New Orleans – Police say that nearly a dozen people were hospitalized after an unknown suspect opened fire early Sunday morning in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

As of the writing of this article, no arrests have been made, but local authorities say that they have someone in custody and are continuing their investigation. 

The initial reports came just before 3:30 a.m. Sunday after police say the suspect opened fire in the 700 block of Canal Street. 

Due to the notorious Bayou Classic football game between Grambling State and Southern University that occurred on Saturday night, extra law enforcement units had been assigned to the area. Because of that extra staffing, officers were quickly able to respond to the gunfire and prevented more carnage from happening. 

Some reports said that New Orleans police originally believed they were being fired upon, but once they realized they were not the intended target, managed to get control of the scene. 

 

Five victims were immediately rushed to University Hospital and an additional five were headed to Tulane Hospital. News outlets reported that while 10 victims had originally been reported, another wounded individual walked into a medical facility later on. 

Two of the victims were listed in critical condition after reportedly suffering gunshots to the chest and torso, ABC reported.

One person is reportedly in custody, but it’s unclear as to whether or not they actually fired the shots, as no formal arrests have been made and no charges been filed. 

 

The investigation into the details and possible motive of the shooting are ongoing. 

New Orleans violence has been heating up, and with a reported average of 1 in 7 adults having a warrant out for their arrest, 56,000 in total, city leaders are looking for answers to solving their crime problems.

Almost all of them are for failure to appear to handle a citation of some sort. 94 percent of those were for misdemeanor offenses such as public intoxication and fishing without a license. Some of these warrants date back to 2002.

A group of community activists, working in conjunction with the District Attorney’s office have an idea on how to address this problem.

Delete the warrants and any fines or fees associated with them. Dismiss the original charges and forget that these individuals did not show up to court as their summons directed.

So, forget that these 56,000 individuals violated some element of criminal statutes? Forget that they failed to appear in court.

Yep!

At least that is what a coalition of elected officials, local civil rights organizations such as Stand With Dignity and the public defender’s office is proposing as a permanent solution: wiping out nearly all 56,000 warrants, in addition to any debt accumulated from fines and fees.

If successful, New Orleans would be at the forefront of a growing movement to curb the use of warrants and the threat of arrest when the underlying charge might be little more than public intoxication. Only two cities, Ferguson, Missouri, and San Francisco (as well as the state of New Jersey) have attempted anything similar, according to the Fines and Fees Justice Center in New York.

“We need to consider all the damage this has caused and the psychological trauma it continues to impose on the minds and hearts and confidences of 14 percent of our population,” said City Council member Jason Williams. “This is New Orleans’s working poor. This is the hospitality community, musicians. These are people who are some of the reasons why people come to New Orleans in the first place.”

So, being a poor musician working in a hotel cocktail lounge is now a reason to have your charges dropped and allow you to avoid paying restitution?

What does that mean financially? The website for the Municipal and Traffic Court of New Orleans does not list the associated court fees or the fine for failure to appear. Using the smallest fine listed as a conservative estimate for what that fine would look like, erasing every last warrant would cost the city $8,540,000.

That figure does not include the fines associated with the original infractions. Assuming again the smallest fine listed, that would bring the total amount of lost revenue to $17,080,000.

According to the Stamford Advocate, not everyone is on board with eradicating every outstanding warrant. Paul Sens, chief judge of the Municipal Court, prides himself on operating “one of the most progressive courts in the United States,” but he worries that blanket amnesty would send the wrong message.

“There are a lot of people who come into this court and do what’s expected of them,” Sens said. “So why did this guy who’s got 20 cases and $5,000 worth of fines get his wiped out and they didn’t? It’s a balancing act you have to do.”

Sens also said that people should not fear being the subject of a warrant, because he requires an arrest only for missed court dates associated with domestic violence or driving while intoxicated. For nearly 80 percent of warrants, officers decide whether to arrest the individual.

“The police are given wide discretion, so this is not something that’s really hanging over people’s heads,” Sens said.

Some say that will do little to calm the fears of the black community.

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Bill Quigley, director of the law clinic at Loyola University, said that provides little comfort to the black citizens of New Orleans, who are more likely to have frequent and unpleasant encounters with the police.

“Things that are discretionary in the criminal justice system in New Orleans are always exercised at the expense of people of color and people without economic resources,” Quigley said. “Not so much if you’re a white law professor at Loyola.”

Unfortunately for Bill, the numbers do not quite support his conclusion.

According to the 2018 US Census, the population of New Orleans was 391,600. The black community comprises almost 60 percent of that population, totaling 234,177. The black population outnumbers the white population almost two to one.  

The New Orleans Police Department provided the following statement:

“Once a warrant is verified, an officer has no discretion regarding taking that individual into custody.” 

So, the NOPD is saying that their policing practices do not target blacks or poor people. They target lawbreakers.

Quigley’s assertion that arrest for warrants only affect minorities and poor people is asinine at best.

The catalyst to New Orleans push for warrant dismissal? Ferguson, Missouri. 

Questions about municipal warrants and their impact on public safety intensified after Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer in 2014 in Ferguson.

Being that Brown had no prior record, one must wonder what it was about his death led to such an inquiry.

An investigation of the city’s police department found that more than 16,000 people (people, not warrants) had outstanding municipal warrants in a city of 21,000 people, and those warrants were “almost exclusively” used as a threat to generate revenue from poor, black communities through fines and fees, which they could not afford to pay.

Once again, reality doesn’t support the findings.

First, the report shows that 76 percent of the city’s population had a warrant. 4,900 people in Ferguson are 15 years or younger. Based on that alone, the study would indicate that every adult in Ferguson had a warrant.

Secondly, the report would have us believe that these warrants were issued “almost exclusively” to members of poor, black communities. While the black population makes up almost 70 percent of the city, roughly 25 percent of black citizens live in poverty.

This results in only 23 percent of all warrants being issued to a black resident who lives below the poverty line.  However, when you remove the residence who are under the age of 15, that pushes the number down to 17 percent of warrants issued fit into the “poor, black community” demographic.

That is a far cry from “almost exclusively.”

Five months after the investigation was finished, the Ferguson Municipal Court dismissed all warrants issued before December 31, 2014, totaling approximately 10,000 of the original 16,000.

We must get away from this mindset that policing is a racist concept. Tickets, warrants and fines are not directed “almost exclusively” at any minority community or those with no financial means. They are directed at lawbreakers.

 


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