The ACLU of Louisiana supports a sensible approach to getting tough on crime, while protecting our freedom. The strategy of Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin in deploying National Guard troops in the city of New Orleans, however, avoids dealing with the real causes of crime and raises troubling questions. Such quick-fix solutions may sound exciting from a politician's podium, but they haven't worked so far " and it's doubtful they ever will.
"We at the ACLU are as concerned about crime as everyone else in that we ourselves and many of our members, friends and loved ones live and work in New Orleans," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "But the remedy of deploying National Guard troops into the city raises troubling questions in that they lack training in domestic law enforcement and violate a policy against having military act as police against civilians. Therefore, we would ask the Governor to take them out of the search, seizure and arrest business, while leaving that to trained police officers."
Then, state and local officials need to immediately get down to business with some common sense alternatives to the failed "get tough on crime' tactic. Louisiana already has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. As such, higher numbers of arrests and incarceration will not necessarily make us safer, but smart policing will help by targeting individual serious and violent offenders to get them off of the streets. Then, public officials need to take the next step by removing their blinders and join the ACLU to really get tough and lower the crime rate:
"As for the National Guard issue, the Louisiana Constitution allows the Governor to call out the National Guard troops where necessary to preserve law and order, to suppress insurrection, to repel invasion, or in other times of emergency," according to Katie Schwartzmann, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Louisiana. "It is assumed that the Governor is utilizing them now to 'preserve law and order.' However, that provision of the Constitution seems to contemplate that the Guard would be called out in the event of an emergency, not just for normal law and order preservation. We have concerns that having military officers on the street gives the appearance of a militarized zone. We must keep ourselves safe while maintaining respect for civil liberties; calling out troops gives the impression that we are a city under siege, which we are not. We send the wrong message to rest of the country about whether New Orleans is safe, and we send the wrong message to our citizens about their freedom."
"Again, we need to think creatively and engage in smarter criminal justice policies," emphasizes Joe Cook. "We need to strengthen family stability to prevent crime, which makes more sense than just trying to catch the bad guys after people have been murdered, raped, or assaulted. Talking about a shortage of police officers raises a false issue in that we have more police per capita now than before the hurricane. The real problem lies with wasting valuable police resources on arresting and incarcerating people on municipal offenses for which a citation would suffice. Target known individual dangerous criminals and get them off of the streets. That's a job for the police, not the National Guard."
The announcement that the National Guard troops would be deployed was accompanied by the planned imposition of a juvenile curfew. The ACLU calls upon Mayor Nagin to reject this knee-jerk idea that that diverts police from more pressing business to potentially harass and arrest "young looking" persons. We are living in a city with a flooded jail, which has been reopened without any certification of its safety for human habitation. There are reports of severe overcrowding and many inmates sleeping on the floor. We hear reports of intermittent food and medicine, and know from visiting that the heat in the House of Detention is unbearable. This is not a time when we need to incarcerate kids and criminalize them for simply being out late.
Cook goes on to say, "The ACLU believes that we can be both safe and free by getting tough on crime, while using reason and logic and respecting the Constitution. Freedom and democracy demand no less."