The $40 million “security plan” announced by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council will do little to make the city safer, but it will facilitate the continued growth of the city’s enormous incarceration industry, which disproportionately targets the black community. According to an Urban League report, African-Americans make up 90 percent of the adult incarcerated population but only 59 percent of the city; moreover, they have a 13 percent unemployment rate, more than twice the rate for whites (6 percent). The proposed plan would put cameras in majority-black areas —notably avoiding the Marigny, Bywater, Lakeview, and Uptown — in a clear attempt to target African-Americans and protect tourists.
At Ubuntu Village, we work with court-involved young people and their families, a group that will be especially damaged by the new security plan. Most juveniles arrested in New Orleans are African-American, many of whom are stopped for minor violations. Security cameras targeting their neighborhoods will only exacerbate this injustice, forcing our young people into early dealings with the justice system that they will be hard-pressed to overcome. Already, the vast majority of young people targeted by the New Orleans Police Department's stop-and-frisk program are black.
We can spend $40 million on surveillance and incarceration, or we could address the root of the problem and spend that money creating jobs and fostering economic justice. The majority of the youth we work with have struggled to find jobs that pay a living wage; employment in New Orleans, especially for young people, is precarious and exploitative — if they can even get hired in the first place. The mayor’s paltry jobs creation program — dubbed “Job None” by many residents of the city — has done little to ameliorate this situation. Vulnerable young people and their families need to be reconnected to their communities through substantive employment opportunities, not further disconnected through policies that promote a prison pipeline.
Our city will be safer only when we address the lack of economic opportunities that keep so many of our residents stuck in a permanent, racialized underclass. If Landrieu and the City Council are truly interested in making the city a secure place to live for the whole community, they should drop their plans for expanded surveillance and instead work with community members to develop a blueprint that addresses the epidemic of unaffordable housing, rising costs of living, and few sustainable job options. That $40 million could go a long way if it were spent on the people who live here instead of on the incarceration-driven Disneyfication of the city for tourists.
director, Ubuntu Village