Community Activists Say Cantrell Disrespects True Meaning of MLK Remembrance; Plan March & Rally on January 16 and Crime Summit on January 23


Led by their local mayors, hundreds of towns and cities across the U.S. will be holding marches on Monday, January 16 in remembrance of the 55th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For decades the New Orleans march was an opportunity for thousands of citizens of all ages and ethnicities to come together to reflect on King’s message of peace and justice. At a time when escalating violent crime has left the New Orleans community in fear, Cantrell has chosen not to host a parade. Instead she will attend a much more exclusive commemoration service at the New Zion Baptist Church at which representatives of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) will honor her. The SCLC has its roots at New Zion. The family of former City Councilmember Jay Banks has attended New Zion for decades. Banks’ father and grandfather knew King personally. Banks is now an executive in Cantrell’s administration.  

The city-sponsored annual commemoration of the MLK holiday was always put together by a broad-based planning committee and included a number of city-sponsored events. Critics say this year’s committee was composed of only two people including one city official who focused primarily on the New Zion event. They also believe that the annual MLK events calendar released by the City on Friday, January 13, was merely a compilation of MLK related events being sponsored by separate organizations like the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and City Park.   

Grassroots leader W.C. Johnson of We the People and New Orleans United Front, a network of grassroots organizations and community activists, calls Cantrell’s failure to hold a march as part of the annual remembrance of King’s federal holiday as “a blatant disregard and disrespect.” He contends that Cantrell’s inactions have created a void in city government. Johnson went on to say that Cantrell has failed to govern in the best interests of the citizens and thereby has “abdicated” her office.

Cantrell, Johnson says, has failed to recognize Dr. King’s “intensive work and unheard-of achievements that moved the Black race from slave to human. Her inactions moved Johnson and his supporters to create a Peaceful March & Rally against Violent Crime on Monday, January 16, that will also celebrate King’s life and memory. Marchers will meet at the MLK Monument at S. Claiborne Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. at 9 a.m. The group will then proceed to Simon Bolivar Avenue and up to LaSalle Street where New Zion Baptist Church is located. A rally will be held across from New Zion at the A. L. Davis Park. “Violent crime is out of control. Our elected leaders are doing little. Our young men are dying in the streets. How many more mothers have to weep,” asked Johnson.   

“It is an indignity to Dr. King’s memory that the City of New Orleans did not host a march,” said Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste. “Mayor Cantrell talks about Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence but she is unable to make even a dent in the spiraling crime that holds New Orleans hostage. We are already the murder capital of the world. Who among us will be the next victim?”

Batiste also thinks the mayor’s new Task Force on Violent Crime is a “slap in the face” to the community. “Please stop ignoring the community. Let us be involved. We need action now,” he said. Batiste believes that to be effective the Task Force must represent more diverse stakeholders in the community including the City Council, coaches, mentors, the faith based community, the NAACP, the Urban League, V.O.T.E., and mothers of children who were killed. “Mayor Cantrell rarely shows up at funerals. These mothers need to know she cares,” said Batiste. He would also like to engage with young people through a Youth Congress where they can come to the table and have a say. “Let the young people help us address the roots of crime. We need crime prevention, programs to help prevent retaliation, and mental health services for those who need treatment. Many of the young people who are committing crimes are suffering mentally.”

Batiste wonders about the faith Cantrell has in Interim Police Chief Michelle Woodfork. “If she respects the Chief, why isn’t Woodfork in charge of the Task Force?” Batiste also questioned the top appointments Woodfork recently made with the mayor’s approval. “These appointments show that there is still favoritism and nepotism in the NOPD. We need to build a force of 1700 men and women but the mayor and police chief’s actions have left officers feeling disrespected and unappreciated. The mayor brought in two former NYPD officials and paid them six-figure salaries – quite a blow to the hardworking officers who have been protecting and serving the citizens of New Orleans for years.” 

The SCLC is giving Cantrell an award, explained Batiste, but she is not addressing crime. “The old SCLC members were leaders on civil rights and crime. Are they now on the wrong side of history by supporting the mayor and not the community?” 

We The People and New Orleans United Front will host a Crime Summit on Monday, January 23 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Café Istanbul, 2327 St. Claude Avenue. All stakeholders are invited to attend.  For more information contact Belden Batiste at 504 259-3766. 

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