[StBernard] Race relations in St. Bernard discussed, some solutions offered

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Feb 22 10:52:55 EST 2011

Race relations in St. Bernard discussed, some solutions offered

Published: Monday, February 21, 2011, 6:16 PM Updated: Monday, February
21, 2011, 6:24 PM

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune

In a St. Bernard Parish church Sunday evening, a U.S. Department of Justice
official mediated a conversation that carefully touched on race and the need
for better relations between sheriff's officials and the parish's
African-American residents.

Department of Justice official Carmelita Pope Freeman and St. Bernard Chief
Deputy Sheriff James Pohlmann are scheduled to meet Tuesday to further
discuss community relations, and the possible launch of an eight-hour
training session next month where community members and sheriff's officials
could learn conflict resolution skills.

In one-on-one situations, a resident would play the part of the sheriff
official and the sheriff official would play the part of a resident,
potentially learning to see the relationship from the other person's
perspective. Pohlmann said that "in terms of dealing with community members,
we still have things to learn."

"Some people, when they put the badge on, they think they are a superhero,"
he said, adding that because of his department's tough stance on drug
dealers "we get a reputation of being kind of aggressive and we get

Freeman, the southwest regional director of the Department of Justice's
Community Relations Service, says her department recently conducted similar
mediation exercises with the New Orleans Police Department.

The Community Relations Service was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964
to address community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of
race, color and national origin, and now has expanded to include gender
identity and sexual orientation discrimination.

Racial relations in St. Bernard have been center stage recently as the
parish was strong-armed into accepting four mixed-income, multifamily
housing developments that parish officials have rallied against for more
than two years.

A federal judge has ruled that parish officials intentionally discriminated
against African-Americans by denying the apartments. And with another case
in front of the same judge pending, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development recently filed a complaint accusing the parish of more
widespread discrimination against African-Americans by not allowing enough
rental and affordable housing.

That HUD complaint brought the threat of lost federal funding, and the
parish backed down earlier this month by providing the necessary permits to
the developer.

Councilman Wayne Landry attempted to explain to the crowd of mostly
African-American residents on Sunday that the multifamily housing units
"hurts all of us," and that the actions of the parish to prevent them had
not been racist.

"I want to have more of them low-income people in St. Bernard. I just want
them to have more dignity than having to live in that dense housing," Landry
said, attempting to explain that creating lower-income, single-family
housing was a better way to go. "I don't want to keep people out of the
parish because of their income status."

The meetings with Freeman in St. Bernard began after residents last year
approached her about trying to create more opportunities for minorities in
the BP oil spill clean-up effort. Despite saying they didn't receive the
opportunities they'd sought, members of St. Bernard's sole majority-black
community have continued to meet regularly with Freeman, discussing
everything from lack of recreational, work-force and housing choices to the
allegations of racial prejudice, misunderstanding and profiling.

Freeman has said the Department of Justice has allocated more resources in
the New Orleans metro area in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, and with the
Justice Department's ongoing assessment of the NOPD.

The regular meetings at the Corinne Missionary Baptist Church annex with
Freeman have helped St. Bernard's African-American community centralize its
voice. Over Martin Luther King Day, in the same Violet church annex,
community members elected the first officers to a newly-formed NAACP chapter
for the parish.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the percentage of African Americans in St. Bernard
has risen dramatically. From about 8 percent of the population in 2000, the
recent census shows that black residents last year made up about 18 percent
of the population.

About 20 years ago, less than 4 percent of the parish's population was

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