Step Up Louisiana rallies at City Hall July 18 to announce it's three-point economic plan. Credit: Step Up Louisiana

On July 18 our organization, Step Up Louisiana, launched its Three Point Economic Justice Platform in front of City Hall. We were a huge crowd — over 40 unions, faith leaders and community organizations have signed on to our straightforward platform: $15 minimum wage, equal pay for equal work for women, and banning the box.

In recent days we have also heard from leading mayoral candidates about what they plan to do about crime in our city. Our platform focuses on economic justice. We all know that good jobs impact public safety. Tuesday evening we’re hosting a New Orleans Town Hall for Better Jobs to affirm what is best for our communities.

A few weeks back, New Orleans suffered the most violent day of 2017. Thirteen people were shot across the city with three of the victims eventually succumbing to their wounds. The following day, our city’s leaders stood before the media to denounce the crimes, offer condolences to the victims and their families, and repeat their supposed solutions to a problem that has plagued New Orleans for decades.

Their response and the proposals from most candidates are familiar, if uninspired: more police on the streets, more resources deployed to monitor the daily activities of residents, and more prisons to cage our friends and neighbors. We’d prefer to see much more emphasis placed on solutions like a $15 minimum wage, stopping workplace discrimination and more funding for youth activities through the city’s recreation department, NORD.

Recent history should make clear the fallacy of the tough-on-crime proposals candidates are offering. Rather than make communities safer, these policies contribute to brazen, often unprovoked, police aggression towards residents as well as sky-high rates of incarceration.

Crime in New Orleans is not a policing problem; it’s a poverty problem.

These policies disrupt families, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. Aggressive policing in New Orleans can be a form of violence that only contributes to the public safety concerns it is supposed to allay. Given this reality, many concerned residents are clamoring for alternatives.

In searching for alternatives, we would do well to reflect on the experiences of those closest to crime: black working-class neighborhoods. Ask any grandparent, sibling, parent or cousin of someone who has been the victim of a crime, and they’ll tell you this: Crime in New Orleans is not a policing problem; it’s a poverty problem. When potential offenders find a legal means to gain purpose, skills, and income, crime becomes less appealing. This is why we need public policies that encourage full employment and living wages.

No one in New Orleans should live in poverty. Regardless of the employee’s gender, a hard day’s work should always be rewarded with a decent wage. And crime should never be the best economic option. Nor should a past offense permanently exclude a formerly incarcerated man or woman from getting a job. That’s why we must “ban the box” in which job applicants are required to reveal past legal problems that can be a stigma even after they have “paid their debt to society.”

At Step Up Louisiana, we know that our three-point platform is part of the solution.

  • $15 minimum wage
  • Equal Pay for equal work for women
  • Ban the box

We are calling on all mayoral and council candidates for office this fall to adopt our platform. Our city is only going to go as far as our leaders are willing to take us.

Some candidates seem to get it. At a Justice and Beyond forum in June several of them, including Jay Banks, director of the Dryades YMCA and lifelong resident of District B, reiterated that we are “not going to arrest our way out of crime.” The major headline coming out of City Council Member Latoya Cantrell’s mayoral platform announcement was her contention that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

It’s up to us to make sure that elected officials know what’s best for the city and act on it. Naturally though, it will take a concerted effort by organized residents to make it clear to the city’s leaders that the best way to fight crime is to create good-paying jobs. We will be doing just that at the Better Jobs Town Hall on Tuesday night. It’s at Ashe Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. at 6:30 p.m. See you there.

Matt Reese and Harold John are members of Step Up Louisiana.

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