My hometown is a laughingstock. The New York Times, BBC, Slate Magazine and weekly local papers from here to Miami are all pointing and laughing. How could a modern American city be using fake subpoenas, threatening witnesses at their workplaces and, worst of all, throwing victims of some of the most devastating and heinous acts of violence that this town has to offer behind bars without a care in the world to their jobs, their safety, or their survival?
I work in gun violence prevention. I work with countless victim survivors, like the indelible Deb Cotton, whose life was claimed by gun violence only days after penning an op-ed against the very practice I write about now. And I know that our cycle of violence is informed by trauma. This city, my city, is home to entire generations of men and women who have spent their lives grieving for the dead, or themselves running from bullets. Multiple studies show us that trauma has lasting impacts on brain development, often leading to increased risk-taking behavior through adolescence. The cycle of violence is unstoppable unless we address the cycle of trauma.
So when Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro takes to the Opinion pages to decry the City Council’s recommendation to no longer jail rape and domestic violence victims as “unacceptable and unrealistic,” he is telling you that traumatizing survivors and perpetuating New Orleans’ cycle of violence is less important than his career conviction statistics. What is unacceptable about refusing to arrest and incarcerate rape victims? DA offices from Brooklyn to Houston have refused to incarcerate victims who fail to testify. And those cities, unlike our own, have falling rates of violent crime. Why won’t our DA listen to his counterparts in other states?
The DA’s office keeps referring to the “small number” of incarcerated crime victims Court Watch NOLA has reported (CWN has uncovered over 30, by the way). However, their primary defense when confronted with CWN’s damning report was to throw up their hands and claim to not even keep records of the number of crime victims they incarcerate. So which is it, Mr. Cannizzaro? Did you lose track of how many victims you throw behind bars before or after you got caught?
The most egregious claim in the DA’s commentary is that “these warrants frequently save a witness’s life — literally and figuratively.” You read that right. He put in writing that throwing a rape victim in jail, without concern to her safety and without access to an attorney, is “saving” her life. Disgusting.
No wonder the world is laughing at us.
executive director, Louisiana Violence Reduction Coalition