Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bait and Arrest: New Orleans sleazy set-up of homeless people

I've been a little worried about the state of homeless organizing in New Orleans, although of course it's hard to tell from 1,500 miles away. One of the homeless blogs I track hasn't had a new post since February; another is very sporadic.

An article in yesterday's New Orleans City Business Blog has me shaking my head in disgust. I can only hope that community groups in New Orleans are able to bring this practice to an end.

Apparently the N.O. police are leading cigarettes, beer, and, for some reason, Boston Baked beans in unlocked cars with the windows rolled down, and then parking these vehicles near homeless encampments.

NOPD made its first arrests June 10. For stealing less than $6 in items, police charged two homeless men with simple burglary, a felony that can carry up to 12 years in prison. Neither suspect had any prior arrests in Orleans Parish.

It’s been more than a month since their arrests and the men are still sitting in Orleans Parish Prison, waiting on court dates.
Given the city's extraordinarily high murder and serious crime rate, some in New Orleans are wondering if this is a good use of the police department's resources.

This reminds me of something a former housemate of mine did twenty years ago that I have never gotten over. It certainly permanently changed our relationship.

She had an old beater of a car but it was fully insured. She was starting to have a little transmission trouble and when the garage told her she'sd need a new transmission, she cooked up a plan to have her cake and eat it, too.

She drove her car into Springfield's North End and left it unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Then to her surprise, it took five days for the vehicle to be stolen! She then reported the theft to her insurance company.

When she gleefully reported her actions to the rest of us, I was so shocked I was almost speechless.

"Don't you realize that your actions have set somebody up to be arrested?"

"Well, if it was an honest person, they wouldn't steal the car!" (Lots of people feel this way.)

"What if it was a kid who'd resisted every temptation so far...what if it was somebody behind in their rent...or sick a sick kid?"

"Oh, well," she said, a bit embarassed. After all, she was defrauding the insurance company. But she just didn't get it.

I've always thought it was part of my responsibility to help people be the best people they can be, not to set them up for a downfall. But i guess not everybody feels that way-- certainly not the New Orleans Police Department.

If you think their actions suck as much as I do, call
  • Mayor's Office of Public Advocacy (Social Services Needs and Referrals):
  • 504-658-4015
    (Nagin's direct line does not seem to be listed.)


    Matt D. Barnes said...

    I have just come across your site via a link on SLO Homeless and I'm glad I did. You maintain an interesting site, I enjoyed looking around and I hope to be a regular visitor.

    I am a homeless blogger myself and between the two of you, you have provided me with a whole host of further interesting links to explore. Thank you.

    Michaelann Bewsee said...

    Thanks, Matt. Good luck with your blog. Keep writing. Your perspective is important because you've really been there. Although I've often felt myself at risk, i haven't actually been homeless since my late twenties. Yet I still mine that period for experience. If we're lucky, others can learn from that experience, too.