From Ferguson to New Orleans, Disconnect Harms

Brendan Lyman, Contribuiting Reporter

The following is an opinion article and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Since the Aug. 9 shooting and death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, the town of Ferguson, Missouri has become the epicenter of our nation’s police forces’ growing disconnection with the communities that they serve. While we have yet to determine the intentions of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, we have borne witness to one of the most extreme police responses to protests since the Civil Rights Movement. Almost two weeks after the shooting, the fissure looks far from healing.

New Orleans is no stranger to the detachment between a police force and its citizens. Despite being considered one of the most corrupt police departments in the country, the New Orleans Police Department has suffered darker days in the past.

This week as the nation focused on Ferguson, New Orleans entered another stage with its police force as Superintendent Ronal Serpas resigned for a teaching position at Loyola University New Orleans. One of Serpas’ final actions was to explain how NOPD failed to publicly disclose an officer-involved shooting in Algiers that left a man in an intensive care unit with a gunshot to the head. That last action served as a reminder of the negative aspects of his career in both New Orleans and Nashville, where he led the police force for six years.

As the city faced some of the highest murder rates in the nation, Serpas’ department declared the city safe based on crime statistics. According to NOPD, the rate of violent assaults to murders, which criminologists describe as a direct correlation, was much less than the national average. Several criminologists suspect that Serpas purposefully underreporting assaults. NOPD’s disconnect from the New Orleans community has diminished the citizens’ quality of life. This brings us back to the last two weeks in Ferguson.

The protests of Ferguson could have been avoided, in the same way the cycle of violence in New Orleans can be mitigated. The solution requires the police to be responsive to its community’s needs. In New Orleans, it begins with the new Interim Superintendent Michael Harrison, a 23-year veteran who was not part of Serpas’ inner circle. Harrison represents a real hope for the beginning of reconciliation between the city and its police force as a federal consent decree, which requires an independent monitor to oversee reforms, hangs over the department.

For the nation, and in particular New Orleans, Ferguson represents a stark warning sign of what can happen when a police force deviates from its main responsibilities. The ongoing reform under the consent decree and the naming of a new superintendent represents an opportunity for New Orleans to step forward.

Brendan Lyman is a senior in the Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]