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Tue June 19, 2012
Community Impact Series: Safe Streets/Strong Communities
Safe Streets/Strong Communities is pushing for reforms to city’s criminal justice system, with a focus on police brutality and the toll such incidents take on the relationship between the police force and the community.
Another fatal shooting happens in New Orleans, and long after the headline fades the grief of the surviving family members remains. Questions about what happened may linger too, especially when New Orleans police officers are involved in the shooting. That’s why Robert Goodman is so often on the scene after these violent incidents, visiting families and helping them deal.
“And wrap my arm around that person and try to give them some comfort and help them understand that I do feel your pain because I too had a similar experience, you know?” says Goodman. “It’s like just automatically we build a unity, we unite with one another, because we all share that same common experience.”
For Goodman, the experience was the death of his mentally-ill brother, Ronald Goodman, after a standoff with the New Orleans Police Department in 2006. This case was ruled a justifiable homicide, but Goodman doesn’t believe it was adequately investigated, adding a feeling of injustice to the family’s grief and loss.
That experience led to his current job as organizing director of the New Orleans nonprofit Safe Streets/Strong Communities. Since its start in 2005, this group has been pushing for reforms to city’s criminal justice system, with a focus on police brutality and the toll these incidents take on the relationship between the police force and the community.
“When you’re not directly impacted by the criminal justice system you can’t see the brokenness of it until it actually slaps you in your face,” says Yvette Thierry, executive director of Safe Streets/Strong Communities
She says her group works to make sure police reform includes the perspective of people from the low-income, black neighborhoods where the city’s crime problem hits closest to home.
“We want to be that vehicle that brings these people together and brings them to this body of people and have their voices and their concerns heard,” Thierry says.
The group’s work was instrumental in the creation of the Independent Police Monitor, an office formed in 2009 to oversee the NOPD’s internal misconduct investigations. Safe Streets/Strong Communities also provides court advocacy services to help people accused of crimes navigate the legal process. Its most recent campaign centers on revitalization work now underway for the city’s recreation department, specifically lobbying for marginalized communities to receive their fair share of new recreation programs as tools in youth crime prevention.
Still, the bedrock work of Safe Streets/Strong Communities is to lift up the stories of people it believes have been unfairly targeted by police and wronged by the criminal justice system, to empower victims and survivors to become advocates for change. That’s where Goodman’s one-on-one work has made such a difference. He’s worked with families involved in the infamous post-Katrina Danzinger Bridge case and the Henry Glover case, which each revealed far-reaching police cover-ups. His work is intimate, it’s heart-rending and it continues.
“I try to give them some guidance on what they may or may not have to do in order to get the exposure for their loved one, and that’s vitally important,” he says. “And also to keep their loved one’s voice alive, because it could easily be swept under the carpet.”
Learn more about Safe Streets/Strong Communities at www.safestreetsnola.org or call (504) 522-3949.