Anyone who believed that electing a Democrat as governor to replace the previous right-wing Republican governor Bobby Jindal’s disastrous administration would somehow result in a more progressive state of affairs has turned out to be sorely mistaken. Back in November, Louisianans made a break with their state’s modern historical trend of becoming increasingly and almost exclusively Republican-run when they elected state rep. John Bel Edwards over Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter to the governorship. But in a state such as Louisiana, where the Republican Party and what’s left of the Democratic Party show no discernible difference, “lesser-evil” voting rarely seems to result in much less evil. After all, Jon Bel Edwards is the great-grandson, grandson, son, and brother of Sheriffs, and he’s proven time and again that his primary loyalties lie with the state’s authoritarians and never with those who suffer their abuse. As a proud puppet of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association – which vows to prevent even the slightest positive reform to the state’s horrific criminal “justice” system – he was doing the bidding of both it and Louisiana’s Fraternal Order of Police (aka Fraternal Order of Pigs) when he pushed for and signed the fascistic ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill into law in May. With it Louisiana became the first state in the nation to extend hate crimes statutes to cover the already legally most protected group in the country: police officers. With the election of Edwards to the governorship and his stated determination to fix the $600-800 billion budget windfall he inherited from Gov. Jindal, it’s becoming increasingly clear that he and his team believe the most effective way to solve the state’s woes is by taking the Ferguson route, extorting money from poor and working people.
While it’s been known for some time that cuts to education were on the table (while simultaneously millions are being allocated to private prisons), that the government would be extorting more money from minor traffic infractions and driving violations is a recent, though somewhat predictable, revelation. Per the cover of the Lake Charles American Press:
That’s more than 400 new statutes being added to an already repressive atmosphere for Louisiana’s residents, including a first time fine of $50 for anyone caught not wearing a seatbelt (up from $25) plus an additional $75 each subsequent time. These extraordinary increases in fines can only mean extra jail time for many people across the state unable to pay not just the fines but the exuberant court costs associated with them. After all, this is a state where public defense for the non-wealthy is beyond inadequate and borders on being nonexistent. It is a known fact that the United States is the largest prison colony in documented world history. Louisiana holds the dubious distinction of being the leading incarcerator in the United States, making it the largest prison colony anywhere in the world, with a rate of imprisonment 5x higher than Iran, 13x higher than China, and 20x higher than Germany. Bearing in mind that the state also has the second highest rate of exonerations in the country, the fact that its public defense system is nothing more than a hollow shell can only be described as a travesty.
The situation is particularly dire in my hometown of Lake Charles, where according to The New Jim Crow, “the public defender office only has two investigators for the 2,500 new felony cases and 4,000 new misdemeanor cases assigned to the office each year.” Speaking of Lake Charles, take a look at the cover of that American Press newspaper article above again. Accompanying the piece on the left-hand side of the page is a picture of several men riding in a jeep while flying both an American flag and the “Thin Blue Line” distorted version of an American flag. The image is captioned, “The newly formed Calcasieu Law Enforcement Project held its inaugural flag run Saturday to show support for local officers.” I’m not exactly sure what the “Calcasieu Law Enforcement Project” is. The only information I could gather was about a “flag run” they organized the other day which was done, in the words of the organizer, to “show [local police] that they matter”. (Interestingly the organizer also felt it necessary to request ahead of time that attendees refrain from bringing their Confederate flags. That he felt the need to emphasize this is rather telling of the kind of people he suspected the event would attract.) The organizer’s statement appears to suggest that they are trying to counter Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t appear to have really taken hold much locally, though 14 determined young people did organize a march down Ryan Street in July.