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If Louisiana were a country, it would have

the highest imprisonment rate in the world. As

cases like the Jena Six so vividly demonstrate,

the racial disparity in both arrests and

sentencing in the state is striking. 

 

 

K-Ville

[Or a Post-Katrina Cop TV Show]
By Jordan Flaherty

 

 

September 13, 2007

Next Monday the Fox network unveils a new television show called K-Ville.  Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, K-Ville promises to highlight the heroism of New Orleans cops.  Unfortunately, the true story of policing in New Orleans is unlikely to be told by Fox, or by anyone in the corporate media.

Since at least the 1950s, and shows like Dragnet, Hollywood's representation of cops has been as a thin blue line of honest and straightforward heroes protecting the good people from the bad.  The Seventies were a time of radical movements, and this brought radical criticisms of police into the mainstream, with films like Serpico and Chinatown exposing police corruption and brutality.   However, the Seventies ultimately led to a new kind of hero. In 1980s films such as Dirty Harry, the cop – or, in the case of the Death Wish movies, vigilante - was brutal and violent, but ultimately sympathetic.  

Audiences could no longer believe the old clean-cut images of cops – there were too many front-page stories of police violence and corruption – but it was still necessary to maintain the public perception that cops are necessary.  The new generation of cops on film and TV – later refined and popularized by stars from Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon to Dennis Frantz in NYPD Blue – was that of a troubled, violent, flawed, but ultimately sympathetic hero.  Yes, they broke the rules, but ultimately the rules are the problem.  These cops would torture people based on a hunch – but, they were always right.  The person they tortured would always end up being guilty, and they would always get information from torturing them that they would not have gotten otherwise.  

This justification was developed in Hollywood, and then perfected years later by the Bush Administration, who made explicit the arguments that films like Die Hard had implied—we need cops (and soldiers and federal agents) to break the rules. In fact the rules are the problem.  There are "good people" and "criminals," and we don't need to worry about how the "bad guys" are treated.  Further, the job of keeping us safe is necessarily dirty, and the police will need to break some rules to do their job right.  "Tough on Crime" politicians like former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani also contributed to this environment by discarding decades of reforms and practices meant to give opportunity for rehabilitation, instead pushing for more police, more prisons, and more arrests.

Courage to Burn

Into this archetype comes the Fox cop drama K-Ville.  The publicity material for the new show explains, "Two years after Katrina, the city is still in chaos . . . many cops have quit, and the jails, police stations and crime labs still haven't been properly rebuilt. But the cops who remain have courage to burn and a passion to reclaim and rebuild their city."  

Like all Hollywood products, this show is about making money first and foremost—it attempts to ride on the coattails of popular cop shows like Law and Order and CSI.  In doing so, it also falls perfectly into an agenda of explaining and forgiving brutal police behavior.  In fact, it takes one of the nation's most notoriously racist, violent and corrupt police forces, and explains away their harmful acts as the natural result of the trauma of Katrina and its aftermath. 

When the cops on this show torture—for example, the first episode contains a kind of amateur "waterboarding"—it is because they are good people who have been pushed too hard.  It makes us empathize with them and not, for example, with their victims, who are seen as deserving of whatever punishment they receive. As the show publicity states, the show's hero is "unapologetic about bending the rules when it comes to collaring bad guys. The stakes are too high, and the city too lawless, for him to do things by the book."

A Good Cop

Anthony Anderson stars as Marlin Boulet, a Black New Orleans cop who has seen his city devastated, who is fighting, as a homeowner, for his ninth ward neighborhood to return, while fighting as a cop against a sea of crime.

Like Law and Order, the show (at least in the first episode) dodges much of the racial politics of policing by having the criminals be mostly wealthy and white, while the police and victims are racially diverse.  Like many of these TV shows, there is an attempt to please as wide an audience as possible—the shows bring in conservatives with the tough on crime rhetoric, but bring in liberals by having the villains be corporate criminals. 

