I told Costello that I didn’t want to submit them in my name, I suggested that he should put his name on the form. Well he quickly told me that wasn’t going to happen; we discussed getting Frye to put his name on it, nothing doing. I did some research and discovered that the IRS does not require a return every year from non-profits that have less than – I think the cut off was $50,000 – cash on hand. So in reality there was a lot of discussion about this issue, Costello was well aware of and involved in the discussion of the ongoing problem of whose name would be submitted with the form, and in the end I thought the issue was resolved with the decision that there would be no submission for 2009.

And then in 2011 there was Lost Love Lounge. When Costello and company began harassing the owners of that business one of the owners, Geoffery Douville, began to ask for the FMIA’s financial information. And it was then when Costello said the 2009 tax return must be filled out. At that point in time I did not say no to him, I filled it out and put my name on it, only to be accused by Costello himself a few months later of being delinquent with the 2009 tax return and the board using that as the public reason to vote me out as treasurer.

Regarding the laptop computer: I did hold onto it, but not to be an asshole or to stop the everyday activities of the FMIA, I was in fact insisting on having an audit performed before I turned it over, and I felt that holding on to the laptop was the only advantage I had. Although Miss Bomboy mentions an audit in her letter like it is their idea it was solely mine and it was the last thing they wanted to have done. She also states that the result of the audit will be made public. It was not. I believe it was because as I was told confidentially that my work passed the audit “with flying colors”.

Furthermore I doubt Miss Bomboy or Mr. Caron were aware of this, neither one knew how to perform database accounting, but there was a copy of the database in the office. Every month when I completed the entries for the previous month and performed the bank reconciliation I printed out the financial reports and made a copy of the database file on CD. These were placed in a file folder labelled with the month and year and stored in the file cabinet. The new treasurer could have easily grabbed the latest copy and installed it on any computer with QuickBooks – Deveney Communications had many spare laptops in their office – and continued working on FMIA data entry with no problem.

Item 3:
Last week Eva Campos hijacked our nonprofit communications and social media resources including our Facebook page and Twitter account. We are taking steps to regain and secure our online property and resources as well.”

All FMIA social media were created by me and I was the administrator of the accounts, including the Cold Storage Facebook page which is still out there with me as the administrator. It was in fact Miss Bomboy’s cronies who hijacked the FMIA Facebook page when someone I know posted a video of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to the page.

On Sept 16, 2013 I had a conversation with Miles Swanson about the FMIA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. He indicated that he was told both were in my name and would I turn them over to him. I informed him that the Facebook page was long ago taken down by Bomboy’s goons then I went to check out Twitter. And yes the FMIA Twitter account was still there, dormant, with my information on it. I changed it all to his information and had an email sent to him to change the password.

Item 4:
Some of the incorrect information revolves around the FMIA’s successful campaign to Stop Cold Storage. The Board voted to hire Deveney Communication, expending both Association funds and funds collected specifically for this campaign. For transparency, the Board voted to have all funds flow through the Association. The Board is confident that the campaign was responsibly and appropriately managed without exception as the board reviewed and voted on each expenditure. Because of Chris Costello’s leadership this campaign was highly successful against all odds. Eva Campos was not on the FMIA board at the time and has no personal knowledge of the facts surrounding these actions, therefore her remarks are purely speculative and vindictive.”

Obviously the last sentence is a complete and utter bald faced lie. Of course I was not only on the board, I worked on the Cold Storage protest. The board never voted to hire Deveney Communication and they never voted about funds flowing anywhere. Since I had to create all of the entries for that time period in 2009 (see item 2) I can tell you just how it went. Donations were deposited into the FMIA account; all expenses were paid for by Deveney Communications in spite of the fact that the FMIA had the funds to cover these expenses, even without the incoming donations. Volunteers, including myself did all the work for this protest. Costello worked on this protest while his time was being paid for by Deveney Communications. Checks were issued to Deveney Communications in various amounts through the first few months, this action was terminated and reassessed after the dustup with Mr. Frye standing up and declaring he wasn’t signing any more checks for Deveney Communications (see item 2).

In conclusion I thank you again for taking the time to consider the other side of the story. A story that I wish had been resolved all those years ago, and now hope will be resolved in 2016. I will restate that this issue with a power mad sociopath terrorizing the Faubourg Marigny could have been nipped in the bud in 2009 had the FMIA board not been terrified of him, had done their duty and removed him from his self-appointed throne. The blood is on their hands.


Eva Campos


What do you think? I love the raw, factual, no-prisoners flavor of it.

I have met Eva Marie Campos. She is straightforward, sincere and disgusted by the character and behavior of people like Costello, Deveney and their followers in the FMIA. She is at least a bit embarrassed that she was ever a member, so it took some courage for her to go public.

It will be interesting to watch the Mercato Elisio v. Deveney lawsuit play out, but again, that is a private drama. In the public arena, Deveney and by implication, the HDLC that let it slide have shown us an ethical blind spot that needs fixing. Their deliberations and decisions are suspect until they clean that up.

© NOLAscape August 2016

The Tangled Web, Chapter Two

Marigny is under ATTACK!”

The current president of the FMIA, who seems to favor the hysterical Costello approach to neighborhoodism, launches that like a municipal missile from her Burgundy Street bunker.

Another FMIAer, Deborah Oppenheim, circulated in August 2013:

“Dear Friends

Once again the Marigny is under attack and this time by a project called the Elisio Lofts at 501 Elysian Fields. The project threatens our historic zoning limits.”

FMIA is not the accused in Mercato Elisio’s case. They just provide the environment of embattled paranoia that either peels away its activists’ judgment and ethics, or provides shelter for the kind of instinctive house protectionist who is challenged in those areas anyway.


Commissioner John Deveney of the HDLC is the defendant. The accused. Some of our questions are:

  • Did he violate the municipal code of ethics when Elisio Lofts was before his commissions
  • And has he since compounded the alleged violation by contradictory responses which could not all be true, to the point where his position is untenable? Frequently said in politics: the cover-up can be worse than the crime.
  • These groups are free to believe their residentialist-defense stories inside their club, or even preach them to others; but can it be right that someone willing to discard truth and morality in their service can hold a public office?

Commissioner Deveney and his company, Deveney Communications, worked on the campaign against Elisio Lofts.

Mr Deveney has both denied and affirmed that, so let’s look at evidence. If one set of his statements was true, the other must either have been a deliberate lie to win an undeserved award for aiding a non-profit, or a false statement in a sworn deposition.


