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Sometimes We Get It Right

Far too often our beloved state is last in every respectable and beneficial ranking there is, yet first in every unhealthy, damaging or ruinous category imaginable.

But every now and again . . . we get something right.

A major shout out goes to the state legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards on making Louisiana the very first state in the nation to ban the criminal history box question from applications to all of its public colleges and universities.

In 2016, Pres. Barack Obama through the U.S. Department of Education asked colleges and universities to voluntarily remove the criminal history question from applications, and while some systems and private schools in New York and California complied, Louisiana is the first state to ban the box statewide at all of its colleges and universities.

The law does have some exceptions, and they are understandable, we suppose. For instance, colleges can still inquire about aggravated sexual assaults and stalking convictions. Still, anyone denied based on those exceptions can appeal.

This is a major step in criminal justice reform efforts, specifically those that are designed to remove barriers to better lives for the formerly incarcerated and those who have been convicted of crimes but are trying their best to get a new start.

According to research, about two-thirds of people with convictions that want to go to college do not complete and submit their applications after they see the criminal history question. In a state with the highest incarceration rate in the world, that has to equal a whole heap of folk that is literally boxed out of the opportunities that higher education can provide—the sort of opportunities that help folk change their lives for the better.

Let’s hope this movement picks up steam here and across the nation. Criminal history should not be a barrier to those trying to re-enter society. Denying access to quality, affordable housing, financial aid for higher education and employment opportunities hurts families and entire communities and only fuels our crime problem.

Sen. Kennedy Must Be Stopped

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy was a no-show at a citizens’ town hall meeting organized by a local progressive group and held at First Unitarian Universalist Church.

That is enough of a reason for us to completely ignore him when he offers his absurd and unsolicited ideas on fighting crime in New Orleans. A man who can’t even bother to show up and meet face to face with the people he was elected to serve pretty much loses his credibility with us on all salient issues. So thanks, but no thanks Sen. Kennedy. And, we certainly hope local police will not be taking your “Stop, Question and Frisk” advice on law enforcement. Just in case you forgot, sir, there is this pesky little document called the Constitution that we’re pretty sure you swore to uphold. Of course, in the current political paradigm, we have to wonder if that means anything to anybody anymore.

Nonetheless, your advice is unconscionable. And, uh, you really need to stop, because your racism is showing.

The fact that your statement is utterly ridiculous and seething with racial animus is enough for us to dismiss you. But then we think of the litany of things you could actually do to make New Orleans a safer city from your seat in the U.S. Senate and then consider your apparent unwillingness to do any of those things, and it’s like whoa. Yep, that is about the time at which we go from simply ignoring you to telling you to go have several seats and keep quiet . . . in that order. Now, while you are sitting there reflecting on the horror and stupidity of your statement, think about what you can do to redeem yourself, sir.

Not sure what to do? Let us help.

You can talk to us—the folk down here in New Orleans, you know the men and women, Black and White, young and old, that you are supposed to be serving—well, you can talk to us again when you and your Republican buddies stop playing with healthcare and ensure that not only do all Americans have access to quality health but that mental health needs are adequately addressed through a solid bill that makes provisions for affordable options for struggling Americans.

We might listen to what you have to say when you and your RNC buddies stop the President from slashing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which is used to address any number of community needs that approve conditions for low and moderate income citizens. Really, think about it, John. CDBG funds are primarily used to benefit low- and moderate-income persons; to prevent and eliminate of slums or blight; or to address urgent community development needs that pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available, such as disaster recovery programs. Seems to us, that funding that supports any of those three objectives will go farther and do more to make New Orleans safer than infringing on the constitutional rights of already disenfranchised and marginalized people.

You and the rest of Congress could ramp up Ban the Box and other criminal justice reform efforts designed to help returning citizens take advantage of much-needed opportunities that will help them improve their lives and the lives of their families and their community.

There are so many other ways you could busy yourself serving the people of Louisiana and solving the challenges that we face from New Orleans to New Iberia. How about more federal funding for education, job training, workforce development, community policing (emphasis on community), business development and many other areas that actually enrich communities, create opportunities and strengthen and support families and neighborhoods? Want to see crime drop in New Orleans? Try that tactic, Sen. Kennedy, instead of this ill-conceived “Stop, Question and Frisk” policy that is clearly designed to placate the racist, conservative fringe of your party. Yep, you can miss us with that; and when you are ready to step up and really be a public servant, let us know.

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