Civil rights activists, academicians discuss reasons protests are remaining peaceful in New Orleans

Published: Jun. 3, 2020 at 9:38 PM CDT
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I-10 near the Superdome in New Orleans was shutdown for several hours by people protesting...
I-10 near the Superdome in New Orleans was shutdown for several hours by people protesting social injustice and the death of George Floyd.(WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - People are taking notice of the peaceful protests in New Orleans related to George Floyd’s death. And some academicians think they know why the city is not seeing clashes between citizens and NOPD officers.

Dr. Ashraf Esmail is a Dillard University sociologist and criminologist.

"You have to commend the citizens of New Orleans, as well as the NOPD, in terms of how they are carrying themselves,” he said.

Nghana Lewis is a local Civil Rights attorney who is affiliated with Tulane University’s law school and is also an associate professor of English and Africana Studies at the university.

"There's a culture here, there's a climate here that is very acclimated to protests, to the spirit of peaceful, civil disobedience,” said Lewis. “That seems to me to be consistent with how police should be responding, protecting and serving citizens in the exercise of their constitutional rights."

And she and Esmail believe the federal consent decree which has forced the NOPD to make changes since Hurricane Katrina is impactful, as well.

"And it appears that the tenets, the agreements, the terms of that consent decree have been operationalized to the extent that our department really does seem to be invested in providing the training, the quality training, cultivating the relationships with the community that are necessary to ensure that the police are able to do their work and that people are protected and their rights,” said Lewis.

Esmail believes important lessons have been learned since Katrina hit the city in 2005.

"During Hurricane Katrina there were some ill-timed shootings that probably should not have happened that we learned from, I think NOPD has learned from, the pandemic has been an issue as well. So, I think a lot of New Orleans citizens are recognizing the hardship that we're going through and recognizing that the violence and the looting is not going to help the situation,” Esmail said.

UNO Prof. Emeritus Dr. Raphael Cassimere weighed in on how the ongoing protests compare to those he took part in during the turbulent Civil Rights era of the sixties.

"These protests are very different because I see many Whites involved,” Cassimere said in reference to protests over Floyd’s death.

Cassimere said when property was destroyed during the Civil Rights era it tended to be mainly in African American areas. This week and last week there were destruction of businesses and looting in downtown and affluent sections of some U.S. cities.

"And it was basically internal in black neighborhoods, black rage resulted in the burning and destruction of property in black neighborhoods,” he said of decades-old protests for equality he experienced.

Cassimere like many others hopes the current protests result in positive change.

"It was a very different time, I think I'm a little bit more optimistic now,” he said.

Esmail tempered his optimism.

"You like to be optimistic, but you know every time these cases happen, we tend to be optimistic, [then] another case happens,” said Esmail.

Lewis likes the enthusiastic activism being exhibited around the U.S.

"It’s complicated and it’s messy and it’s not easy, but I’m confident with what I’m seeing on display throughout this country, in New Orleans, throughout this country, throughout this world, I’m confident that the energy is there and the commitment will continue to be there to doing this difficult work,” said Lewis. "I’m excited about what appears to me to lie ahead in terms of not only people throughout this country, throughout the world becoming engaged and responsive to the police brutality.”

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