In ordinary circumstances, we would probably think that if FMIA or any club wanted to assemble in a church basement and pretend the Visigoths are at the gates with smelly bearskin cloaks and battle axes, and their members are the doughty Spartan defenders and our only hope – let them do it. Let everybody have his hobby. People get together and tell themselves they are upholding a noble, imaginary tradition that confederate flags don’t represent white supremacy. (Or do.) Others study witchcraft or William Faulkner or play with model trains.

But what happens when the boundaries dissolve between a residentialists’ defense club and a private company whose products are persuasion and influence, a municipal Commission required by law to meet ethical standards, and the people employed in two or three of these?

Eva Campos served as treasurer of the FMIA and did its accounts from September 2009 to May 2011. She also worked for Deveney Communications in accounting from May 2010 through April 2011.

We met Eva in the letter, supposedly from Gretchen Bomboy of FMIA, said to have been written by Deveney and Costello. The letter not only denies any wrongdoing by Deveney, Costello or the FMIA. It paints them as saintly beings, too virtuous for the wretched rest of us; and Eva as the mother of lies, the Jezebel obscuring the inner light of Marigny’s heroes. Tomorrow we will publish Eva’s reaction to that letter. Today we will look at some other documents of the case.

Who comes out ahead in the lawsuit against Deveney is dependent on court rules of evidence, lawyers’ skills, money and risk and more. It is a private battle with public implications. In the public space what we have to decide is, has this guy blotted his copybook enough that his fitness to be a public official, even a volunteer one, is too questionable to continue.


Following her battles with Costello over erratic record keeping, transactions she considered questionable, and the FMIA in and about the Cold Storage campaign, Eva Campos signed a sworn affidavit on May 28th 2014.

After 15 numbered paragraphs naming and defining the entities (FMIA, Deveney Communications, the HDLC) and the people (herself, Costello, Deveney) Ms Campos says:

16. Because of these close relationships by and among Chris Costello, John Deveney, Deveney Communications, the FMIA, and John Deveney the HDLC Commissioner, the lines between them became non-existent.

17. For example, during my time with the FMIA, this neighborhood association worked exclusively out of the offices of Deveney Communications, at the direction of Chris Costello.

28. The Cold Storage Campaign serves as an example of the conflicts of interest (both personal and financial) that exist by and among John Deveney, his company Deveney Communications, the FMIA and Deveney’s life partner and employee, Chris Costello.

29. There were other examples of Chris Costello using his position with FMIA and his relationship with John Deveney, a public official, to oppose or intimidate business owners into getting his approval before they would move forward with their respective projects.

30. For example, when building projects and renovations were discussed at FMIA meetings, it was openly stated by Chris Costello that John Deveney, as a Commissioner on the HDLC, would vote as the FMIA directed.

31. When there was a dispute among the members of the FMIA, Chris Costello openly stated that it was his view that mattered most, as John Deveney would cast his vote as a Commissioner on the HDLC as Costello directed.

33. The activities of Chris Costello, John Deveney and Deveney Communications resulted in a deprivation of honest services for many businesses and residents, as the normal course of applying for permits and conditional use applications to the City of New Orleans Was co-opted by Chris Costello and John Deveney, on multiple occasions to their financial benefit.


Deveney Communications loves awards. Look at their web site – you will see how they show off awards.

Until a few days ago, I naively thought companies got awards because they did something good, the organization or publication that awarded prizes and trophies noticed, and gave them a prize. Nope: they apply for awards. They hustle like beauty pageant contestants. Put on old fashioned swim suits, flash your teeth and write an essay about World Peace. Maybe they don’t have to get groped by Trump in the process.

Deveney Communications applied for first prize in PR News’ Nonprofit PR Awards Program in the category: Advocacy Campaign and Lobbying Efforts, PR on a Shoestring Budget, for services to their client, Faubourg Marigny Infiltration (oops, sorry, Improvement) Association, specifically for the FMIA Size Matters campaign, specifically citing Mercato Elisio LLC as the opponent. Some quotes from the application:

Strategy, Tactics, and Execution:
• Create a brand identity for the campaign

o Logo and slogan: Size Matters; Out of Scale – Out of Touch, No High Rise in the Marigny
o Promotional pieces: Yard signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, flyers, and buttons
o Internet presence: Webpage, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube accounts
o Size Matters Rally: A public event in which we raised a balloon 75 feet into the air, the day before the final City Council decision was made for the community to fully understand the proportions of the building

The list goes on in this vein.

The application leaves no doubt whatsoever that Deveney Communications was not only a player in the Elisio battle  – the company claims credit for its strategy, tactics and success, naming FMIA was its client. You will see in the deposition following, a sworn deposition which as far as I know is equivalent to testimony on the stand, that Commissioner Deveney says that neither he nor his company were players in the Elisio fight, implying that his partner Costello was a heroic warrior out there on the line, offering up his life on a strategy and resources completely planned and executed by FMIA.

One of these is true. Depending on which you pick, give me a call. I have a majority stake in the Brooklyn Bridge you might want to invest in.


Now the game gets afoot. We are going to turn to Mr Deveney’s statements in a deposition dated 20 February 2014. You might think you are about to get into some dry legal dust, but as we track the contradictions and put some police tape around the BS, I think you will find it fun.

P.26 line 15:

Q: The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, which I’ll refer to as FMIA . . . is that a client of Deveney Communications?
A. It has been a client before.
Q. Where are the FMIA offices located?
A. I’m not certain.

Line 25:

Q. And do any of Deveney Communications people work on or contribute services to FMIA?
A. I have been a member and a donor and a volunteer since 1998. Chris has been a member, a donor, a volunteer and a board member since – I’m not certain of the start date. I know that over the years employees have volunteered and attended FMIA events. We’re very active in our neighborhood and the neighborhood association.

Eva Campos’s testimony says several employees of Deveney Communications worked mostly on the FMIA project during the Cold Storage campaign, and also at other times, during their company work day.

P.27 line 12

Q. You indicated you did – Deveney Communications did work for the FMIA on two occasions, you said?
A. Correct.

Q. Was Deveney Communiccations paid for those services.
A. Not the first one. The first one was pro bono and the second one was a paid project.
Q. Can you tell me what those two projects involved?
A. The first one was we facilitated a strategic analysis . . . . . Then the second one was for a specific campaign that FMIA was leading to stop Cold Storage, which was a proposed industrial plant on the river at the . . . .

This is a clear denial of Deveney Communications’ involvement in the campaign against Elisio Lofts, which the Commissioner proudly takes credit for in the PR News award application.

