Nineteen people people participated in the meeting of the North Shore New Jim Crow Task Force on Sunday, November 24, 2013, at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist church in Lacombe, LA. Among the participants were visitors from Ohio, formerly incarcerated people who spoke of their experiences, religious leaders, a local criminal defense lawyer, representatives of local organizations, members of the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society, and regularly attending task force members.
Bonnie Schmidt opened the meeting with a few words about the task force's mission, and then Ann Porter gave the group some background description on the musical group, The Shiv, based at Southeastern in Hammond, LA. The group's You-Tube version of the song "New Jim Crow" was then played as an introduction to the meeting, as it highlights Louisiana's drug/prison system.
A local criminal defense lawyer then provided the group with legal information and background on federal and state drug laws. He explained some of the typical sentencing for scheduled drug offenses and the inequity of those sentences compared to the sentencing for DWI convictions. He also described some of the differences between the state and federal judicial systems, noting how sentencing in federal courts depends on "criminal points" the suspect may or may not have accrued from prior convictions. In addition, he spent some time explaining jury trials in Louisiana and the role of district attorneys in St. Tammany parish specifically. At the close of his talk, the criminal defense attorney fielded questions from the audience.
The meeting was wrapped up with two brief presentations from task force members Anita Dugat-Greene and Ann Porter. Anita showed the participants the task force's new blog, Equal Justice Louisiana, which she is currently maintaining for the group. Ann Porter described the exciting possibilities of having the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and the American Civil Liberties Union co-sponsor in our area a forum on criminal justice reform, much like the panel discussion that took place in Lafayette, LA, on November 13th at South Louisiana Community College. The Abita Springs Town Hall was suggested as a possible venue for such a program.
The next meeting of the North Shore New Jim Crow Task Force will be scheduled in January of 2014.