K-Ville even has one white villain say, "That storm wasn't a disaster . . . that storm was a cleansing," a moment that indicts white racism in the cleansing of the city, and not something that you would expect from Fox. In fact, despite being skeptical about New Orleans' notoriously brutal police force being portrayed as heroes, it's hard not to root for them when the first episode's villains are Blackwater mercenaries (here called "Black River").

Although the show gets much wrong about how race, class and power work in New Orleans—and the US—it also gets a surprising amount of details right.  For anyone from Louisiana, the short scene with a barbeque and the song Cupid Shuffle playing makes up for a lot that has come before (the song is by Cupid, an artist from Lafayette, Louisiana, and plays at virtually every party in New Orleans).  The show also has throwaway references to other New Orleans-specific phrases and foods—from the term "neutral ground" to eating gumbo— that makes the viewer feel that someone involved in writing the show at least spent some time in New Orleans.

In the end, however, these accuracies only help to convey the deeper, and more problematic, purpose of the show—a portrayal of New Orleans police as an essential thin blue line of protection in an outlaw city.  The show brings up the horror of prisoners abandoned in Orleans Parish Prison, but only to reinforce a law and order message.  The show brings up white racism, but only as an exception, not as a system of power that has displaced almost half of the Black population of the city.  In short, the show gets some of the problems right, but it gets the answer deeply wrong.

The Disaster before the Disaster

The reality is that the police, glamorized on K-Ville, are a part of the disaster the people of New Orleans have faced, not part of the solution.  As has been widely reported, the town of Gretna, across the Mississippi from New Orleans and part of Jefferson Parish, stationed officers on the bridge leading out of New Orleans blocking the main escape route for the tens of thousands suffering in the Superdome, Convention Center, and throughout the city.  In the months after Katrina, while New Orleanians wanted to return and rebuild their city, they got "security" instead.  Hundreds of National Guard troops, as well as police forces from across the U.S. and private security forces including Blackwater, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International began patrolling the nearly empty city. 

From the initial images broadcast around the world, demonizing the people of New Orleans as "looters" and "criminals," the public perception of New Orleans' people has been shaped by vigilante rhetoric, exemplified by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco bringing in National Guard troops shortly after Katrina with the words, "They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. . . .These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will." This assessment, now validated by K-Ville, was no doubt a big cause of so-called "Katrina Fatigue" – the widely reported feeling that the nation has run out of sympathy for the people of New Orleans.  Why feel sympathy for a city of criminals? 

While shows like K-Ville draws a solid line between good and bad, real life is murkier.  Nationwide, nearly 90 percent of people imprisoned in federal prisons are there for nonviolent offenses.  Louisiana is at the vanguard of mass-imprisonment, with the highest rate of imprisonment in the country—816 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 state residents. If Louisiana were a country, it would have the highest imprisonment rate in the world. As cases like the Jena Six so vividly demonstrate, the racial disparity in both arrests and sentencing in the state is striking.  Although African-Americans make up 32 percent of Louisiana's population, they constitute 72 percent of the state's prison population.

The stories that shows like K-Ville leave untold are those of community coming together to solve problems.  In New Orleans, our real "first-responders" are folks in the communities most affected, who were out in the days after the storm rescuing people and distributing food.  The true hope for our city lies in projects such as Safe Streets Strong Communities, Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, and Critical Resistance, grassroots organizations that are on the frontlines of struggles for justice in New Orleans, organizing in their communities and building a movement. 

There are also the lawyers and advocates of organizations such as Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Innocence Project New Orleans, A Fighting Chance and the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. These organizations have represented those who the system has abandoned, from kids caught up in notoriously brutal youth prisons to indigent people on death row. These are the truly compelling stories of criminal justice in New Orleans post-Katrina, yet you can be sure that these local voices will be among those that K-Ville will not air.

