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New Orleans dissed, again

Published Jun 7, 2007 1:26 AM

The virtually all-white congressional leadership sounded a lot like a lynch mob in the days after the June 4 indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.). The indictment comes almost exactly a year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi engineered Jefferson’s ouster from the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson is one of a small handful of Black members of Congress and he represents the district that includes New Orleans.

On June 5, the Republican members of Congress demanded Jefferson’s immediate expulsion. The Democratic leadership under Pelosi did not counter the expulsion demand, but instead demanded that Jefferson give up his last remaining committee position.

The Congressional Black Caucus has stood alone in defending Jefferson, holding to the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The Black Caucus says Pelosi is guilty of a racist double standard. While she has moved fast and hard against Jefferson, she has allowed a white member of Congress also under federal investigation, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), to hold his important committee positions.

No member of Congress has ever faced expulsion before for an indictment. Most recently both Tom DeLay and Robert Ney, Republicans, were allowed to finish up their business and exit “gracefully” while under indictment. DeLay resigned his seat in June 2006; Ney announced he wouldn’t run again. Neither faced calls for their expulsion.

In the post-Civil War period only two members of Congress have faced expulsion, both after having been convicted of crimes. Before that only two members of Congress were expelled, both from Missouri, both in 1861, both charged with treason for siding with the Confederacy.

Rep. Jefferson has certainly been subjected to a racist double standard. There is no presumption of innocence. He’s been convicted already in the big business-controlled media.

Prosecutors and their indictments are quite often politically driven, with little concern for truth or honesty. A chief justice of the New York Supreme Court once famously noted that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” That is, when the politically appointed prosecutors ask a grand jury for an indictment, they are almost never turned down, even if the indictment might look ridiculous.

Jefferson’s indictment all along had the smell of a political attack, aimed at the Black population of the city of New Orleans. He is their representative, and even after he’d been smeared in the media last year, he was popularly reelected.

The Katrina survivors in New Orleans have been battered and besieged already. Now they are being denied their right to representation along with their right to return and rebuild. It is up to the people of New Orleans to choose their representative in Congress. It’s also their right not to have the racists who run Congress dictate to them who their representative shall be.