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Protesters Take to Central City Streets for Eric Harris


By Christopher Louis Romaguera

For the second time in as many days, family and a community organizers protested to demand justice for Eric Harris on Saturday (2.13). At 1p.m. yesterday at 2220 Phillip Street and Friday (2.12) in front of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) building on 715 South Broad Street, about 50 protestors demanded justice for the 22-year-old man killed by Jefferson Parish Sheriff's  (JPSO) deputies on Monday (2.08).

 

According to Jefferson Sheriff Newell Normand, the pursuit of Harris began shortly after 8p.m. when a deputy was notified of a dispute at Oakwood Mall. Harris’ vehicle was spotted on the Westbank Expressway, where the Sheriff said it ‘rammed’ into a JPSO vehicle, igniting the chase across the Crescent City Connection. Harris ultimately crashed his car into a powerline pole on Phillip Street, between Simon Bolivar Avenue and Loyola Avenue. There, two members of the JPSO shot and killed the man. Colonel John Fortunato, a JPSO spokesman, said “We believe that the shooting was the direct result of the officers feeling that their lives were in danger.” He added that “Obviously, [Harris] tried to back the vehicle up into the [deputy] behind the car.” 

 

Tyshara Blouin, who was the passenger in the car, and is the mother of Harris’ child, disputes the claims made by the JPSO. Blouin said “I never saw him try to back up… As soon as he asked me if I was all right, they started shooting at the car. I just felt like they was mad that they chased us.” Blouin called the situation at Oakwood Mall “a small altercation” with an ex-girlfriend of Harris’, and said he drove away from the officers because he wanted “to get to his momma’s house,” which is less than a mile from the incident.

 

The deputies who shot Harris are Kenneth Bonura, who has been on the force for less than two years, and Henry Dejean, who is a rookie cop, hired this past May. According to Fortunato, neither deputy will be reassigned pending the investigation, which is congruent with JPSO policy.

 

It is important to note some major differences between the JPSO and the NOPD when it comes to policing policies. JPSO does not require its officers to wear body cameras, even when in Orleans Parish (the NOPD requires its officers to wear body-worn cameras.) In 2015, Sheriff Normand justified the lack of body-worn cameras by stating that the cameras would lead to “Monday morning quarterbacking.” Also, the JPSO are highly irregular in their lack of use of dashboard cameras during police pursuits. As far back as 2013, about 68% of local police departments in the United States used in-car video in those situations (this statistic comes from the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.) Lastly, it is against NOPD policy to shoot at a moving vehicle if the suspect(s) are not using a second form of deadly force (such as a firearm.) JPSO policy does not require secondary force in order to justify shooting at a car. Harris is not being accused of firing at any officers. 

 

Many of the policies instituted by the JPSO would violate the NOPD’s Consent Decree. According to the City’s website, in 2010 “the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) began investigating an alleged pattern of civil rights violations and other misconduct by the (NOPD)… The DOJ issued a written report alleging unconstitutional conduct by the NOPD and describing the DOJ’s concerns about various NOPD policies and procedures.” This resulted in the NOPD and the DOJ entering a Consent Decree in the summer of 2012. The Consent Decree “reflects a shared commitment to effective, constitutional, and professional law enforcement,” and “is a broad, extensive blueprint for positive change, and it encompasses sweeping, department-wide reforms.” JPSO did not undergo a federal investigation or consent decree and legally are clear too employ such divergent policies.

 

The protest opened with the statement “Our aim today is to let folks in this area know what happened on Monday night.” Randolph Scott, one of the leaders of the protest, described the scene to the crowd. Markings showed where Harris’ car crashed, and where JPSO cars were positioned at the time of the incident. Scott posited that even if the suspect car was able to reverse after the crash, due to the placement of the JPSO vehicles, the vehicle would have been pinned and of no threat to the officers, (who were outside of their cruisers and allegedly fired through the driver’s side window).

 

Following the speakers, the protest then marched on Simon Bolivar Avenue, down Jackson Avenue, to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, then back down Phillip Street to the scene of the incident. Protesters engaged with passerby, passing out flyers and conversing with neighbors about what happened on Monday. Once back on the scene, one of the leaders of the protest, Mwende Katwiwa, spoke to the crowd, saying “This is not new, but we can make something new, by not allowing it to go under wraps.” The protesters then gathered on Simon Bolivar Avenue, locking their arms and blocking traffic on both sides of the neutral ground. The protest blocked traffic for 20 minutes, one minute for each shot that was alleged to have been fired at Harris (based off of the account of a neighbor on Phillip Street who heard the incident on Monday night). 

 

More protests are being planned, as the organizers are hoping to put pressure on the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) to investigate the killing of Harris. As Katwiwa said when speaking to the protesters on the neutral ground at Simon Bolivar Avenue near the end of this protest, “We are going to push this beyond today.”  You can follow the organizers and family’s actions by searching “#JusticeForEricHarrisNOLA”.




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