P. 30 line 4. (Fasten your seat belt.)

Q. And you opposed this development, is that correct?
A. Are you asking me if as a commission [sic] I opposed it. As a commissioner, I was not at the meeting, so I had no vote or action when the HDLC considered it.
Q. So is it your testimony that you did not oppose this project?
A. No. I was clarifying that I was not present when it came before the HDLC. If you’re asking me as a neighbor, as a citizen whether I was for the waivers, I was not for the height. I was not for the 75 foot height of the project.

Editorial time out: the significant background of this is the letter Commissioner Deveney wrote to all the HDLC members opposing ElisIo. Mr Commissioner claims that not showing up at the meeting is “functional recusal.” Of course, it is not. Commissioner Deveney misses lots of HDLC meetings. His attendance record is not stellar. Recusing is recusing: disclosure and a statement. “Functional recusal” does not exist.

The Letter JD to Commissioners says everything he could have said if he was there.

P. 41 Line 2:

Q: Were you present at the meeting, the HDLC meeting regarding the Elisio Lofts project?
A. No, I was not. In fact, your petition says I should have been recused from that meeting. My absence is a functional recusal. Isn’t that correct?

So, second time for that line of questioning. I’ll answer again: no, it is not. Not showing up is not equivalent to recusal, especially when you leave a detailed statement of what you would have said if you were there. Deveney did not recuse himself, and the fact that he tries to claim he did puts a question mark over his suitability for a public trust.

P. 49 Line 9

Q. Tell me about your participation, if any, in the “Size Matters” campaign. Perhaps you can start by telling me what was the “size matters” campaign.
A. . . . I would say it was the organized voice of the neighbors that were concerned about the damage that walling off the riverfront from the public would have if suddenly the height ordinance was disregarded in an historic neighborhood, in the Faubourg Marigny.
Q. Was that campaign organized by the FMIA?
A. Yes, I believe so.

Yes, I believe so.” “I believe so” looks like a softener or bolt-hole from the fact that Mr Deveney elsewhere proudly claims that he, Deveney Communications and Chris Costello in his role as employee of DC were responsible for organizing and running the campaign for their client on a “shoestring” budget. I have no expertise on the rules of sworn depositions, but this certainly looks like a flatly untrue answer. What we out here in normal life often call a lie.

“Walling off the riverfront” brought up a query. How could a building at Elysian and Decatur wall off the riverfront? The explanation was that it could open the gates for the Riverfront Overlay height bonus buildings. That means that one unspoken reason for opposing Elisio was because of other buildings which did not exist and had not been proposed. Pre-blaming.

Additionally, the statement is imaginary. There is no visible riverfront in Marigny. There is a wall along almost all of it from NOCCA to the electricity plant, and train tracks behind the wall. The only way to the riverfront in Marigny is by the recently opened footbridge and elevators facing Mandeville Street. The only river views would be from the upper stories of higher buildings that the residential reactionaries oppose.

A comic moment: P. 58 Line 11

Q. I’m going to mark for identification purposes Exhibit Number 9. It is a two page document with copies of two pictures. Do you know who that is?
A. The gentleman with the bull horn is Chris Costello.
Q. What does the picture depict, if you know?
A. A heroic neighborhood activist.

P.62 Line 1 (Part missing)

Q. . . . That came before the HDLC, that you would feel it necessary to recuse yourself, that is, leave the dais and not participate in the vote. Would it also be part of this recusal that you would not be allowed to communicate with the other commissioners about your support of a particular project?
A. I don’t believe that I’m prohibited from speaking as a private citizen. Really, the only time I speak as a commissioner is when I turn the microphone on, lean forward and speak from the dais. And I tell you why I think – it part of what you are saying is what is in my – what was my financial interest in your client’s development. I own a couple of pieces of property in the next block. . . . . .

We should recall that just last week, CM Stacy Head was advised by the City Attorney to recuse herself from voting on an application because she had a shared ownership in a property on the next block The matter was not a development like Elisio, occupying a square block, involving a major contribution to the area. It was just about a permit to sell one product in an ice cream store in an existing building.

Let’s imagine a Council Member or any official in a position of public trust, instructed by the Attorney or ethics office that he or she must recuse his/her self. He or she declares his interest which creates the conflict, announces his recusal, then says, “ . . . however, although I cannot speak today as a Senator, in my role as a citizen, resident and patriot, I have written a letter to each and every one of you telling you what is right and what you should do” Commissioner Deveney’s vision of ethical flexibility could certainly fill a few University philosophy seminars.

Commissioner Deveney’s letter to the other commissioners, which he says he thinks fits the description of recusal, is a matter of public record, so you can find it Letter JD to Commissioners. A few quotes for the click-averse:

“After much consideration of the application, I oppose the proposed 75-foot development at 501 Elysian Fields. The proposed development as proposed does not fit within the context of the historic district. It is wrong for a variety of reasons including that it is wrong in scale and context for the location as well as its massing and deign.”

“3. The neighborhood association which has been involved since the beginning strongly, fairly and wisely oppose it. . . . (This is a passionate, committed, selfless group who has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars to create the current zoning and rebuild the neighborhood to what we have today; and whose voice should carry great weight with our Commission.”

The Commissioner is showering praise on FMIA, of which he is a member and his partner is President.
Some conclusions:

