Government & Politics
 

Police brutality activists protest mayor's selection for chief

Despite what her shirt says, one participant needs to take a rest during the Thursday morning protest against new police Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

Police-brutality activists rallied on the steps of City Hall today calling for the removal of New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

“We want a completely new landscape free of people who came up in a NOPD culture of abuse and terror,” said organizer W.C. Johnson. Johnson said that while he is pleased the Department of Justice will be intervening in the city’s criminal justice process, he does not trust Serpas to be a good partner for the federal agency.

Serpas has pledged to cooperate with the Justice Department’s involvement, which Mayor Mitch Landrieu has invited.

The activists, part of a coalition called Community United for Change, attracted questioning stares from passers-by, but little more than impassive shrugs from the uniformed police officers watching from the sidelines as they marched in a circle, chanting and waving anti-Serpas signs.  Mostly made up of activists who have been fighting for NOPD reform for decades, the group also included a handful of younger activists, some of whom joined the fight in the aftermath of post-Katrina police brutality.

“There are some new faces,” New Orleans native Sandra Ewell said. “People are coming in and joining in.”

Ewell said she hoped the group’s presence at 1300 Perdido St. would remind Landrieu of his campaign promise to listen to the city’s residents as he reforms government.

“We need to get his attention so he knows he has to work with the grassroots community,” she said.

Activists have long asked police get to know the people in the neighborhoods and provide more transparent data on crime-fighting efforts.  In a nod to that, Landrieu and Serpas have emphasized their commitment to increased transparency and community involvement.

At the superintendent’s swearing-in Tuesday, he said he plans to open all citywide COMSTAT meetings to the public and the media.  District commanders will be encouraged to open district-level meetings as well, he said.

“It is just plain right to invite people from all walks of life into the process,” Serpas said. At COMSTAT meetings, officers review incident reports, crime statistics and maps in hopes of providing quantitative analysis to help officers do their jobs more effectively.

Unlike more hard-line activists at the rally, Ewell said she would be willing to work with Serpas despite her opposition.

“If he shows that he is fair to the community and the needs of the community, then I will be happy to participate,” she said.

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