Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Stumbling, Steady

Here’s something I learned today: New Orleans incarcerates more people per capita than anywhere else in the entire world.

The world! Think of any police state you can imagine; think of repressive regimes the world over; think of cities all over our own country jailing our young people and immigrants and people of color; think about stories we’ve been told of people in other countries going to jail for stealing a loaf of bread or spitting out gum on the sidewalk, and think of New Orleans. Nobody else in the world puts more people per capita in jail than we do.

And still, people are really afraid of crime here. Is putting more people in jail per capita than anywhere else in the world making us feel safer? Do we feel like it’s working? Do I feel safer now, knowing that more of my neighbors are in jail than anybody else’s neighbors in the whole world?

As I write this, a group of mostly white people who live in the Marigny/Bywater and Mid-City areas, and who also work with a variety of local organizations struggling for racial and economic justice, are getting together to build on amazing work that’s been happening throughout the city and engage their neighborhoods in working toward more integrated ways of addressing crime that build justice and stronger communities, so that people who are necessarily worried about their safety have legitimate and humanizing outlets for those concerns, instead of relying on gun-toting vigilante groups or racial profiling by private security companies and neighborhood improvement group initiatives.

I’m excited to see the next steps.


Summer's here for real. I felt it for the first time on Sunday, getting off a plane from DC: the gray wash of air, dripping and bathwater-warm, seeping even through the metal carpeted jetway that led us off the plane, making even my suitcase feel sweaty and slow. Air like that’s not going anywhere: it’ll wrap around us like filmy sheets till late October, getting in our way, dazzling our vision, smoothing its droplets onto our skin and our sidewalks and the coarse jungly vines crawling out from behind the fences. Back in my neighborhood the streets have that just-been-rained-on look: the ground slick and porous and the banana leaves so shiny green you need to squint just to move past them.

We move more slowly in summer because we have to wade. For our entire history this has been the natural rhythm of things. It impacts our lives in concrete ways: because this time of year simply crossing the street becomes Herculean, it’s time for stillness and deliberation. Used to be, those of us in social movements in New Orleans accepted that in summer we’d be taking less outward visible action, and spending more time reflecting and grounding our work for the future in a larger conscious strategy. At the time I don’t think I realized how important it was for us to have those periods but now, with things so high-gear and urgent all the time, it’s no wonder I see more of us breathless and trudging as our struggles continue on breakneck, without regard for the cycles of the natural world. I get it, why there’s no coming up for air yet, but that’s what I want for us more than anything: just a raft for us to hang onto for a second; just the time and space for us to breathe and gather strength before moving on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

cj i totally adore you!!! are you going to ussf? xoxo ele

2:08 PM  
Blogger catherine said...

yes! will i see you? enormous hugs to you xo cj

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep smiling girl. . .! Your soul's sun steers you! Amor y besos, M

6:20 PM  

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