  •  Deveney may run a good business and his friend Costello may be a fine FD, but they seem to have no idea of proper conduct in public life. They should be held to account for what they did. Deveney should resign from the HDLC Right away. You can’t trust its judgment while a guy who thinks like that is on it.
  •  Who wins the lawsuit that is bringing this stuff to light is not a public concern. Personally, I think Deveney did it, and it would be Justice if it cost him, but my opinion is neither here nor there.
  •  What is of public concern is that if HDLC commissioners and the Commission itself do not respect the municipal code of ethics, and are blind or intentionally blind to this kind of breach, the system is bust. If they were experienced pros, you might say, let’s not worry about the fine points of behavior; it’s their technical mastery of building and city design that we want. But as citizen amateurs, if they are glossing over appropriate behavior to carry water for residents’ associations, this system and the people managing it need changing.
  •  Deveney failed to disclose his commercial interest in the Elisio case resulting from his company’s management of the opposing campaign. He declined to recuse himself due to the potential conflicts of the campaign and his nearby properties. He and some others on the Commission, given their casual acceptance of his letter, seem to be comfortable with ignoring the city and state ethical rules. This should be stopped on the spot.
  •  The PR News award, the deposition and the letter to the commissioners document contradictions which place beyond doubt that some of Commissioner Deveney’s statements are intentionally untrue and constitute ethical violations.
  •  The City should arrange a better dialogue between professional planners and architects and narrow imitationists. Clubs like FMIA become tribal, defensive, stuck in their ruts. If they are going to make a contribution to the city’s evolution, they need real planners, architects and urbanists to challenge and open their entrenched beliefs.
  •  We should consider whether the grand avenues and squares should be out of reach of the NAs. Few exhibit the sophistication to understand them. They enjoy the outside café tables in St Marks Square, but want to deny them in Jackson Square; they call it “commercial exploitation.” Elysian Fields is named for and was built to copy the Champs Elysées in Paris, a great Boulevard of shops and stores, bars, cafés and restaurants with lots of streetside seating. Elysian Fields could be a cheerful NOLA version of that – but not if FMIA succeeds in imposing its superstitions on it, so it is not even comfortable to walk along. The “scale” and “proportion” of a 20 foot wide residential street should not be patched onto a boulevard of about 120 feet, burdened with an almost random assortment of open space, blighted properties and a mixed bag of leftover stuff. A linear skyline, whether 50 or 75 feet, would be boring. Develop flexible limits.
  •  Their beliefs clash with reality and stir up conflict on all the wide commercial streets – North Rampart, St. Claude, Canal, Press. The NAs (except BNA) did not understand what had to be done to make Press Street work, despite careful explanations from several architects. The reactionary clubs refer professional input back to Gene Cizek, a preservation fundamentalist and the very guy who came up with the unworkable 50 foot baseline, that drove all the designers nuts until this administration changed it in the last days of the CZO struggle.

For some extra entertainment, about FMIA’s reign of terror period, enjoy this article from 2011. Think of chickens coming home to roost.

Tomorrow, we are going to see a response by Eva Campos to the letter FMIA wrote to Kristin Palmer, explaining that Eva was evil and refuted by a vote of the Board, while John Deveney and Chris Costello were heaven-sent saviors of the People’s Republic of Downtown.


Most people probably think we oppose the existence of neighborhood associations, if not neighborhoodism itself. Not so. They are a good idea, potentially a valuable contribution to local democracy. But many have been captured by narrow, parochial residentialists with a retrogradevision of what their neighborhood must be. They become dictatorial. They want to dominate commerce through Good Neighbor Agreements, and some of our City Council members unfortunately encourage them. After Deveney, we have to stop those, too.


© NOLAscape August 2016

The Tangled Web, Chapter One

O, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive!
– Walter Scott, from Marmion

Remember that? Probably from junior high or middle school.  A cliché now – but so are the villains of this piece. They may look like an Abbott and Costello tribute duo, but don’t let that obscure the damage they do. They diminish the city. Diminish us.



The Historic District Landmarks Commission’s mandated mission is to safeguard the legacy of designated historic areas of New Orleans. Reconciling the traditional built environment and the sometimes apparently conflicting necessity of new development and facing the future can be a complex task.

The commissioners are generally amateurs nominated by “neighborhoods” – usually the homeowners’ associations, which many of our CMs haven’t given up on yet – and appointed by Council Members. The setup mirrors the council – most are members for a neighborhood; some (five, I think) are At Large. The process probably results in about as representative a group as you can expect; a different process might be worse.

An Architectural Review Comittee of professionals advises the HDLC, and should help them understand the most abused terms in homeowners’ associations’ messy discussions of buildings, “scale” and “proportions.” But it doesn’t always work.

Given the choice of citizen amateurs over professionals, ethical conduct is paramount to make sure the best interests of the city, the neighborhoods and property developers are properly served and balanced. As appointed city officials, the HDLC commissioners are responsible for following municipal and state government ethical guidelines.

Neighborhood associations are not. They are self-appointed. The rules of membership are less stringent than the Hell’s Angels. Members are self-sorting, and only members vote for officers. Unlike most Harley gangs, neighborhood associations generally have no mandated code of ethics, no standards of expertise or intelligence. They benefit fully from our American constitutional right to be total jerks. Some of them have shown themselves to be almost criminally immoral, uninformed and frankly stupid.

As a municipal agency, the HDLC cannot allow itself to be infected with that. A commisioner can carry his nominating club’s story to the table with appropriate disclosure. You can frequently see City Council members citing constituents’ positions right in their stride.

But if a commissioner steps over the ethical line, or maybe more accurately erases the line, it is like a virus let in by a figurative back door. If you allow that, the system falls over.

Without borders, disclosure and recusal when conflict of interest is clear, there would be no point to it. The NAs could just phone in their vote.

In this story, we are going to follow the trail toward and through a serious breach. Since it is now the subject of a federal lawsuit charging ethics violations resulting in undue prejudice, documentary evidence is surfacing. I don’t know whether there is a criminal charge available for what happened in this case, but one thing needs asking:

> How is this guy still a commissioner?

Are they that hard to replace?

Tracking the relationships and lines of communication is a bit like tracing a couple of strands of spaghetti through a big bowl of pasta under dollops of Bolognese sauce, while some of the players are trying to hide the bowl.

You need a program. (I should sell ads for the back pages.) Let’s set up the game board.

You know those cork boards on police shows, with mug shots, victim photos and crime scenes pinned up, with name labels and lines showing connections? Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe? Think of the next chapter as one of those.


The Incident Room


John Deveney, defendant and prime suspect (center of the pin board). Founder/President/CEO of Deveney Communications, a PR firm, apparently quite successful. They used to be headquartered in Marigny. Deveney was an active member of FMIA.

FMIA proposed John Deveney as HDLC Commissioner for Marigny. Considering the organization’s well-known narrowness, rigidity and frequently questionable character (alleged, alleged!) I would find that worrying, but CM Kristin Palmer appointed him, and then reconfirmed him for a second term.

Deveney’s conduct in the Elisio proposal is the ethical issue at the center of the lawsuit.


Chris Costello. Hyperactive President of FMIA for several terms, one of which included FMIA’s wild war against Elisio Lofts, a three building apartment complex proposed by applicant Sean Cummings.

Costello’s reputation in the neighborhood has a whiff of a comedy Sopranos Lite about it. Unlike the No’t’ Joisey guys, there is no evidence that money extortion was the benefit sought. Sources and some of the people who were on the wrong end of his attacks suggest that for President Costello, petty tyranny was its own reward. Some former targets say that Costello wanted to be the go-to guy for everything a neighborhood business might need. A permit for your bike rack? Come to me. Somebody might complain about your new wood fired pizza oven – see Costello. The Godfather will sort it out for you. Or else. Some say Costello was trying to spin a neighborhood dominance game into a city power base. Others say there was no substance in it; if you stood your ground and said “No,” he would go away. Some reports say his warning shots or retribution style included things like calling police and fire marshals. Outsourced harassment. Tony Soprano’s rep is safe.

