Take Action for Willie Fontenot --was: warning about students working in the community

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu May 5 16:16:47 CDT 2005


[ed:  for more background, please see below and other messages in the 
original "warning about students working in the community" thread.]

From: Steve Chase <schase at igc.org>

As most of you know, Willie Fontenot was recently forced out of his job
as the environmental community liaison for the Louisiana Attorney
General's Office after 27 years of public service. Fontenot's "crime"
was assisting my students who were part of an Antioch New England
Graduate School field studies course on environmental justice issues in
Louisiana. The students' "crime?" They stood on a public sidewalk and
took pictures of ExxonMobil's petrochemical facility in Baton
Rouge--similar to the pictures of the facility published in
ExxonMobil's annual report. Almost immediately, my students, my
co-leader, and Willie were detained, lied to, and threatened by
off-duty police officials working for ExxonMobil. On the next day,
these ExxonMobil "rent-a-cops" complained to Attorney General Foti
about Willie Fontenot's outspoken support of the legal rights of my
students. Two weeks later, and without warning, Fontenot was given the
choice of retiring immediately or face being fired without benefits.

I am asking you to join a national letter writing campaign to urge
Attorney General Foti rehire Willie Fontenot. This campaign has already
pressured Charles Foti to have a meeting with Willie Fontenot on April
27. Foti is now planning on meeting with Willie Fontenot again in two
weeks to negotiate some resolution to this controversy. Please write an
email to the Attorney General to urge him to rehire Fontenot at their
next meeting. Write to the AG's spokesperson (wartellek at ag.state.la.us)
and send a copy to the lieutenant governor (ltgove at crt.state.la.us).

A sample email is provided below. For more information on this
situation, write Steve Chase, Director of the Environmental Advocacy
and Organizing Program, Antioch New England Graduate School at
steven_chase at antiochne.edu.

================= sample email ==========================

To:    wartellek at ag.state.la.us
Cc:    ltgov at crt.state.la.us
    steven_chase at antiochne.edu

Subject: Rehire Mr. Fontenot

Dear Attorney General Foti,

Like many people around the country, I recently read a news story
exposing how someone in your Office forced Willie Fontenot to resign
after an ExxonMobil employee complained about Mr. Fontenot assisting a
student group engaging in legal research activities. I am very
concerned about this unjust dismissal of Mr. Fontenot, a man who has
provided exemplary public service to the people of Louisiana through
the Attorney General's Office for 27 years.

While you may not have been aware of the circumstances behind Mr.
Fontenot's dismissal, it is your responsibility to offer to reinstate
Mr. Fontenot to his position immediately. I also urge you to institute
a program to train corporate security guards, as well local law
enforcement officers who moonlight as security guards, to ensure that
they do not lie to, threaten, and needlessly detain students engaging
in legal research activities.

I urge you to publicly stand up for what is right, reinstate Willie
Fontenot to his job, and make it clear that the corporate harassment of
students, academics, journalists, and community members will not be
tolerated in Louisiana. You have an opportunity to exert strong,
ethical leadership here and be a national role model of courageous
public service. I urge you to take responsible action and correct the
injustice done to Willie Fontenot and to the students he was assisting
as part of his work for your Office.

Sincerely,
[your name]

=========================
Steve Chase
Program Director
Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program
Department of Environmental Studies
Antioch New England Graduate School
40 Avon Street
Keene, NH 03431
603-357-3122  x298
603-357-0718 (fax)
Steven_Chase at antiochne.edu

For information about the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program:
http://antiochne.edu/es/eao/default.cfm
colist at coserver.uhw.utoledo.edu wrote:

> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
> This is a COMM-ORG "colist" message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
>
> [ed: Larry and Donna respond to Steve's story.]
>
> From: Larry Yates <lamaryates at igc.org>
>
> Willie Fontenot has an excellent and longstanding reputation among
> folks dealing with issues in Cancer Alley and Louisiana in general. He
> certainly deserves wide support, and I hope Steve or someone from
> Antioch or LEAN will share specifics on how we can support him when
> they are available.
>
> "Homeland security" has been used in many ways by the petrochemical
> industry and other operators of intrinsically dangerous businesses to
> get them even more free of regulation, and to silence or incapacitate
> their critics. Under the current top down model of homeland security,
> we are told to be afraid, but given no concrete details of risk. Many
> of the real threats are probably getting worse; media coverage of
> nuclear waste suggests that threat is.
>
> Meanwhile police focus on the easy targets, such as peace activists,
> Muslim charities, students with cameras in broad daylight, etc. I'm not
> questioning the sincerity or dedication of individual law enforcement
> folks, most of whom care deeply and desperately want to forestall the
> next 9/11; just stating that the model they are given to work under is
> intrinsically flawed, and to some extent promotes biased policing by
> encouraging haste and by lacking a realistic analysis of who the
> politically motivated mass murderers [AKA terrorists] are and how they
> work. (E.g. -- though Green Party activists have apparently been
> targeted by some law enforcement folks, terrorists probably don't have
> the inclination to sit through long discussions of case law on ballot
> access for third parties.)
>
> We in the US need to push for a community-based model of homeland
> security, in which open discussion leads to the reduction of risk,
> which is largely related to industrial activities that are otherwise
> harmful anyway, as well as to the development of response plans that
> actually make sense at a community and individual level. (Such a model
> would also help us to discuss how it was that as a nation we became
> such a target, and if we can reduce our nation's risky global behavior
> in some way).
>
> Recently, this model was advanced in DC when the City Council there,
> following considerable pressure, got actively involved in trying to
> block trains running through the central city with dangerous cargoes.
> Anybody on the list got details on that or other similar campaigns?
> When I was at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice after
> 9/11, I found that some national environmental groups responded to 9/11
> by backing off on some issues, including public access to information,
> but that at the local level within weeks people were back to fighting
> for their safety and demanding answers.
>
>
> Larry Yates
> Valley Organizer
> Virginia Organizing Project
> (540) 436 3432
> llyates at shentel.net
> (opinions mine and not necessarily VOP's)
>
> ***********************************
>
> From: Donna Hardina <donna_hardina at csufresno.edu>
>
> I have another scary story about students and police monitoring.
>
> Campus Police raised concerns in November, 2004 about two speakers 
> brought
> to campus by the Coalition for Peace and Civil Liberties, a student
> organization that I advise. One speaker was Gary Yourofsky, an animal 
> rights
> advocate, formerly of PETA and the other was Ilan Pappe, an Israeli 
> academic
> and peace advocate. We were asked to comply with a room change for 
> Yourofsky
> because of security concerns raised by members of the School of 
> Agriculture
> and told that uniformed officers would be present at the event (Yourofsky
> had previously generated some controversy on campus). Prior to the Pappe
> visit, the student president of the Coalition was asked to come in to the
> chief's office and was questioned about Pappe's beliefs and history. 
> There
> were no incidences at either event and no uniformed officers were 
> present.
> At a subsequent meeting among faculty and administrators, the campus
> police chief responded to a question about why no uniformed officiers 
> were
> present at the Yourofsky event. He stated that "how do you know there 
> were
> no officers present." At two subsequent meetings, one with a univeristy
> administrator and a second meeting with the same administrator and the
> police chief, it was acknowledged that there were indeed plainclothes
> officers present - but we were told that they were intelligence officers
> from an outside, unidentified agency who had been assigned to follow
> Yourofsky.
