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City Council adopts resolution urging Orleans DA to stop jai
Sun Jul 2, 2017 18:40

City Council adopts resolution urging Orleans DA to stop jailing certain victims
Updated on May 4, 2017 at 4:12 PM Posted on May 4, 2017 at 4:01 PM
Williams and Cannizzaro.jpg
New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams, left, sponsored a resolution condemning Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's practice of jailing certain crime victims who do not cooperate with prosecutors. The City Council adopted the resolution by a 6-1 vote on Thursday, May 4, 2017. (Photos by Chris Granger and Ted Jacson, | The Times-Picayune)

BY EMILY LANE, | The Times-Picayune
The New Orleans City Council adopted a resolution on Thursday urging District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's Office to end the practice of jailing victims of sexual assault or domestic violence who refuse to testify.

The resolution, sponsored by Councilman Jason Williams, can not force Cannizzaro to end the practice but officially demonstrates the City's Council's position on the issue. Councilwoman Stacy Head was the only council member to vote against adopting it.

In a written statement, Cannizzaro defended the practice, saying he "must balance the concerns of the victim with the safety of a community that is being torn apart by violent crime."

Williams introduced the legislation in response to last month's report by the watchdog group, Court Watch NOLA, which found six victims had been jailed in 2016 on non-material witness warrants for their refusal to testify or otherwise cooperate with the prosecution.

One of those jailed was a rape victim whose accused attacker was also being housed at the Orleans Justice Center jail, the same facility where she was incarcerated for eight days.
Victims jailed in N.O. for refusing to testify: watchdog group
Six crime victims, including a rape victim and four attempted murder victims, were jailed in 2016 on material witness warrants.

"This practice discourages participating and getting involved in the criminal justice system, which is what we want to foster," Williams said during debate about his proposed resolution. He also called the practice "inhumane," and said it revictimizes victims.

Court Watch NOLA director Simone Levine and New Orleans Family Justice Center director Mary Claire Landry both said at the time the report was issued they believed the practice of jailing victims of sexual assault and domestic violence - which the DA's office has the discretion to do - should end.

Cannizzaro said, too, that decisions to seek material witness, "are not made carelessly."

During discussion of the resolution, Williams read excerpts from an essay on the topic by New Orleans journalist Deborah Cotton. The New York Times published the essay titled, 'Don't Jail Crime Victims for Not Testifying,' on Thursday, two days after friends said Cotton died of complications from injuries she received during the 2013 Mother's Day second-line shooting.
NYT publishes Deb Cotton's essay urging DA not to jail victims
The essay was published Thursday (May 4), two days after New Orleans journalist Deborah Cotton's friends said she died of gunshot wound complications.

Head said her vote against the resolution should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the practice. Rather, she voted against the resolution because she did not agree with the council's "focus on castigating one part of the criminal justice system," when practices of other criminal justice agencies the council disagreed with had not been the target of resolutions.

For example, Head said, the council did not adopt a resolution condemning the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office former practice of housing state inmates at the crowded local jail while transferring local, pretrial detainees out of parish. The end of that practice was reached through other means.

The council must be "honest about how many broken parts of the criminal justice system we have," Head said.

Guidry disagreed, saying, the resolution was, "a valid way of getting across to the DA and to the public" the council's condemnation of jailing victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Deborah Cotton, writer shot in 2013 Mother's Day second-line shooting, dies at 52
BY KATY RECKDAHL | Special to The Advocate MAY 2, 2017 - 10:41 AM

New Orleans writer and cultural advocate Deborah Cotton died Tuesday at University Medical Center, finally succumbing to injuries she suffered four years ago during the Mother's Day second-line mass shooting, according to close friends. She was 52.

Sassy, stylish and passionate, Cotton was raised in Texas and Oklahoma. She attended San Francisco State University, taking up African-American studies, before moving to Los Angeles, where she worked as a union organizer.

In mid-2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina struck, she moved to New Orleans. Almost instantly, she embraced the city's culture and communities with a singular zeal.

She became known for her writing about brass bands, second-lines, Mardi Gras Indian practices and other New Orleans mainstays under the name “Big Red Cotton,” blogging, tweeting and filming nearly every Sunday second-line parade.

“She was the first journalist to treat the second-line community as a beat,” said Kevin Allman, editor of Gambit, which published her weekly blogs starting in 2009.

When Cotton published an annual calendar of social aid and pleasure club parades, it became one of the most popular items on the paper’s website, he said.

Along the way, Allman said, her work helped to forge better relationships among the city, police and the parading clubs.

Though Cotton was not from the city, she truly appreciated the tradition, said Fred Johnson of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club. “She liked the music, fanfare and pageantry, and she really understood its significance — probably more than many people who were raised in New Orleans.”

In person, she was one of a kind, Allman said. “Deb had a tremendous amount of joy, laughter and gusto,” he said. “But if she was making a point, she was dead serious. And she could be dead serious in 4-inch heels with a Mimosa.”

In 2007, Cotton published “Notes From New Orleans,” subtitled “Spicy, colorful tales of politics, people, food, drink, men, music and life in post-breaches New Orleans.”

Ironically, one of Cotton’s first "Big Red" posts was critical of children walking in the lengthy parades, said Shalanda Adams, an ardent second-liner. “We gave her some feedback about that, and she listened,” said Adams, who ended up embracing Cotton like a member of the family.

Four years ago, when shooting broke out in the 7th Ward during the annual parade of the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Cotton was filming. Of the 19 people shot that day, she was the worst injured, suffering grave internal injuries that required multiple surgeries and kept her on the brink of death for more than a month.

Cotton, thrust into the media spotlight after the incident, jumped into a new role, as a victims' advocate, but with a twist — her insistent empathy toward the shooter, Akein Scott, who looked like her nephew Austin, she often said.

It was an unusual response for a victim of violence.

After Cotton died Tuesday, David Simon, producer of HBO’s "Treme," tweeted, “Even after the worst affront, Deb was as big-hearted, forgiving and joyful as the city and the culture she loved.”

Tamara Jackson, who heads up the New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force and works for the group Silence Is Violence, regularly helps crime victims. She didn’t know what to expect from Cotton what she got out of the hospital.

“Deb had the opportunity to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the city’s social aid and pleasure clubs and our struggles,” she said.


    • Don’t Jail Crime Victims for Not Testifying By DEBORAH COTTON MAY 4, 2017 Share This Page Photo Credit Jasu Hu My friend Deborah Cotton, a courageous activist and journalist in New Orleans, died on... more
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