John Deveney and Chris Costello are partners. “Life partners” is the term Deveney used in his depositions. Not equal business partners, though. Costello is employed in a senior management position at Deveney’s company and shown as a director on its statements. But Deveney is the business boss.


Sean Cummings. Plaintiff in the case against Deveney. Executive and property developer Cummings’ businesses include the International House hotel and the office building across the street, the Rice Mill Lofts apartments at Press and Chartres, the Via Latrobe project on the other side of Chartres Street, approved but construction not yet started. Through a company called Mercato Elisio, Cummings was the principal behind the Elisio Lofts project.

FMIA’s attacks against Cummings and the Elisio project in 2012 and an apparent – alleged – breakdown of propriety and ethical responsibility in Deveney’s conduct as an HDLC Commissioner are what is bringing them into court.

In an FMIA letter we are going to look at before we recess for today, FMIA solemnly informs us that they have no prejudices, no favorites, open minds and truly are, every day and in every way, the best people in the world. However, some observers say the top table there are members of a cult in which Sean Cummings is an evil demon and his father, John Cummings, is Satan incarnate, with brimstone attendant. Unless it is the other way ‘round. We are looking for a sociologist with voodoo experience to investigate these claims. (Disclaimer: Brian Luckett of Neighbors First for Bywater, a kind of junior partner of FMIA, has stated publicly that my view of New Orleans civic voodoo is insufficiently respectful of religion in Haiti.)


Wayne Troyer. Head of StudioWTA, the architecture firm that designed Elisio Lofts.

WTA is an excellent design firm. Troyer also serves on the Architectural Review Committee for the HDLC. If he allowed his architects to present a design with a 75 foot ceiling facing Elysian Fields Avenue, it would be because he knew it was the right thing to do. Unlike FMIA, Mr Troyer does understand the words scale and proportion.

He is also in the Incident Room as a virtuous example of how you deal with a conflict of interest. When a project involves his firm, Wayne Troyer recuses himself from the ARC, correctly and completely. That means no advisory letters, no prevarications, no games.



NOLAscape didn’t get rolling until the Sound Wars of 2013/14 so we  missed the opportunity to lay some verbal Punch and Judy on Costello in his prime NA gangsta period. He got to run amok with nobody hitting him in the face with pies. We will try to make up for it this week


imageFaubourg Marigny Improvement Association. A crotchety little club which takes itself very seriously. This is the group that brought us the attack on Café Istanbul, the time-wasting lawsuit against the Riverfront Overlay, the unpleasant attack against Troy Henry and Wendell Pierce and of course, the Size Matters comedy against Elisio Lofts and the Riverfront Overlay.

Despite an addiction to clownish costumed publicity stunts and and repeated misstatements about almost everything – hard to be sure whether from general ignorance, malice or over-excitement – FMIA manages to occasionally get some traction at City Hall. Confidential sources in the whispered conversations at the back of the council chamber suggest commissioners and CMs are not persuaded by their arguments, just want them to go away.

If we try to give the board and membership the benefit of the doubt in its Costello/Deveney period, maybe FMIA were hustled by a couple of con artists. Even so, I think they liked it. After Costello, they tried sanity for a couple of years, but it didn’t stick.

The Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC). Everything is “One Stop” now. Faded velvet ropes, stand behind the yellow line until you are called, fill in your form and sit over there. Fun’s gone out of it.


A problem with the HDLC is – it’s New Orleans. Everybody is everybody else’s brother-in-law. The real meaning of impartiality, independence and arm’s-length have special  Louisiana meanings. But even here, there is a line you can’t cross. Evidence in the pending federal lawsuit shows that Commissioner Deveney crossed that line. Trampled that line. When you get caught, you’re caught. And you should resign.






This guy is on the Incident Room board just in case you need a break from bad actors.





Elisio Lofts.  A well-designed apartment complex wirth six stories on the Elysian side. FMIA calls it a “high rise.” In Haussman’s Paris, it’s a walk-up. This view is the high side, facing Elysian Fields. You are looking east down Chartres. On the right is the electric field, so more open space.



Looking west on Chartres. Notice how height and “massing” is in scale and proportion to the street, the facing space and the older buildings across Marigny Street.




Our main theme is a major ethical lapse in the HDLC by at least one commissioner, to which FMIA is either an active or passive party. But we will put a bit of time on the content of the dispute as well. This sign seemed cute or convincing to Marigny people. In fact, it is deceptive. It compares the dimensions of Elisio to lower, smaller wooden houses in Marigny’s interior streets, which Elisio was not adjacent to. To use the word “scale” properly, the correct relationships are with the wide expanse of Elysian Fields Avenue, the electricity field and plant across Decatur and the brown brick factories across Marigny Street.


This rust belt-inspired blockhouse was a subsequent proposal for the site. We don’t think it will happen, but boring as it is, not a peep out of FMIA, because it fit the height fundamentalism by a squeak.



The Cold Storage Campaign. The New Orleans Cold Storage Company needed a new port facility. They used to load in the canal, but changes after Katrina limited its capacity. The Port Authority proposed a new site at Governor Nicholls wharf. FMIA’s denial letter that we will look at in a minute ascribes the “improbable” victory to Chris Costello, but it seems to me from newspaper reports from 2009 that pretty much everybody opposed it. Sean Cummings and FMIA seem to have been at least fleetingly on the same side. As far as I can tell, NOCS didn’t care much, as long as they had a way to load frozen shrimp into ships.


FMIA went ballistic on the campaign. This is where John Deveney and Christopher Costello step on to the stage. They set up the M.O. that was largely mirrored in the Elisio campaign, with a significant difference: money. FMIA collected donations, then handed all the money over to Deveney Communications. Costello was an employee of Deveney, and according to witnesses, he and other employees spent most of their time on the Cold Storage job.

The letter we will be looking at says that everything between FMIA and Deveney was clean and above board, but Eva Campos was, as we shall see, concerned about corporate procedure, prudence and the risk of commingling funds. Eva Campos says Costello came up with a way to deal with her argument that is unusual in even the most cantankerous NAs – physical assault.





Sidney Torres has nothing to do with this, but I saw him at City Council yesterday. He is backing a large, controversial development in mid-city. I don’t understand the political conflict about it yet, but some say he might run for Mayor, so just to stay on his good side, let’s drop a picture in.