> After these meetings, we determined that Yourfsky had no knowledge of
> being followed. We also obtained legal consultation. According to the 
> ACLU,
> the California Constitution prohibits police agencies from monitoring 
> civic
> groups and attending meetings without substantiated information about
> criminal activity. We also confirmed that the university has had a 
> history
> of supplying information about student groups to local police.
> Two weeks ago, the ACLU filed a request for public records with the
> university - asking for information about any intelligence gathering
> activity on the part of campus police. We've also gone to the press. The
> university official responsible for supervising the police first admitted
> that intelligence gathering had taken place and then retracted his 
> statement
> on camera, stating that the campus police only uses uniformed officers 
> and
> that uniformed officers had in fact been pressent at the Yourofsky event
> (over 90 people attended that event - no one saw any uniformed police).
> Currently, we are waiting to see if the university responds to the
> public records request - and are asking students and members of the
> community send letters to the university president and the local 
> newspaper
> to make sure that the university responds appropriately to the request 
> for
> information.
> Part of the reason for our concern about police activity is because of
> previously confirmed monitoring of a a group called Peace Fresno (you may
> remember Peace Fresno from Farenheit 911). Currently, the California
> Attorney General is conducting a criminal investigation of the County
> Sheriff's department in regard to the infiltration of that group.
> I would be interested in finding out if other Peace, Animal Rights, or
> other progressive groups on or off university campuses have experienced
> police monitoring or infiltration and how they have responded to it. I'm
> particularly interested in finding out if any of this has happened 
> recently
> on other California campuses. You can respond to me directly at
> donnahardina at earthlink.net
>
> Donna Hardina
> Professor
> Fresno State
>
> colist at coserver.uhw.utoledo.edu wrote:
>
>> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
>> This is a COMM-ORG "colist" message.
>> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
>> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
>>
>> [ed: here is a scary story.]
>>
>> From: Steve Chase <schase at igc.org>
>>
>> For immediate release
>> April 8, 2005
>> For more information, please contact:
>> Eleanor Falcon, Director of Public Affairs, Antioch New England
>> 603.357.3122 ext 213
>> efalcon at antiochne.edu
>>
>> Antioch New England Study Trip Sparks Political Harassment In Louisiana
>> Respected Environmental Advocate Forced Out of Job By Attorney General
>>
>> Keene, NH – From March 14 to 25, two instructors and 13 master's 
>> students from Antioch New England Graduate School’s Environmental 
>> Studies Program in Keene, NH visited Louisiana as part of a field 
>> studies course entitled Environmental Justice in the Mississippi 
>> Delta. During their visit, the Antioch New England class met with a 
>> diverse array of stakeholders, including elected officials, 
>> petrochemical industry executives, union leaders, scientists, EPA 
>> officials, environmental activists, and members of polluted 
>> communities along the stretch of the Mississippi River that many 
>> state officials call “the Chemical Corridor” and local people often 
>> call “Cancer Alley.” The Antioch New England study group also met 
>> some people they did not expect to, including off-duty police and 
>> sheriff’s department officers and corporate security officials who 
>> detained them on two separate occasions because they took photos of 
>> industrial facilities from public roadways and sidewalks.
>>
>> On March 16, Mr. Willie Fontenot was accompanying the group in his 
>> official capacity as Community Liaison Officer for the Louisiana 
>> Attorney General’s Office. They were touring the neighborhood 
>> surrounding the major ExxonMobil chemical facility in the area. Mr. 
>> Fontenot took the group to the neighborhood because ExxonMobil has 
>> engaged in a program to buy out nearby homeowners who had long 
>> complained of toxic emissions from the plant. During a stop on a side 
>> street off Scenic Highway, some students got out of the group’s 
>> vehicle and took photos of a remaining home and the ExxonMobil 
>> facility. Students are required to complete a visual presentation 
>> about the trip as a course assignment and took photos throughout 
>> their stay in Louisiana.
>>
>> Course instructor Steve Chase, the Director of Antioch’s 
>> Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program, said members of the 
>> group had been detained the day before by a corporate security guard 
>> near the Shell chemical plant in Norco who claimed that photographing 
>> industrial facilities was a violation of federal law and had 
>> threatened Chase and the students with images of FBI agents knocking 
>> on their doors in the middle of the night. Mr. Fontenot explained, 
>> however, that while the police had every right to stop and ask people 
>> who they were, standing on public property and photographing 
>> facilities was perfectly legal. “I’ve researched this extensively 
>> over the years because I often give tours to academics and 
>> journalists as part of my job with the Attorney General’s Office,” 
>> said Mr. Fontenot.
>>
>> Within two minutes of the stop near the ExxonMobiil plant, a pair of 
>> off-duty officers from the Baton Rouge sheriff’s and police 
>> departments, wearing their official public service uniforms, but in 
>> the employ of ExxonMobil, quickly detained the group. Fulltime 
>> ExxonMobil security officials soon joined the detention team. “We 
>> were less than impressed,” said co-instructor Abigail Abrash Walton, 
>> “when one of the officers falsely stated that three of the students 
>> had gone on company property and then falsely claimed that we were 
>> refusing to turn over our IDs.” When asked by the course instructor 
>> about what actions he would be taking in filing a report about the 
>> group, the off-duty sheriff's department officer refused to answer, 
>> and instead responded aggressively that he was going to call in 
>> “homeland security” people who would detain the group into the night.
>>
>> The group was released after more than an hour, but later learned 
>> that the sheriff’s department had filed a complaint with the Attorney 
>> General against Mr. Fontenot, the group’s local guide for the day. 
>> Both The New Orleans Times-Picayune and The Baton Rouge Advocate 
>> reported that Mr. Fontenot was forced to retire at 10 am on Tuesday, 
>> April 5, or risk being fired over the incident. Said Mr. Fontenot, “I 
>> was advised that taking retirement was a better way to go.”
>>
>> “I am very disappointed,” said Chase, “that our detention served as 
>> the catalyst for the Attorney General to force Mr. Fontenot out of 
>> the public service job he’s held for 27 years. Given what we 
>> experienced, I suspect that this whole matter has just been used as 
>> an excuse to remove one of the state’s most respected citizen 
>> participation advocates from the Attorney General’s Office.” Chase 
>> added, “I am particularly stunned that Mr. Fontenot lost his job when 
>> even the U.S. Coast Guard investigator who phoned me when we arrived 
>> back in New Hampshire assured me that there is absolutely no local, 
>> state, or federal law against photographing industrial facilities 
>> from public sidewalks."
>>
>> Co-instructor Abigail Abrash Walton noted, “This incident showed our 
>> students a vivid example of how law enforcement and corporations can 
>> sometimes overstep their legitimate security duties in the guise of 
>> ‘homeland security.’ This experience was also a firsthand glimpse of 
>> the type of over-the-top repression that community members and their 
>> supporters told us they experience on the frontlines of trying to 
>> defend their communities’ health and homes in Louisiana.”
>>
>> As a response to Mr. Fontenot being forced out of his job, the 
>> Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program at Antioch New England 
>> Graduate School is working with Marylee Orr, Executive Director of 
>> the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), to create a fund 
>> to help Mr. Fontenot make up his lost salary and continue to work for 
>> environmental justice in Louisiana through a nonprofit organization 
>> of his choice. The Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program, 
>> LEAN, and other Louisiana citizen groups and members of the academic 
>> community are considering further actions aimed at addressing the 
>> political harassment of academics, concerned community members, and 
>> advocates in Louisiana.
>>
>> # # #
>>
>> Steve Chase
>> Program Director
>> Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program
>> Department of Environmental Studies
>> Antioch New England Graduate School
>> 40 Avon Street
>> Keene, NH 03431
>> 603-357-3122 ext. 298
>> 603-357-0618 (fax)
>> Steven_Chase at antiochne.edu
>>
>> For information about the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program:
>> http://www.antiochne.edu/es/eao/default.cfm
>> _______________________________________________
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