 

Jordan Flaherty is an editor of Left Turn Magazine , a journal of grassroots resistance.  His previous articles from New Orleans are online at http://www.leftturn.org . To contact Jordan, email: neworleans@leftturn.org . On myspace: http://www.myspace.com/secondlines

 

posted 29 March 2009 
 

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story

of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

By Eric Liu and Nick Hanaper

American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: The economy is not an efficient machine.

It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest. We’re all better off when we’re all better off. The model of citizenship depends on contagious behavior, hence positive behavior begets positive behavior.

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Floodlines

Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six

By Jordan Flaherty

Preface by Tracie Washington / Foreward by Amy Goodman

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was a tragedy. What followed was a government-sanctioned travesty. Flaherty, a white New Orleans resident and journalist, interviews a number of locals about the recovery effort, outlining a systemic pattern that includes restrictions of service, human rights violations, and destruction of property targeting the city's African-American majority.

The behavior of the notorious New Orleans police department towards this community is appalling, but even more distressing is Flaherty's reporting on the failure of the federal government to respond to the needs of its citizens, and their use of paramilitary mercenaries to enforce a pattern of brutal occupation. To learn how profoundly the system failed (and continues to fail) will be extremely difficult for some readers, and Flaherty pulls no punches in his quest to uncover failures, highlighting how the systems in place for rebuilding (foundation support, non-profit groups, military intervention) remain woefully inadequate. Readers will be compelled, depressed, disturbed, and angered by what they find in this well-written report. Crucial readingPublishers Weekly   YouTube - The Jena Six  

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Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America

By Eugene Robinson

In this clear-eyed and compassionate study, Robinson (Coal to Cream), Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist for the Washington Post, marshals persuasive evidence that the African-American population has splintered into four distinct and increasingly disconnected entities: a small elite with enormous influence, a mainstream middle-class majority, a newly emergent group of recent immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, and an abandoned minority "with less hope of escaping poverty than at any time since Reconstruction's end." Drawing on census records, polling data, sociological studies, and his own experiences growing up in a segregated South Carolina college town during the 1950s, Robinson explores 140 years of black history in America, focusing on how the civil rights movement, desegregation, and affirmative action contributed to the fragmentation. Of particular interest is the discussion of how immigrants from Africa, the "best-educated group coming to live in the United States," are changing what being black means.

Robinson notes that despite the enormous strides African-Americans have made in the past 40 years, the problems of poor blacks remain more intractable than ever, though his solution--"a domestic Marshall Plan aimed at black America"--seems implausible in this era of cash-strapped state and local governments.—Publishers Weekly

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Predator Nation

Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America

By Charles H. Ferguson

If you’re smart and a hard worker, but your parents aren’t rich, you’re now better off being born in Munich, Germany or in Singapore than in Cleveland, Ohio or New York. This radical shift did not happen by accident.  Ferguson shows how, since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, both major political parties have become captives of the moneyed elite.  It was the Clinton administration that dismantled the regulatory controls that protected the average citizen from avaricious financiers.  It was the Bush team that destroyed the federal revenue base with its grotesquely skewed tax cuts for the rich. And it is the Obama White House that has allowed financial criminals to continue to operate unchecked, even after supposed “reforms” installed after the collapse of 2008. Predator Nation reveals how once-revered figures like Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers became mere courtiers to the elite.

Based on many newly released court filings, it details the extent of the crimes—there is no other word—committed in the frenzied chase for wealth that caused the financial crisis.  And, finally, it lays out a plan of action for how we might take back our country and the American dream.Read Chapter 1

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Home Literary New Orleans   Film Review  Katrina Flood Index  Criminalizing a Race: Blacks and Prisons Table

Related files: Nooses and a legal lynching in Jena, Louisiana     K-Ville (TV Show Review)  Jena Ignites a Movement   World Social Forum Diary 

 Notes from Inside New Orleans  Fifth Anniversary of Katrina   Media Crisis and Grassroots Response  Strange Fruit in Jena