The Story

The year was 2012. Sean Cummings, a developer with an interest in the Marigny/Bywater area, who cares about good design, proposed a medium sized apartment complex for 501 Elysian Fields, a blighted site in a potentially good location – still an eyesore today, due to the misguided exertions of. Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA) and the inappropriate efforts of HDLC commissioner Deveney. The reactionary club that dubiously claims to represent the people of Marigny did not like the height of one of the buildings.

Of course!

Height is the only element of design anyone ever hears them talk about. In FMIA dialect, architecture and planning are linear quantities. In FMIA’s private jargon, anything over 50 feet is called a “high rise.” Just the words are a red rag to these bulls-in-a-China-shop. Net benefit, design quality, harmony, utility, scale and proportion (correctly used) – forget it. Their founding fight that they like to brag about (they bring it into the Elisio case) was against Christopher Inn, the retirement home on one side of Washington Square, for being insufficiently imitative and too high. (I never understand why they are so proud of that battle. They lost. Christopher Inn is there, and sort-of okay. Not a great example of design, but of its time, and the contrast with the other two built sides of the square isn’t all bad.)

Elisio Lofts got their juices bubbing. The officers and activists attacked with gusto, They cooked up a witch’s brew of PR and sneaky stuff fronted and obscured by the street fight tactics. Our target is the sneaky stuff, but as long as we are here, we’ll enjoy a few shots at the rest.  Costello, President and oh so proud of it, stoked the troops and played battlefield commander. His crusade was partly guided by John Deveney and supported by the resources of Deveney Communications, his PR and marketing firm. John Deveney, founder, owner and CEO of DC was a member of FMIA, and donor. Costello and Deveney were also partners – “life partners” in the depositions, not business partners.

And John Deveney was – and curiously, still is – an HDLC Commissioner.

Elisio lost, but Sean Cummings’ lawsuit and the documentary evidence show that at least part of the reason for its defeat was inappropriate influence in the HDLC. As a member of FMIA, Deveney might have got away with it; but with him personally and his company having been players in the campaign against Elisio, it was right out of order for him to do anything but recuse himself totally from the HDLC deliberation and vote. We’ll get into this next installment. What I am seeing is that, under pressure, at the last minute, he managed to miss the meeting on an excuse, and sent a letter of opinion to the commissioners. Not a letter consistent with recusal; it was like one you send to be included in the discussion when you are going fishing.

Deveney, Deveney Communications, Costello, the FMIA, the HDLC – is that spaghetti metaphor working for you yet?


The Letter of Denial

This letter is so funny, I have to get it out there before court recesses for the day. It’s too juicy for quotes – read the whole thing. The conflict in play was the New Orleans Cold Storage battle, which preceded Elisio. It was a righteous campaign in intention, but given the cast and their club, of course it went wrong.

NOCS needed new port facilities, because their canal loading had been restricted after the storm. The city or the Port Authority proposed a site at Governor Nicholls. It was a bad idea. It would have brought big truck raffia to the unsuitable streets of Marigny and the French Quarter. Not good. FMIA collected a bunch of money, somewhere between $23,000 and $30,000, and handed it all to Deveney Communications to run a campaign for them. Eva Campos was treasurer of FMIA and did accounts for Deveney. Deveney provided office space for FMIA, largely occupied by Costello and Eva Campos, in their dual jobs. It started to be hard to tell where FMIA ended and Deveny began. Eva did not like the way some things were done – insufficiently substantiated invoices, commingling of funds, things like that. At some point, Costello decided to take this insubordinate accountant’s insurrection in hand, using a few basic wrestling techniques. Assault, police, accusations and counter-accusations. Very undignified. In fact, open as I am to bad news about our neighborhood associations, I haven’t found another one where the President stood accused of assault and battery on the Treasurer.

Although the letter is over the signature of Gretchen Bomboy, Recording Secretary, people who were there whisper that she never wrote it. Deveney and Costello wrote it, they say, carefully explaining how great they were, and sent it out, thinking this naive text would save their reputations. Wiser heads advised them that excuses and repeated attacks on Eva Campos by name were not going to look professional, but Dev and Cos had a wisdom deficit that day.

Their use of the word “refute” is classic.

“There have been numerous and ridiculous false accusations about Chris and his leadership. The Board also voted unanimously to refute all of these accusations.”

We’re in a Red Queen world here. “The Board” refutes by a vote (if it even met). And what the Board refutes – stands refuted!  Snicker-snack! Resist, and they will say it three times.

Have fun with the denial letter.

Now we know the players and where the battlefields are. Let’s get the story going after a break.

© NOLAscape August 2016

How Mad is Max This Month?

I am going to do some pontificating about police (and some shameless alliteration). Everybody is doing police. And they are right to, so why not me?

It is a Penelope piece. I have been writing parts of a police series for weeks. It gets longer and shorter. Almost every day another example of brutality, insensitivity, mismanagement, injustice or on the worst of them, murder or mass murder was surfacing, and like Odysseus’s wife and her eternal tapestry, I started over.

It’s also a Boy Scout piece. No irony, no tricks, no multiple entendre. It’s just looking for an entry point to do something better. It shouldn’t offend anybody, except maybe the irredeemably pro-police nuts, out of the range of reason. They imagine we live surrounded by Tasmanian Devils just beyond the fire light snarling in Spanish and Arabic. We will be safer if cops just keep shooting, because most of what they hit will be them. And they die. So what? America is a dance of daily violent death anyway.

Enemies everywhere. We need a savior. Could it be . . . Trump, our national embarrassment? Stop – I said no jokes.

I grope around for good ideas – none of which is likely to happen, given the deep apparatchik investment in status quo.

The police killing scene was quiet for a few days. No news of police shooting or beating up unarmed people who were not committing any crime, or police being shot in retaliation. I did not unweave the tapestry for a few days, but now it has started again.

Can you believe there are people in the world against Black Lives Matter? The Trump campaign trotted out a few of them in their raggedy-ass convention: professional bigots Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, and a stooge named Sheriff David Clarke. Palin’s lizard brain spews up some ugly stuff along a screechy rhythm line that scratches an inner itch of some people of the scapegoating inclination. Giuliani is distinguished from her mainly by the ability to complete a sentence. Clarke – I don’t know where they got that guy.

Clarke and Giuliani denied there is any difference in how police treat Black and White people in confrontations, and in choosing who to stop or confront. Right there on screen in front of millions of people, they said that. Are they as dumb as they look and sound, or just paid to tell lies to gullible White people who want to take their country back?

