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    Members of the community ask EBR School Board to condemn Bernard’s comments on Robert E. Lee

    Dear Editor,

    The East Baton Rouge School System is one that serves over 81% African-American students. From the time of the inception of this nation, African-American children and their families were barred from the American education system. Now, 13 years after the closing of the longest desegregation order in the United States, and four years after the removal of “Robert E.” from Lee High’s name, Baton Rouge children are still subjected to the bigotry that called for segregation to exist in the first place.

    School Board Member Connie Bernard recently repeated some false, revisionist history during an interview concerning a name change for Lee High. As a representative of a board dedicated to educating over 45,000 children, she is complicit in the oppression of black children in this parish and the spreading of historically inaccurate information to those who look to understand American History.

    According to Sean Kane, writer for the American Civil War Museum, Robert E. Lee inherited and owned 189 enslaved people, whom he worked tirelessly to fulfill a debt, instead of fulfilling his father-in-law’s wish to have those enslaved people freed in five years as the will suggested; he instead petitioned the court to keep them further in bondage. He also petitioned the court to extend their period of enslavement, and according to the narratives of those enslaved, inflicted cruel punishments to those who attempted to escape their life of bondage.

    The members of our organizations are concerned by School Board Member Bernard’s words and actions. Her interview demonstrates that she values Robert E. Lee and the systemic racism that he represents far more than the students and families that she has committed to serve as a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Mrs. Bernard’s vote to merely remove Lee’s first name from the school name was a betrayal four years ago and her recent comments show that she has no desire to acknowledge the traumas that Black students and their families have suffered at the hands of oppressors like Robert E. Lee. She’d rather glorify a myth, than work to remove symbols doing real harm to the children in our district.

    We call upon the East Baton Rouge School Board, to act in the best interest of all children in our district and rename Lee High in honor of someone who worked in the collective interest of all children. We also condemn the words of Board Member Connie Bernard and suggest her resignation from the board effective immediately.

    One of the pillars of the East Baton Rouge School System is building trust within the community, and trust cannot be built if board members are actively spreading false history and voting to keep racist symbols in place.

    Sincerely,

    South Louisiana Coalition for Education
    Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge

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    PERSPECTIVE: Local laws should reflect local values; Baton Rouge needs civil rights commission

    As the capital and second largest city in Louisiana, Baton Rouge has great cultural, historical and economic significance. But is it a city of true opportunity? A lack of protections from discrimination would  indicate that Baton Rouge is not. This is because our municipal code does not currently declare civil rights for any of its citizens. More than 230 U.S. cities have some form of non-discrimination laws.

    Many of these cities established commissions before the passage of the Civil Rights Act to protect their citizens that were not granted protections at the state and federal level. Many of these cities (such as Shreveport, Birmingham, and Jackson) have created  Civil Rights Commission which is a governing body that accepts complaints based upon discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations for protected classes.  

    The structure and activities of a Civil Rights Commission in each city varies based on the language of the city’s municipal code and the needs of citizens, but generally they have acted as mediators between its citizenry and businesses. As time went on, these cities later amended their laws to include more groups of people to protect.  But it’s important to note that state and federal protections are lacking coverage for certain classes.

    The citizens of Baton Rouge have always longed for corporations to see our city as a viable option for setting up offices.  Amazon was previously scouting cities to place its new HQ2 corporate offices.  Without something in place such as an ordinance and commission, Baton Rouge was quickly removed from any list of prospects. Charlotte, North Carolina, lost major attractions like the NCAA’s Final Four games to Louisiana’s own New Orleans because of lack of inclusive laws. Large corporations want to make sure that the customers and clients they bring to a city are welcomed wherever they go. In addition, each year, The Human Rights Campaign evaluates 509 cities including Baton Rouge.  The Human Rights Campaign is a well recognized, credible non-profit organization that advocates for civil rights across the nation. As of 2017, The Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index scored Baton Rouge 36 out of 100 points, which puts the city after New Orleans, Shreveport and Alexandria. If Baton Rouge were to adopt a civil rights ordinance and establish a commission it’s estimated the HRC score would almost double.

    In 2017, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome issued an executive order to expand efforts to increase the enterprise participation of small businesses in city-parish contracts, including those owned by minorities, women and veterans. This effort was part of her goal to make Baton Rouge “a progressive, inclusive and just community.” A civil rights ordinance and having a civil rights commission is would be a step forward for Baton Rouge.  Since there is a lack of protections within the city-parish, cases of discrimination are currently deferred to state and federal policies that are not suited to the people of Baton Rouge.  Our local laws should reflect our local values and send the message to potential employers and employees that we are a welcoming city with a infamous Louisiana spirit.  

    By Christine Assaf
    Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge

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    Metro council to hear public on marijuana penalties, considers fencing downtown area overpass

    Baton Rouge metro council meetings are off to a running start in January. With one meeting out of the way and one upcoming on the 24th, now is the time to get informed and involved in local government.

    At the January 10th meeting, Councilman Matt Watson (District 11) removed his proposal to create a tax for the increase of Police Salaries. By deleting the proposal from the agenda ahead of public comments and a vote, the tax issue can be raised again at another time. Had it gone to a vote and failed, rules state that it cannot be brought forward for another calendar year. He cited a current lack of support as his reason for the removal.

    New BR police chief Murphy Paul made an appearance at the meeting to ask for a budget increase for the Targeted Violent Criminal Program. These funds, which come entirely from a federal grant, would be used to purchase an automated dispatch system.

    Council members deferred a number of items to future meetings. Changes to the city pay plan are on hold for sixty days after a heated debate on how changes will impact newer employees. The decision on whether or not to re-appoint Cleve Dunn Jr. to the Airport District Board was deferred again and is currently set for the next meeting on January 24th. The 24th meeting will also readdress the placement of fences under the overpass at North St. This discussion was deferred out of concern for the homeless population that resides there. The Mayor’s office is working with organizations and stakeholders to create a program to address concerns.

    Issues introduced at the meeting on the 10th will be up for public comment and voting on the 24th. A draft introduced by council members Chandler Loupe (District 3) and Lamont Cole (District 7) will change the enforcement of marijuana possession. The penalty for possession of under 14 grams would be punishable by a $300 fine and no more than 15 days in jail under the changes.

    An item intended to reduce crime in hotels and motels introduced by council members Watson, Erika Green (District 5), and Barbara Freiberg (District 12) could have negative repercussions for hotel owners. Under the changes hotel and motel guests will have to present a valid government issued ID before being allowed to stay in a room. The changes also increase the fines levied if a hotel or motel keeps an incomplete record of previous guests. Under current law, hotels must retain guest records for the previous three years of operation.

    The proposed changes also create a permit system for hotels/motels. These business would have to register with the Department of Development in order to operate. The required permit could be suspended or revoked if the hotel or motel had too many police dispatches for drug or prostitution related crimes over a given time period. Hotels and motels without an up to date permit would not be able to stay open for business.

    By Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge
    psnbatonrouge@gmail.com
    @PSNBatonRouge.

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