NAACP wants Confederate flag removed at Caddo Courthouse

Issue will be subject of hearing before state Supreme Court on May 9
May. 4, 2011

The NAACP, joined by a coalition of civil rights leaders, is calling for the Confederate flag that flies in front of the Caddo Parish Courthouse to be taken down immediately.

Lloyd Thompson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and the group, including members of the American Civil Liberties Union, stood on the courthouse lawn Tuesday arguing that the flag symbolizes glorified racism and prejudice.

Harvard University Professor Charles Olgetree Jr. questioned how a symbol of injustice can highlight the outside of a building where justice is served.

The gathering preceded a town hall discussion at Lake Bethlehem Baptist Church about the death penalty where Olgetree and others continued on the subject of the courthouse flag.

"What does this tell us in the 21st century if it looks the same as it did during the period of slavery?" asked Ogletree who also is founder of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

"This is a constant reminder of the incomprehensive past. Not only at this courthouse, but there is no place for a Confederate flag anywhere in the United States. I hope today will be the first step in a relentless struggle to bring Louisiana up to justice."

The flag has flown in front of the courthouse since 1951. It was raised on private property during a protest of a Civil Rights movement and flies beside a Confederate monument. The monument was put in place in 1903 to honor Caddo Parish as the final stance of the Louisiana confederacy.

The Confederate flag outside the courthouse is the subject of a hearing before the Louisiana Supreme Court on May 9. Attorney Anna Arceneaux, with the ACLU, will ask the high court to remove it. Arceneaux says the flag poses a risk that criminal justice cannot be fairly administered inside of the courthouse, particularly in death penalty cases.

The attorney, a Shreveport native, represents a potential juror in the May 2009 murder trial of Felton Dorsey. During jury selection, Shreveport resident Carl Staples allegedly was struck by the prosecution after Staples expressed his thoughts on the Confederate flag being near the courthouse.

"I’ve always tried to embrace justice and abide by the law," Staples said, after Tuesday’s news conference. "That flag symbolizes some of the most heinous and brutal crimes ever. I told them it was hypocritical to my beliefs."

Dorsey, a black man, was sentenced to death for killing a white man. Arceneaux will also argue for his conviction and sentence to be overturned before the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The NAACP is expected to ask the Caddo Parish Commission next week to remove the flag.

Contention around the flag was revisited at the NAACP-hosted discussion of the death penalty at Lake Bethlehem Baptist.

Ogletree and others discussed the flag as a "monument to racism, segregation and American apartheid" and raised questions about the parish’s "dysfunctional, discriminatory and ineffectual system" of criminal justice.

Robert Smith, an attorney with Ogletree’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, labeled Caddo Parish as one of few parishes or counties in the country to sentence more than five people to death since 2004.

Smith said the easiest way to get onto death row in Caddo Parish is to be black and kill someone white.

According to the recent study "Comparing Homicides to Capital Cases in Caddo Parish, 1988-2008," a majority of death sentences in Caddo Parish are handed down to black defendants who killed white victims, though the majority of homicides in the parish are black-on-black crimes.

Smith said most of those death sentences amount to little more than life without parole at a greater expense to taxpayers, because few of those sentences are carried out swiftly.

The choice for Shreveport residents, Smith said, is whether to use those extra taxpayer dollars to proceed with more expensive capital trials or to reinvest the money into the community toward preventing crime.

Copyright © 2011

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