In partnership with Ozzie and Harriet and Ronald Reagan, the audience of these primitives claims they own the country. Or used to own it until some people who didn’t look just like them started homesteads on their black and white lawns. If you don’t clear them off, they might look at your daughters funny. Do they know how stupid they sounded? Probably not, because thousands of people in silly hats clap and cheer for more people getting killed..

In any case, anything Giuliani and Palin don’t like can’t be all bad.

The undeniable in-your-face fact is that if BLM had not forced the police problem out of the depths of administrative suppression, deep and wide police reform, which the Justice Department, the President and the nation’s best police thinkers now finally admit is necessary, would not even be in the spotlight. Now members of congress are coming out to see something done – see Rep. Andre Carson. You don’t have to like every action BLM takes to understand that if it keeps working and its eye on the ball, the result will be another advance in America’s level of civilization, which is behind too much of the world.

If these deniers of what we can see every day on YouTube and the news – see, not just hear about – want to prove it’s all color blind, let’s see those videos of police abusing and humiliating White men and women as we see them doing to Black men and women. Let’s say they are right; then we can re-evaluate these nightmare pockets of American policing as less discriminatory and more – just bad.



Until a few weeks ago, police departments, commentators, politicians, journalists, apologists were all saying, every time a new case of killing or beating up somebody who was not committing any crime emerged: systemic racism. The police culture. I was thinking: something is missing here. Who cares about the individual cop’s racism or some putrescent “culture”? Police is a very special kind of public service. Officers are sent on to our streets with lethal weapons and a badge conferring some still not very well defined authority. I don’t really want to hear about them carrying around any culture or systemic anything while carrying automatic pistols, stun guns and clubs, with, apparently, the right to stop and bug anyone whose look, or tail light, didn’t suit them. They can’t just maintain a culture, like those confederate flag fantasy clubs that came out of the woodwork when Landrieu said he wanted to to move the statues. If some people in their own time and on their own dime want to indulge Civil War fantasies instead of playing with toy trains, they can do it. But an armed cop on the street, a public employee – he better leave his systemic anything in the privacy of his own fantasy life, not carry it around the streets we have to walk down.

The missing ingredient was management. Not to worship it, like a 90s corporation cultist getting high on Peter Drucker or Tom Peters, but where was management in police forces where these crimes were being committed? Racism or systemic racism are just names not reasons, and a police “culture” involving systemic bias and cover-up is at best a description. They give a name to the disturbing sight of cops who stand quietly by while one of them beats up a Black girl with a stick, or the LA cops that watched four of their colleagues administer an almost lethal beating on Rodney King in 1992. Nobody is responsible; it’s just the way it is. The culture. Just a name, not an explanation or indication of a solution.

Management abdication had first occurred to me as an issue to be explored here in New Orleans, when Sidney Torres handed the French Quarter Task Force, the efficient, fast micro-force that he had created, over to FQMD to manage and the CVB to fund. Pretty soon, squabbling broke out about the GPS system, use of the phone app v. 911, maintenance and serviceability of the Polaris cars. NOPD seemed to be on the edge, watching.

The fuss was fun to watch, but essentially a sideshow. The need for changes was normal. Unforeseen snags and improvements for a new effort – what’s new? You would get that in a sandwich shop. A few weeks before, when Torres was footing the bill and making the decisions, management would have been a fuss-free function, not a public squabble.

The dog that didn’t bark: not once, and not yet, have I heard the top table of NOPD publicly say anything like, “Sidney’s system works. Why don’t we roll out a bigger version of it for the whole force?” Put a GPS transponder or identifier in or on every unit, whether car, motorbike, bike, horse or foot patrol. A version of the FQTF phone app would work with 911 or some other processing center. There would be a control center with screens showing the location of every police unit on duty. Incident reports would appear on the map. Dispatchers or monitors would know where the closest assets were. The software would give response ETA – that’s no trick; Google Maps and Waze do it for free on everybody’s phone. More effective action from the officers you have might even reduce the staffing requirements, probably even reduce operating costs.

I wondered: do police forces even have what a non-government public service company might call “management,” or just a hierarchy of supervisors with snazzier uniforms and more gold braid as you go up the ladder? And why do the residents of New Orleans think it is okay for the French Quarter to have a whizzy publicly funded rapid response first-responder system, while response times for some of them remain in the donut zone?

I patched that idea over to the police killings that were hitting the headlines and populating YouTube with depressing frequency.


The talking heads said: systemic racism, police culture, etc, etc. District Attorneys, grand juries, judges and juries almost always let the cops off. Some of the exonerations were astounding. Remember the process in Los Angeles clearing a clutch of cops for firing 107 bullets into the wrong pickup truck, shooting up two Hispanic women when they were supposed to be searching for one man? Even if it had been the right truck, were their orders to execute him on sight?

Why were they acquitted? The police said they were “afraid.”

Airlines operate complex equipment and crews, and have people’s lives in their hands. Imagine an airline with 1,100 employees, something like the population of NOPD. Suppose that some of the pilots occasionally descended so fast the oxygen masks popped out. They landed hard, braked hard to get to the terminal quick, blowing out tires and scaring passengers to death. Management says, “Most of our pilots are really good with passenger planes, but some, you know – there is a culture of macho flying.” Maybe one of them finally overstressed a civilian plane and crashed it. Can an airline’s management use any excuse? PTSD? Racism, and the flight was from Nairobi? If a plane crashes and the black box recorder shows the pilot was afraid, that he (or she) “feared for his life,” is that an excuse? Is the FAA and the court going to let the airline’s money, directors and executive suite off the hook?

There is no excuse. Airlines train, re-train, test and re-test, to eliminate quirks and personal weakness from the decision process. The captain has to have a steady hand on the wheel and face challenges with calm, speed and determination, to be trusted with the lives of passengers. If he doesn’t, it is not only the pilot who is going down. It might be the whole company. If management knew about a weak spot, or should have known, the executives are going down, too.

You would not knowingly fly with an airline that made excuses about life-and-death issues, yet many among us are happy to see cops out on our streets carrying lethal weapons who can’t even keep cool when a few of them together, by looking scary and shouting peremptory, possibly contradictory commands, finally get a person, often a woman or teenage girl, excited and frightened enough to escalate a situation that them descends into violence. I’m sure we have all seen videos where several cops, probably 180 to 250 pounds each, decide to exercise physical restraint on a 120 pound woman, usually Black, and finally can’t find a way to move forward without brandishing or using a weapon on the already subdued but still excited detainee. The prevailing principle seems to be: the police must dominate as quickly as possible, at any cost. If you don’t respect them quietly, eyes down, they may start to fear for their lives.

What were the superior officers, who are supposed to be the management, doing about it? Usually hiding behind bland statements like “administrative leave,” “thorough and impartial investigation,” meant more to get reporters to go away than to add anything to the discussion.

If an airline’s management didn’t follow through any better than that, they would risk being grounded by the FAA. But it would be a rare case in which the chiefs, commissioners and superintendents of police were in the dock with the line officer, for allowing a cop on the street to be in that state of mind or mis-training. The process to force improvement on a local force generally involved court action resulting in a consent decree with the federal government, but some of the forces involved in recent police violence cases were already operating under consent decrees.

So police brass were not like an airline, more like Goldman Sachs or Chase.

The soft excuses have actually been reducing over recent weeks, as I daily unraveled my Penelope piece. Top cops are starting to say, we have to get this in hand. They may not know what to do. Active management can be complicated. It includes keeping an eye on the future, scanning for opportunities, weaknesses and risks, testing possible opportunities, exploring innovation, as well keeping the plates spinning and overcoming current weaknesses.

Maybe like John Doman in The Wire, they mostly polish up the brass chain of command, expect the politicians to block any calls for change, and resist them when introduced. Or given the explosive political and economic brew, and the possibility that the 99% (current jargon for what used to be called the working class) won’t be passive forever, they focus on militarized crowd control and nifty equipment for counter-revolutionary operations. From what we can see, Chief Carl Dabadie of Baton Rouge is focused on suppressing or containing protest over achieving civil behavior by officers on normal duty and the residents of his city outside of times of crisis. A military attitude.

Progress will be spotty. Many will resist and delay. But the commanders are going to have to take charge and put the rules and requirements of good policing above any “culture” that has lodged in their department or been brought in with recruits, like an infection.

A major problem is localism. In Europe, most police are national. In France, for instance, most police for smaller towns and cities are the Gendarmerie, a division of the military that does civic police work. Some cities have municipal police, but they are normally unarmed and do not carry out the same kind of duties as the nationally managed forces.

But in the US, there are over 15,000 separate police forces. Municipal forces generally report to the mayor, state forces to the governor, and sheriffs are elected, which means maybe they report to nobody. They create and run their own training programs, principles and rules.
National management is of course not a guarantee against violence. French police dealing with big demonstrations, much more frequent there than here, or with Algerians in the suburbs or cités is evidence of that. And of course localism can be handy for the movies, enabling the police force in Mississippi Burning, for instance.

If I was going to be activist in police matters, I would suggest the the Justice Department set up some very clear standards and procedures of police activity and behavior, including rigorous psychological testing, before a police officer can carry a gun as part of his work. Just because the Supreme Court’s lunatic 2008 misinterpretation of the second amendment allows some private citizens to be time bombs doesn’t mean we should pay our police to raise the craziness stakes with a badge.

The temperament of a police officer able individually to decide to use lethal force should be as steady as an airline pilot’s. Maybe the Justice Department would be influenced by the European Convention on Human Rights, which would not recognize a policeman’s claim that he was afraid for his life as justification for shooting a suspect or detainee. There would have to be a real credible threat. Armed police should be required to issue warnings, as in most European forces. Policeman are trained – at length, sometimes for up to three years – to avoid shooting to kill, certainly not to start by shooting a clip into the center of mass. Resisting arrest should be carefully defined, so it cannot be used as a blanket excuse. If somebody runs away for a petty crime, let him get away. Selling cigarettes is not a capital crime; a normal level of resistance to being arrested for it should not be either. The “disrespect” justification, recently invoked by Fox News’s comic book cop, Hauk, should be off the table entirely. The elements of the comply-or-die scenario have to be banned.

Then the local police forces would have to report regularly on everything, and be inspected and investigated regularly.

Over the top? The FAA does it.

Results: commercial airline is the safest mode of travel in the world, and US police are dangerous to be around.

A story in the newspapers last year was that US police killed more people in March 2015 (111 known) than UK police had in the entire 20th century. The final count for 2015 was 1,146 (Guardian) or 1,207 ( 2016 seems to be heading in the same direction, with 623 down so far. 153 were Black; 25 of them were unarmed. The armed category must include Philando Castile, who had a permit and was not engaged in a crime nor any threat to officers. He was armed, but no self-defense was involved.

299 of the people shot by police were white; 45 of them unarmed. The numbers suggest White people should not be opposing Black Lives Matter – they should be joining up, asking for a White section, or starting their own protest movement.

Unless the American people are stupid or sick-minded enough to elect the spray-tanned baboon who managed to hijack the Republican Party from its previous hijackers, already a radical right wing insurgency. He served notice in his ugly closing convention speech that he would turn our cities into a Judge Dredd reality show, expanding on the Addams Family sitcom he wants to install in the White House. The safest thing to do would be to leave the country until it burns out the fascism, and hope it doesn’t go the way German fascism did in the 1930s.

Management. Active management deals with racism and “the culture.” It doesn’t use them as an excuse.

The other side: the Justice department has a way to deal with police departments that go off the rails, but it is piecemeal, slow, expensive and in some cases ineffective. New Orleans is in it: the consent decree, imposed by a judge after the kill rate hit I think 27 people in 17 months.

Some references:

Federal oversight:

The Problems With Policing the Police

With well over 15,000 distinct police forces, how is the case by case, painstaking, years long for each case going to effect improvement? Is there another option but national standards of conduct; training programs; basic rules of engagement, if that is the right word; standards of management and reporting; and oversight and investigation that do not require a court case.

Predictable problems: Congressional gridlock; resistance by States Rights states; an explosion of red tape, which can be exploited by resistant departments to bury improvement.

Downside: national rules could stifle innovation. The Torres experiment in the French Quarter might have been impossible under an overly tight federal umbrella.

I am surprised at myself for thinking through such a conservative idea. Proposals not that far off the mainstream now are saying just disband police. They don’t reduce crime. Maybe they even increase it. Another is police attendance as response only – no more random stops, confrontations, car stops, police presence or menace. Maybe next time.

Quiet for a few days.” Spoke too soon! Two officers shot, one fatally, in San Diego last Thursday night. Saturday, reports of shooting of Loreal Tsingine, Native American, five feet tall, 95 pounds, by a cop whose record shows he had been cited for being too quick to resort to a gun, had disobeyed orders, falsified reports, and had been reported as temperamentally unfit by superiors. (What would happen to an airline that let a pilot with reports like that fly passengers?) Now the Korryn Gaines case, which raises new questions.

© NOLAscape August 2016